In these cold and wet wintry days, there is nothing better than taking some time out from muddy chores and wet wellies, to catch up on reading.
In a couple of months we sign for our farmhouse and begin a huge planning session, working out where the new chicken coop and runs will be and the various gardens surrounding it; herbal, orchard, vegtables, cutting flowers and a garden specifically growing food for the chickens.
I follow a few chicken specialists in the blogging world and recently ordered their books about gardening with chickens. We think chickens can be quite destructive in a garden, scratching up our plants and pooping everywhere. And to be honest they do destroy your lawn and reak havoc on your herb beds. But they also turn compost better than I can. They airiate the soil and their poop is full of nitrogen and fabulous for fertilizing your vegetables.
Chickens will keep many pests at bay and devour your weeds too. Full grown herbs will survive a little pecking and with some carefully placed fences and barriers, chicken damage can be minimized.
Back at the barn today we completed the coop compost patch. The chickens love it. All the coop straw and poop go straight in with autumn leaves, kitchen scraps, old veg from the garden now past it’s best and the chickens spend hours jumping in and out looking for bugs. You actually have to limit their enthusiasm or it will soon reduce to nothing. A couple of weeks and it will be transferred to the main composter and then into the raised beds. The chickens now squabble over whose turn it is to do compost duty!
In Autumn the chickens will be let out in the vegetable garden. They will eat all the left over vegtables, clean up caterpillars and other unwelcome crawlies and dig my compost in. There will be chicken chuckling noises and lots of happy conversations going on. In fact chickens have a lot to say. Time spent listening to their daily chit chats will provide tonnes of information – who is top chicken, who is laying an egg, who has found a worm, and general happy go lucky sunny day pottering noises.
Gardening with chickens is fun. A trowel or fork means a worm search. Trying to dig over my small herb bed near the coop took three times longer due to five little red people bouncing about on my forked earth. Those little beedy eyes don’t miss a thing.
Keeping a chicken healthy isn’t difficult but they do require the right protein levels for egg production. Even though we feed our chickens a prepared balanced grain diet, they are given extra treats to maintain their glossy feathers, keep worms at bay and help with their delicate respiratory systems. Chickens get snotty and sinus trouble quite easily and a regular dose of apple cider vinegar help keep mucus down.
Garlic and pumpkin seeds are natural wormers. Chickens show signs of worms quickly, with floppy, dull combs and messy undercarriages. Unlike geese who keep their ill health quite secret from you, Chickens will be quite vocal re theirs and I really don’t want a chicken tapping on my window, holding up a worm and saying “Err this came out of my bottom today. What’s going on?!”
Ash from the wood stove helps with a parasite problem. As humans eat charcoal for the digestion, a little wood ash will be fine for chickens. Wood ash in the coop will also keep ammonia levels down; an unpleasant side affect of chicken poop. Crushed eggshells provide calcium and help your plants too. It’s therefore a matter of recycling everything and much of that will benefit your chickens health. That means healthy golden yoked eggs for you too. Win, win all the way!
With the hot French summer’s, our herbs dry easily. Fresh and dried herbs make he coop smell lovely and the girls appreciate their sweet smelling egg boxes. We clean daily , but why not a little lavender, marigolds and catmint to enjoy your egg laying even more.
The books shown in this post are inspiring. It’s not feasible to leave your chickens cooped up when they can be free ranging and gardening with you. They benefit from a varied diet, exercise, and importantly quality time with you.
So our girls are in for a huge treat this year. A new home, more garden fun and more free ranging. With a dozen eggs a day being laid, I am happy to have very happy chickens.
The following sites are well worth a visit if you want chickens or already have an expanding flock: