Using chickens to restore the land is a great way to prepare the ground for a garden, or in our case, a future food forest. We touched up our chickshaw (mobile chicken coop) and are getting our chickens out to free-range, scratch, peck and get some work done for us!
One of the ways that we want to create some resiliency and easy food production on our land here at Riverbend is to continue to develop food forests and other perennial systems that are growing food for us but don’t need to be highly managed.
If you’re raising backyard egg-laying chickens, or even raising meat chickens, consider putting them to work! Sure they’re giving you eggs or meat in return for all the feed you’re giving them (or maybe our healthy fermented chicken feed), but they’re capable of doing so much more for your land while they take up residency.
Watch the video below to see how we’re fixing up our chickshaw and using chickens to restore the land for a future food forest here on Riverbend.
The other benefits of using a chickshaw for your egg laying chickens is that they have a safe space to sleep at night, they’ll still lay their eggs in the provided nesting boxes, and they can come and go freely from the shelter as they please.
It’s important to consider the predators in your area, and know whether or not you should lock your chickens in at night to keep other predators like skunks, coyotes, etc. from having access to them.
Clearing Land With Chickens
Using chickens to clear the land and work the soil is an inexpensive way to put those birds to work for you and reap some great benefits of what they love to do naturally.
We’re using our chickens to prepare the ground so, in the future, we can add some fruit trees, berry plants, shrubs and other ground coverings under the existing understory of trees for a productive food forest.
How long does it take chickens to clear land?
It depends on how many chickens you put out and how much space you give them. In this particular case, we actually want them to remove all vegetation and leave behind a lot of manure mixed in with other organic material, like waste hay from the barn.
This clears the land for new plantings while building soil. They will stay in the area they are in for about 2 months.
We’ll then adjust the fencing and move them to the next area. Our goal is to prep this entire stretch of land this summer and plant a cover crop in time for it to get established before cold weather in the fall sets in.
Can chickens help improve soil?
Chickens love to scratch and peck for bugs and seeds. As they do this they’ll naturally clear the ground of unwanted vegetation, add nitrogen and mix in organic matter we provide and in turn, this will increase healthy soil conditions while increasing the soils holding capacity for water and oxygen.
You can also do this to improve your grass or pasture. They’ll naturally fertilize it with their manure and help eliminate bugs. In this case, though you will need to move them every day or so, so they don’t damage your pasture area.
Can you use chickens in the garden?
Chickens are fantastic for cleaning up a garden at the end of the season and will leave their manure behind to decompose over the winter and fertilize next year’s garden.
There are some caveats to using chickens in the garden, and one reason we choose not to use them is that we don’t want them scratching and pecking our raised garden bed rows away. We work hard to maintain these every year, and chickens are sometimes too good at their job.
If your garden is set in a way that chickens would be beneficial, then you can even allow them into the garden in late winter or early spring, just as the snow is melting and weeds are sprouting.
Also, chickens love to eat the tiny sprouts of new plants (another reason why you may want to keep them out of your garden just after planting). Allowing your chickens to go into your garden just as weeds are coming out of their dormancy can mean less weeding for you before it’s time to plant.
Can chickens help with bug infestations?
Yes! Chickens can also help control bug populations. As mentioned above, they can be very useful in the garden or around the farm to keep flies and other bugs under control.
If you’re not keen on letting your chickens into your garden, consider allowing them around your garden. Likewise, letting chickens peck the perimeter of the garden can still help keep the bugs at bay.
We’re all about maximizing our livestock and what it can do for us on our homestead. Using the animal’s natural abilities means healthier and happier animals, and less work for us. If you want to learn more, check out our other YouTube video for more about how we built our chickshaw and some of the features it has.