mixing poultry & gardening

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I'm new to homesteading and need your advice. I'm planning a large garden to supply my family through the year and am contemplating adding a few chickens to supply both meat and eggs. What I don't want is a typical chicken yard - you know, bare dirt, mud holes, a few scraggly jimpson weeds. The chicken tractor idea seems to hold promise but it seems to me that I should be able to incorporate poultry into a garden rotation that would help both birds and plants.

I'm thinking about dividing the garden into quarters. One quarter would be for perennial plants (raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus, etc.) and would not be part of the rotation. Two of the quarters would be used for vegetable garden and the final quarter would be planted to alfalfa or clover and would also be the chicken yard. A movable coop could be used to keep from building up too much manure in one spot. Late in the fall, one of the garden quarters could be seeded with a green manure and then when all the produce is out, the chickens would be moved to that quarter for the winter and the next summer. The old chicken yard could be fall tilled then put into vegetable production in the spring.

Whew! Sorry to be so long winded. My question is, will it work? Will it be too much trouble? What could I do different to make it better? Am I nuts and should just move back to town?


-- Steve Cable (sacable@concentric.net), October 28, 1999


You must be planning a big garden. We have to move our chicken tractor every 2-3 days to keep greens under their feet. I don't think you need to move back to the town (heaven forbid you move back to the sidewalks) My only other concern would be to much chicken manure in one spot. This could burn some plants. Overall it sounds like a good rotation.

-- Becky Rosen (Joel681@webtv.net), October 29, 1999.

It seems that you have covered the topic very well. I think it will work well as long as you move the coop often. The aspect of gardening and chicken feed production that you haven't factored in is permanent plants. I like permanent plants, particularly rhubarb, asparagus, and (for chicken feed) comfrey. They all produce very early in the spring and are easy to mulch and pick. Comfrey is wonderful chicken feed, easy to pick and feed, a weed so it competes VERY well against American weed, and productive well into the fall. Depending on your layout, you may wish to use the chickens to keep areas free from vegetation. I have my chicken penned along the fence that keeps the woods out of my garden and the chickens do a much better job than the fence does.

-- kirby johnson (kirby@selco.lib.mn.us), October 29, 1999.

If you plan to let the chickens into your garden, don't let them into the part where your perennials are. I lost a new patch of rhubarb in a few hours one afternoon by two hens who decided to scratch at the manure I had put on the rhubarb. They dug them out by the roots and by the time I discovered them they were too wilted from the hot sun to recover. I know some folks do it, but I never had any luck letting the flock free range either if they could get to the garden. Sure they caught bugs but what they ruined and dug out was not worth it.

-- Marci (ajourend@libby.org), October 29, 1999.

How does duck taste to you? Campbell ducks outlay most chickens, dress out to about 3 pounds, never crow, and don't scratch. They can be trusted among the perenials and started annuals while there are tender weeds available. They will eat ripening berries and tomatoes if they have a chance. All my chicken/garden experiences have been negative unless the chickens were closed in a tractor. The rotation will work if you follow the chickens with a leaf crop, or if you have the number of chickens and the size of the garden balanced. They put out a lot of nitrogen. I'm fencing the garden and letting the poultry and goats take the rest of the world (I generally pen at night, so the eggs are easy to find and I don't have to check all the animals when the dogs bark.)

-- Kendy Sawyer (sweetfire@grove.net), October 30, 1999.

I agree....Chickens will really mess up the permanent plantings. Be sure to cover the top of their pen or they will masacre the garden...ducks on the other hand, can be trusted more...but not with salad greens or new plantings. I keep my Chickens separate from the garden and use straw bedding in the whole pen, then compost that every few months adding more, and use it on the garden, makes the pen look nice, and I still get the fertilizer benefits. My ducks do alot more roaming, but with a wing clipped, only go into the garden if I let them, even though the fence is not very tall.Don't move back to town for heaven sakes !!! I like your idea about the green manure crop...I may try that myself. Good luck!

-- Jenny Pipes (auntjenny6@aol.com), November 01, 1999.

Be sure you don't plant anything to close to the fence dividers! I did a set, up similar to what your going to try, a few years back. Them little critters stuck their heads through the fence and plucked my veggies!!! I guess the grass is always greener.... :) Sue

-- Sue Landress (Sulandherb@aol.com), November 03, 1999.

There's a saying that says you can fence chickens out easier than you can fence them in. My 3500 sq ft garden is fenced only 18 inches high, but the chickens have never figured out how to get in. So I let them free range, but still protect my garden. It is very true that they will scratch up anything that is in loose soil, or covered with mulch. Once your asparagus and rhubarb are established, they should be safe. My chickens love taking dust baths under the asparagus ferns, and keep the weeds down in the process. A little bit of plastic garden fencing can make a temporary fence if you're worried about the new growth in the spring. Good luck

-- glynnis (gabbycab@aol.com), November 04, 1999.

A set up like you are planning is described in the book THE NEW ORGANIC GROWER by Eliot Coleman in the chapter on livestock. Excellent book! Would love to try what you've planned but are limited by space. Good-luck

-- Vaughn Clark (vdcjm@ix.netcom.com), November 20, 1999.

Hi, Steve. I'm doing the same thing basically as you describe. My concern has been to be sure that I had enough organic matter to balance the nitrogen in all that chicken manure. I collect bagged leaves from all the kind people who leave them on the curbside for me (I'm considered eccentric by local standards but that just insures my privacy-HA!)and use those or soiled hay from the barn and throw on some scratch feed to be sure the manure under the roosts is incorporated. Why should I turn the compost when the chickens will do it? I plan to put a heavy feeding crop there next season.

-- Marilyn Dickerson (rainbow@ktis.net), January 17, 2000.

Did you ever consider letting them free range ? Mine are far from the garden and are let out in the a.m. and put in in the P.M. I still have manure in the coop .It cuts down on the feed bill and a little less work.

-- Patty Gamble (fodfarms@slic.com), January 18, 2000.

Steve, In the March/April 1997 issue of Backwoods Home there is a diagram of a fenced chicken coop/garden conpound. It consists of two separate yards, with a chicken house in the middle. The idea is that the chickens switch yards every other year, and in their off year, you have a garden in that yard. They cultivate and fertilized the soil for you while they are occupying it, then you use it the next year. I'm looking at the picture now, so it seems plain to me, but I may be doing an awful job of describing it. If you can't get ahold of the plan, let me know and I'll send you a copy.

-- Melina Bush (goatgal1@juno.com), August 23, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ