Garden Benefits of Backyard Chickens
While the relationship may not be obvious, raising backyard chickens is a great way to produce a healthy, beautiful garden. Chickens are natural ground purifiers; they eat pests, naturally till the soil and their by-products contain several nutrients that are essential for healthy plant growth. By adding only a few chickens to your farm or home, you can greatly benefit your garden in a variety of ways.
As with any animal, chickens produce a number of by-products that are very beneficial when used correctly; the most common of which is manure. Chicken manure contains extremely high levels of nitrogen, which makes it great for those dealing with a nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen is vital for plant growth, and without it older leaves will yellow and the entire plant will grow with a less vibrant color than normal. Alternatively, when nitrogen levels are too high, crops will produce excessive amounts of leaves and can suffer from what is known as nitrogen burn. Excessive nitrogen levels cause crops to become dehydrated, resulting in brown, burned, withered leaves due to the lack of water. To prevent your crops from being harmed by the high nitrogen levels in chicken manure, compost the fresh manure anywhere from six to twelve months, depending on the form of composting that you choose. Never add fresh chicken manure to your garden during the growing season. The shock of nitrogen will prove too much for the plants and will negatively impact the health of your crop.
For those that plan to keep their plot empty during the winter months, adding fresh chicken manure to your plot will greatly benefit your garden during the upcoming year. Once the final crops of the season have been removed from your garden, spread fresh manure over the plot and till the soil. After winter, when the ground has thawed, till the soil once more and allow the freshly tilled soil to sit or “cool” for three to four months. This loads the soil with nutrients, especially nitrogen, and ensures that the nitrogen is evenly and properly distributed throughout the soil. Adding crops before the nitrogen level has dwindled will lead to significant nitrogen burn, especially in young crops.
Manure is not the only chicken by-product that can be utilized in the garden however. Chickens naturally produce and lay eggs, and these eggs can also be used to benefit plant growth. Egg shells can be used as a source of calcium, which is another very important nutrient for healthy plant growth. By adding crushed egg shells to planting holes, the soil becomes enriched with calcium, allowing for maximum growth and preventing diseases, such as blossom end rot.
Fighting a pest problem can be a real headache. Some may be interested in a quick and simple fix, such as chemical sprays, while others may be looking for a more natural solution. For those interested in a natural solution, backyard chickens are an excellent option. Chickens are natural scavengers, so they will pick at anything and everything. Due to their scavenging nature, you will not want to allow them into your garden while crops are young or in bloom, as they can be destroyed by the pecking and scratching. Adding chickens to actively fight a current insect problem is not recommended. However, if you have experienced a prolonged pest problem, allowing the chickens to pick through your garden during late fall or early spring can help eliminate the issue. Moving the chicken coop to your garden plot during the winter months is a great way to fertilize your plot and eliminate pest problems. Always be sure to keep the high nitrogen content of chicken manure in mind, but by allowing the chickens to free-range throughout your garden plot, you can naturally control and prevent pest problems for the upcoming season.
Working the Soil
One easily overlooked benefit of raising chickens is that they can greatly improve poor or compacted soil conditions. For the average chicken owner, the constant digging and scratching can be bothersome, and can cause an area that was once filled with nice vegetation to quickly turn into a barren dirt patch. However, if you are raising chickens to help with your garden, allowing them to scratch and dig in your plot can be highly beneficial. For plots that suffer from compacted soil, the chickens help to loosen the difficult top soil and enable the dirt to receive valuable nutrients. For gardens that are well established, allowing chickens to roam and scratch the ground prior to planting is essentially free tilling. While the chickens do not get deep into the ground, they do break up the top soil, which makes tilling an easier task. This is something to consider for those that have large plots or several plots to maintain.
Chickens make a great addition to any garden. When utilized to their full potential, chickens can help take a garden from average to extraordinary with just their natural behavior. Overall, chickens are low maintenance animals that can really add to the quality of your garden. Consider adding a few birds to your home or garden and experience the many ways they can benefit your produce.