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Wanted: Feathered assistants

21 December 2022
smiling woman stroking chicken in garden
Photo: Getty Images

Six reasons why you should recruit some chickens to your garden. Words Wendy Maddison

There’s a nasty rumour going around that some of our readers have not yet incorporated chickens into their gardens, and for me, the biggest question is: “Why on earth not?” Having said that, I suppose if you haven’t got chickens then you’re actually wondering, “Why should I?” So let me explain the six main reasons why chickens would make an awesome addition to your garden.

The best eggs ever!

I realise this may seem obvious, and you’re probably thinking how much easier it is just to buy free-range eggs at the supermarket, but the reality is that the eggs just do not compare.

Commercial ‘free-range’ chickens are defined by the stocking rate (the number of chickens per square metre). It does not guarantee that they are eating grass or, in fact, anything other than pellets created from cheap ingredients. It is this food that the eggs are made from.

Compare this to garden chickens who have plenty of space and are free to browse on greens and good grains, eat bugs, and peck at the soil. The difference in the quality (and freshness) of the eggs is very clear when you crack them open – the yolk colour is richer (without added colours) and the white is not runny.

If you are mindful of the quality of your food, then fresh garden eggs should be at the top of your list.

No more pests

With no chickens around, slugs and snails have free reign. When you have chickens, you can throw away the snail bait. Not only that, but they also deal with other pests in the garden.

One example is codling moth. I used to have a lovely little dwarf apple tree, but every year the apples would be full of codling moths. After I put chickens in that garden, I never saw any more codling moths.

I also noticed that there were fewer ants in my garden too. At least until they took up residence in my compost bin.

One particular favourite snack for my chickens is cockroaches. They come into the house with the firewood, so I keep an empty matchbox to catch them in. The next day I feed any caught bugs to the chickens, who then proceed to fight over them. Since a cockroach is too big to swallow in one go, they run around grabbing them out of each other’s beaks. This event is usually the funniest moment of the day. This brings me to…

Better than television

Instead of sitting down to watch drama and bad news on the television in the evening, pull up a pew and watch your chickens. If you have saved insects for them, or perhaps you have a lamb leg bone left after dinner for them to pick clean, now is the time to dish it all out and watch them go for it.

Better yet, in the cool of the evening, you might want to get a bit of quiet weeding done. You will not be short on company as you disturb the soil and let them get to all the bugs. Better yet, throw your weeds on the ground for them to pick over.

Once you’ve watched Chicken TV, you’ll never go back – it’s the best game show of the week.

Your personal weeding machine

Chickens are unlikely to be able to distinguish between your silver beet and a thistle, and therefore cannot be relied on to selectively weed your garden the way you do, but what they will do is help to keep weeds under control.

While I don’t recommend this as a complete solution, I do find that my girls will eat the fresh tips of kikuyu grass that sneak into my edged gardens, so it makes it a lot easier to manage.

However, what they do deal with completely are small sprouting weeds. I suppose these are sweet and tender, or just don’t survive the scratching, but I find that having chickens running on bare soils around established plants means there’s hardly any need for weeding. Seriously, for their weed-busting abilities alone you should be running out the door to go grab a couple of chickens.

Easier on the back

It’s always a great day when you have a fresh load of compost for the garden. I love the anticipation of how full and rich the garden will soon look, and how much my plants will love the extra nutrients.

However, between now and then, some poor bugger has to spread the stuff on the garden, and it’s usually me. But with chickens, I just chuck the compost in piles in the middle of the gardens and watch them race in between my legs to start digging at it to get at all the fresh bugs. In the process, my handy helpers spread out the compost over the garden (and sometimes a bit further, but that’s easy to clean up) and my back is saved for much better things, like lying in the hammock with a good book.

A self-fertilising garden

All this time while your chickens are scratching around in your garden, they are fertilising as they go. While this is not so great for your back doorstep, this is where fences come in handy. You’ll also find a mountain of rich poo in their house, which you can use to enhance your compost or spread on the garden in selected areas. No more shovelling cow poo from your friend’s farm – you now have your own in-house source of manure.

To summarise…

Chickens not only help you with your gardening, especially the hard or boring jobs, but your garden will be much more productive with all the extra fertiliser and a shocking lack of pests. All of this while providing entertainment and a nourishing breakfast. If you can justify a cat or dog in your garden, then getting a chicken is a no-brainer in terms of returns. So, seriously, what are you waiting for?

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