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Feeding the Chooks and the Chooks Feeding Us

Chooks are such a good way to double the harvest.  These bok choy were self sown and if I’d been pressed for space I would have fed them to the chooks as greens much earlier.  We ate a few leaves, but then since I had nothing desperately needing the spot I let them go to seed – which they did very happily, producing lots and lots of seed (which is why I had self sown bok choy in the first place).

I have hung these upside down in with the chooks, and it is wonderful to watch their enjoyment.  A plant a day, along with our household scraps is providing them with all their feed and I don’t have to go to the produce store.  And in return, they will give me eggs with very golden beta carotened yolks.

I also aim to give them a barrow load of mulch or weeds or horse manure or azolla  most days, and if I can keep up that rate of organic matter for a month, the chooks scratch it in with their own poo and turn it into compost for me.

 My garden beds these days are fortress fenced against the wildlife – bandicoots, bush turkeys and possums being the most demanding of serious fencing. It does impose limitations – one of these days I’ll get around to a post about the inherent challenges in reconciling love of wildlife with serious scale food production. But it also has benefits – ready made trellising for one, and ready made chook fencing for another.

The ready made chook fencing is wonderful. If you keep chooks fenced in, they quickly denude their run, and diseases and parasites start to build up.  And you can’t go away even overnight without chook sitters. But if I let them free range, they do enormous damage to any garden they can get at, and they are vulnerable to foxes, goannas, and eagles even in the daytime. Being able to rotate them around fenced garden beds means I can keep them on new ground, with access to greens and enough space to be happy and safe.  The roost design means they can put themselves to bed, safe from carpet snakes, foxes, quolls, powerful owls and other night hunters, and if we don’t come home till late, or even if we go away for a day or two, they’re fine.

About once a month I move the chooks into a new garden bed, and then they can feed themselves for a week or so, cleaning up all the spent plants, scratching for insects, and clearing weeds.  Moving them is as simple as moving their carpet-snake-fox-and-quoll-proof roost to a new bed, along with their water bucket and mower catcher laying box, and a tarp that gives them a bit of extra shade and rain protection. Every bed is fully fenced anyway, and they all now have a metre length of galvanised pipe   donged in the centre of the bed, standing about 40 cm out of the ground, into which the roost just slots.

My timing is never perfect – I won’t plant anything new in the next two beds the chooks are going into, and only quick maturing things into the one after that, but there are always a few stragglers.  I have a bed they will move into next that has had spuds and broad beans and peas and carrots and beets, now all harvested, and broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbages all gone to seed and cabbage moth caterpillar ridden, and overmature silver beet attracting grasshoppers, and some gone-to-seed rocket and amaranth – all of which the chooks will relish. But it has some spring onions and leeks that I’ll be picking a bit younger than I would otherwise, a chili bush that the chooks will probably denude, and a whole lot of self seeded mizuna that we’ve been eating. But I just factor in a bit of crop sacrifice to the system, and they more than make up for it with the yield from a bed after they’ve had a month cleaning, manuring, and sheet composting it.

It’s a system that’s working well at the moment – I’m very happy that it’s already half way through summer and the new roost design is still keeping them safe. I’m daring to believe I’ve reached a new plateau in the co-evolution of a system that feeds snakes, eagles, quolls, bandicoots, bush turkeys and humans all at once.

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Frogdancer December 11, 2011, 6:14 pm

    It sounds lovely. I’m letting mine free range in the afternoons after they’ve laid their eggs but because of this my veggie beds look like Fort Knox… fences everywhere. Still, that’s my compromise with having the gerls in the suburbs, I guess.

  • Jayne December 11, 2011, 6:23 pm

    Hi Linda
    I was just wondering if I could share your Zucchini muffin recipe with my local Food connect group in Brisbane (a CSA group). We are getting loads of Zucchs in the box each week and I just made your muffins with some of the local honey and they so are good I thought I should share it around!
    Thanks Jayne

  • Linda December 11, 2011, 8:31 pm

    Absolutely Jayne, feel free. Glad you like it.

  • Linda December 11, 2011, 8:38 pm

    Hi Frogdancer, I think the aesthetics of my old garden is the thing that I miss most. I just can’t make fortress fencing beautiful, and that garden-as-a-work-of-art aspect is so rewarding. But that’s my compromise with having the gerls in the bush too!

  • Debra K December 11, 2011, 11:01 pm

    Hi Linda,
    Great post. Even though I have done my PDC, it’s easy to let things slip from your mind if you’re not continually practicing it. I haven’t set my vegie garden and chooks up permaculture style yet, but it is on the cards to get to it eventually. Thanks for your info… 🙂

  • celia December 12, 2011, 9:30 pm

    I’m so happy to hear your chooks are safe too, Linda!

    I know I’ve said this before…we’ve learnt an enormous amount from you in terms of permaculture gardening and sensible, clever, garden planning, but the greatest thing you’ve taught us is to not stress out over things in the backyard. It’s advice that has held us in good stead too – as a result of not trying to be perfect in every way, the garden has become a mellow, gentle place to spend time in. It is reasonably productive, and when we look at it, we see all the wonderful things growing, rather than a lack of neat rows or overgrown weeds. 🙂

  • Linda December 13, 2011, 10:24 am

    I’m so glad Celia. Right now my garden is really untidy (even more than usual) – it’s been too wet for mowing, and I’m deep in crazy time leading up to Christmas, with 15 work days to fit between now and the holidays (basic maths tells me I have a problem!). It’s not very pretty and everywhere I look I can see things need doing, but it is still feeding us.

  • Jason Dingley December 13, 2011, 2:36 pm

    When I read the bit in your book talking about the use of chooks in the garden I was blow away with its brilliance. Like all great ideas its so simple, and like many simple things surprisingly not obvious until it is pointed out. And you shore did that. I believe it has resulted in the biggest change to my gardening approach and thinking. For example I now no longer look at weeds as my enemy, spending endless hours at war. “Grow weeds, grow” I now say, my chooks will enjoy you.

    I knew you didn’t use a chook dome any more so it was great to know what you are now using. Again the hight rise roost is a brilliant design that minimises human effort and maximises animal enjoyment. Your chooks must love it you have created them a portable tree. Nice to see we have both put old umbrellas to use.

  • cecilia gunther December 15, 2011, 12:37 pm

    That is a fantastic system i love it, but don’t you need very high fences, my girls can fly over a 10 foot fence! they are hard to keep in! c

  • Linda December 15, 2011, 1:07 pm

    Netting over the top Cecilia, more to keep the turkeys bower birds and possums out, but it works to keep the chooks in too.

  • Ulrike June 11, 2012, 4:47 am

    We have chickens too, and they are let out each afternoon to roam about. Although my flower and veggie gardens are surrounded by fences as they can raid them in a heartbeat, but they do have a pretty big area so we still get beautiful eggs.

  • Debra K September 13, 2012, 8:30 pm

    Linda, do you feed laying mash to your girls, or do they just get by with your garden produce and kitchen scraps??

  • Linda September 14, 2012, 8:22 am

    Hi Debra, when my garden is on a good roll, the garden produce, house scraps, occasional greengrocer scraps, weeds and waterweeds are enough. Right at the moment I’m slow to move them and I’m giving them a cupful of mixed grain a day as a top up.

  • Corrin January 14, 2013, 3:21 am

    Linda,
    Our chooks are fenced in for several reasons, we mainly feed them bought packet feed (mixed seed and pellet). After changing feeder container type I didn’t realise how much of the mixed seed they don’t actually eat and it’s not cheap. I dream of growing most of their food needs though besides the silverbeety stuff, can you suggest any other fodder stuff fairly cheap, substantial and easy to grow? I try though I’m not a consistently organised sower, and our kitchen scraps and garden weed scraps are NEVER enough.

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