If you’ve had your heart set on keeping chooks, but been put off by naysayers, read on for some insight and moral support, and keep me in mind when you crack your first home-laid egg.
The Partner and I have had an ongoing difference of opinion over the past couple of years about chickens. I want some. He doesn’t. He doesn’t seem to have a very good reason for not wanting them, apart from the misguided idea that they will ruin the garden.
I regulary quote the virtues of a woman who always features at our local garden safari. She has free-range chooks, free-range rabbits and a beautiful garden. So there!
It’s true that chickens can decimate a new vegetable garden, but all you have to do to avoid this is contain one or the other. My preference is to contain the vegetables. They’ll require a smaller amount of fencing, and the broccoli plants will be far less inclined to try and escape than the chooks would. Case closed. We’re getting some.
Chickens actually have great value in the garden. Furthermore, they’re easy to care for and make affectionate outdoor pets. Next time your kids beg for a guinea pig or puppy, get them a couple of chooks.
In exchange for food that no-one else wants to eat, some shelter, a safe place to lay their eggs and a bit of affection, your chickens will multitask in a fashion that would put most business executives to shame.
Chickens lay eggs. If you want to be able to find the eggs, it’s a good idea to confine the chooks at night and keep them in the henhouse until they’ve laid. Otherwise, you’ll use all the time you’d normally spend weeding, looking for eggs.
What goes in…
Replace your kitchen waste disposal with a chicken (not on the bench, though). They never refuse to eat their veges – they consume almost anything organic and your scraps are gourmet delights. Add poultry mash to their diet to make sure they’re getting good nutrition.
As well as looking messy, weeds rob neighbouring plants of nutrients. But before you spray them with herbicide or pull them out, you should know that chickens love weeding. Let them help while you’re preparing your garden beds each spring. They’ll pluck early-growing weeds and devour the weed seeds that are standing by to wreck your summer.
Must come out:
Chicken manure is nitrogen-rich, and when mixed with leaves, pine needles, straw and grass clippings, the resulting compost adds nutrients to the soil. Last time I had chickens, they ignored their henhouse and roosted in one of the lime trees, which now produces better limes than the rest.
Whenever you want to create a new garden bed or prepare the vege beds for replanting, let the chickens loose on it. They have a natural instinct to scratch and it’s a lot cheaper and easier than hiring a rotary hoe. Remove any turf or thick foliage, throw chicken feed over the surface of the bed and leave them to it.
About Lee Ann McKenzie
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author