When growing a garden, many purchases and tasks we do can be replaced with work from chickens. Why not put nature to work for us rather than working against it?
The most productive product a chicken makes is their manure. The more they eat, the more they make. This manure makes great fertilizer for gardens meaning you will never have to buy chemical fertilizer again! Fresh chicken manure is strong and heats up as it decomposes, so I shovel up a couple wheel barrow loads and leave a pile to sit for a while before using it on my garden. This way plants do not get too hot, but still get the benefits of the nitrogen in the manure. Manure is also a great companion to mulch such as wood chips. The wood chips protect the soil and keep it moist while the manure fertilizes it and helps provide the plants with more nutrients.
If you have the space, plant your garden as big as you can get. You can even plant extra specifically for feeding chickens. The more you can grow, the more free chicken feed. I plan to experiment with growing wheat or oats for chickens. Mulch helps keep this maintainable with weed reduction so you can grow more with less effort. Any extra food you have that your family does not eat, the chickens will clean up for you. They convert those spoiled tomatoes and wilted greens into manure and eggs.
Eggs are a great supplement to garden vegetables and fruit. While your garden provides excellent vitamins and other nutrients to your body, you have to eat carefully and a lot to get enough protein to make it through the day. Eggs are one of the healthiest sources of food nature offers packed with around 6 grams of protein per egg and many other vitamins and minerals. Eating eggs helps balance your diet of vegetables and fruit. Many raise meat chickens for even more protein in their diet. Beware though that raising chickens often results in chickens becoming pets, so if you plan on raising them for meat, you may still get attached to them.
Homesteaders often put chickens to work for them preparing a garden for planting. Chickens are great at killing weeds and all other vegetation, tilling the soil, and mixing in the manure all themselves. You can fence your chickens in your garden throughout the wintertime (barricade off any perennials or winter crops if you do not want these eaten).
Another popular option is a chicken tractor – a portable coop and run that can be moved multiple times a day or week so that you get the benefits of free range chickens with safety for them and your garden. This is a great way to concentrate their efforts on one section of a current or future garden for spring planting.
Any weeds or spoiled produce from your garden can be fed to the chickens. I recommend raising your chickens somewhat near your garden if possible as the hauling spoiled produce and manure back and forth is then easier and more likely to get done. Placing your chicken run next to or around the perimeter of your garden can help protect the garden from some devastating insect pests. Many have noticed their mosquito or grasshopper populations plummeting when raising chickens.
Having fresh eggs on hand all the time means one less item you have to buy at the store, and one more healthy food you can raise yourself. Before no time, chickens earn their keep with eggs and their garden work. They are also a great source of entertainment. You can decide how much you interact with your hens. Put your “pets” to work for you. They will be happy to help.