Chickens are a driving force in a permaculture system. No permaculture garden seems complete without them. “Produce no waste” is one of our permaculture principles and a permaculture system seeks to stop the flow of nutrients and energy off the site and turn them into cycles. Chickens play so many roles in this principle.
So what can chickens do for you? Just by going about their daily business, here are some of the benefits that you can expect.
Dispose of food scraps and kitchen waste and convert it to food in the form of eggs and/or meat. Different breeds of chicken are suitable for different purposes. For example, some are better egg layers while others are better meat birds.
Provide nutrients for the garden in the form of manure. Although a great source of phosphorus and potassium, chicken manure is particularly well known for being high in nitrogen. As every gardener knows, nitrogen is the major nutrient required to fertilise your veggie garden.
Pest control. In the garden chickens are useful for eating various plant pests. In the orchard chickens will go for fallen fruit, and any maggots inside, breaking the life cycle of pests such as fruit fly.
Weeding your garden. Chickens will eat most vegetation and seeds and can weed a section of your garden for you, eating your weeds and scratching through the soil to pick out any seeds lying in wait. Pen your chickens into an area that you want weeded or cleared of grass and let them do the work for you. Remember, however, that they will eat EVERYTHING so don’t fence them into your newly planted vegetable garden and expect them to deal with your the weeds and leave your seedlings alone!
Tilling the ground. Chickens naturally scratch the ground searching for seeds and bugs. This process tills the ground and loosens the soil ready for planting of the next crop. They will also fertilise the soil at the same time.
A broody hen can provide you with more chickens to take over from older hens and continue the cycle. If you want lots of chicks then choose a breed which goes broody frequently.
Chickens can also provide other services. If you place your chicken coop strategically next to a greenhouse the chickens can be a source of heat and carbon dioxide – helping greenhouse plants to thrive. They can also provide hours of entertainment as they scratch and cluck their way around your garden.
A popular method of using chickens in a permaculture garden is to use a “chicken tractor”. A chicken tractor is a mobile coop that is often on wheels to make them easy to move around. They are built without floors, so wherever the chicken tractor is moved to the chickens have access to fresh ground. Chicken tractors are especially useful in smaller back yards where free ranging the chickens is not an option.
Now run outside and create your oasis!