We’ve been keeping chickens for just over a year now. I love the fresh eggs. I love their antics. I love their pleasant clucking. Before we began, I read somewhere that chickens are a gardeners best friend. It was claimed that they will eat all the bugs from your garden, mow down your weeds, fertilize your lawn, and turn over your leaf piles. A year in, I feel I’m prepared to make a judgement on the whole ‘best friend’ question; it’s more of what I’d call a fragile truce.
Let me start with the pros. Chickens do mow weeds; they especially love dandelions which are the bane of my existence. They have a tendency to wander around while mowing, but if you can kind of confine them to a hundred square feet they can really make a dent. They also scratch up bugs, eat spiders (and web, weird), slugs, beetle larva, and grasshoppers. (GOOD chickens looking for pesky bugs).
Chickens are also great for fertilizer, but you have to work a bit for it. Our coop is lined with pine shavings, and when we scoop the poop we get quite a lot of shavings along with it; it all goes in the compost bin. That’s good because before chickens (BC) our compost was just food scrap; totally unbalanced. We now have awesome compost that needs to be harvested about once a month.
The cons? They will eat just about anything that crawls. That includes earth worms which I’m pretty sure are good for my garden. They scratch up anything piled, which includes the decorative bark I tried to layer over bits of my yard. They attack any plant which strikes their fancy, and once their fancy is struck they bee-line for those plants at every opportunity.
I made the mistake of giving my chicks some overgrown swiss chard that I had pruned. Now they rush for the chard as soon as I open their door. If I don’t stand guard over the chard, they seek and destroy. (Here’s a BAD chicken eating my chard, you can see how the plant is decimated).
All in all, the chickens are a welcome addition to the family. They make eggs for us. They make fertilizer for the garden and we feed them the garden scrap. But I do have to stand guard over the chard, eggplant, and squash. And I did have to put a cage over my sprouting carrots, beets, and radishes. I just make sure I have a ready supply of meal worms and cracked corn on hand for when a bribe is absolutely necessary.