Chicken Garden Preparation
As part of my chicken paddock shift system, my chickens spend the winter grazing my zone 1 garden plots. This gives their paddocks time to rest and recuperate, and it gives the chickens a new place to graze that is filled with treats. They will re-enter their paddocks in the early spring.
Obviously, you need to be done with your garden when you let the chickens in, but they can really help prepare your garden for the following spring. They are voracious insect eaters, and they will find and eat insects and their eggs that are overwintering in your soil. This helps to break the pest cycle. They will fertilize your garden for you…..constantly. They will also eat those leftover weeds and vegetables growing in the garden. Finally, they will do a light tilling helping to aerate the soil without destroying it as a rototiller would do.
When I let them out into the garden this season, I wanted to watch to see what they really liked to eat, as they would have a lot to choose from. There was lettuce, a large patch of arugula, various broadleaf weeds, tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, grass, peas, and of course insects. I can always tell when they like an area they are grazing, because they are no longer interested in my presence. They were definitely occupied by the garden, but I was surprised by what they were most interested in. I figured they would go for the tomatoes, or the arugula patch, but they all went right to work digging in the loose soil. They were digging around and eating up insects. It amazed me how good they are at seeing and grabbing insects and eggs. It also surprised me that they figured out that the dried up wax bean pods were filled with beans. They were also opening these up and eating the dried beans. The beans are as black as my soil, but they had no trouble grabbing the beans with their beaks.
They are definitely becoming smarter foragers. I remember when I first gave them a watermelon. I had to break it open for them so they could eat the inside. Last week I found one last watermelon. I threw it over the fence, thinking it would break, it didn’t. I figured I would have to break it open for them, but they knew what it was and ate the entire thing, rind and all.