Chickens are the gateway animal for new homesteaders. After getting a few, there is usually a period of “I could get more” or “I’m not a fan”. I am definitely the latter of the two. I don’t love my chickens. But I do value the work they can do, so they stick around. Besides giving us eggs, we can put chickens to work in the gardens and compost piles for them to earn their keep.
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How To Put Chickens To Work
Chickens are pretty cool little creatures. While I may not be a fan of the chickens themselves, the reality is that they can do a lot of work, just by being chickens. A chicken’s natural behavior is to scratch, peck and make babies. Obviously, some are better at it than others, but they are all pretty good at their jobs. Chickens don’t need to be confined to a run 24/7. If that’s your philosophy, then by all means. But they can do so much more than just hang out.
Chickens In The Empty Garden
One of the ways we put chickens to work is by putting them in empty garden spaces. They are great tillers and pest control. But when they get into empty gardens, they also get to eat any left over greens that are still there.
To get the most out of the beds and chickens, we usually put them in an empty garden from January to March. It gives us about 3-4 months for the manure to compost before the next planting. When it comes to plant again, I usually add a couple inches of soil or compost to keep their manure from burning plants.
But that doesn’t mean that January through March is the only time they get put in the gardens. In fact, we put the chickens to work in our green bean bed a couple of months ago. They turned the soil as well as added PLENTY of manure to it. All I had to do was dump a couple bags of top soil in the beds because they kicked some dirt out and the beds weren’t super full to begin with.
Free Range In The Empty Gardens
If you don’t have raised beds, or don’t want them, another option is to have them free range within the empty garden. In winter of 2024/2025, we plan to put the chickens to work by letting them have free access to the big garden from December to March, or whenever the fall garden is done. We want them to get in there and dig up any bugs they can find as well as till the soil.
Chickens In The Compost
Another good option is to put chickens in your compost piles. This is going to look different for every one. But having chickens spread compost is probably the easiest way to move that compost. The biggest problem is that they will spread that compost everywhere so getting it back into one spot may be hard. Or you can put the compost pile where you want it and then let them do the work of spreading it around.
Putting Chickens To Work In Active Gardens
I’ve given plenty of examples of putting chickens to work in inactive gardens, but what about gardens that are actively growing? We don’t want to chickens to ruin the work WE are doing.
Chicken tractors are a great option for getting them in the garden without them killing plants or eating fruits or vegetables.
This tractor is 4ft x 8ft and fits perfectly between our rows in the big garden. It also sits perfectly on our raised beds in the kitchen garden. This allows us to put them over a bed where they will scratch, peck and poop. When the chickens work the bed, it increases aeration, kills bugs, and deposits animal waste into the bed.
When a bed is done being harvested, we will place the tractor over the bed. We place 5-10 chickens, depending on the amount of greens/ bugs available and size of the chickens. Then they get to work. Usually, they get a scoop of feed in the morning and we make sure to refill their water.
In our big garden, we run the tractors up and down the rows. When we laid out our rows, we made each walkway 5 feet wide to account for the tractors. We wanted to make sure there was plenty of space not only for us to move through the rows but also to make sure the chickens couldn’t get into the harvests.
Using this method has significantly cut down on pests and weeds without having to spray anything on the gardens.
Putting Chickens To Work When You Have Predators
While we are a big advocate for free ranging our birds, we have lost some to predators. If you are opposed to free ranging but still want your chickens to have access to your garden, runs or tunnels are a great option.
When you put your fencing up for your garden, you can easily add chicken wire or hardware cloth tunnels to allow them to run around the edges of the garden without risking them to predators. You can absolutely make these much cheaper than the link but it’s the idea I wanted you to see.
Another option is to build tractors if you haven’t already. I am trying to get Jared to create plans for you guys but he is in the middle of building my greenhouse. So it’ll take some time.
Putting Chickens To Work
It can look like just about anything. So don’t think that you have to keep your chickens confined to a run. You can put them to work and reap the benefits of having tiny dinosaurs around the homestead.