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Using the Chooks to Garden

This is the bed the chooks are about to go onto, when I get a moment to move them.  I have to intensively fence my garden beds anyway, to keep out bandicoots, bush turkeys, padimelons, wallabies, possums, bush rats, bower birds – the list goes on.  I haven’t planted anything new in there for the last three months, and just about everything is now harvested, though I shall have a look through before I move the chooks on – I think there are still a few beetroots, carrots and leeks hiding in there.

There is a feast for chooks in there – brussels sprouts infested with caterpillars, a tromboncino vine gone rampant, self seeded bok choy, some old silver beet gone to seed, the first round of beans now finished and the last of the vine, with the beans not worth picking still on it.

This is where the chooks are now, happily clearing and fertilizing a bed for me. They sleep up on their artificial tree – a moveable roost that stands in a bit of galvanised pipe donged into the middle of each bed. I found they liked roosting in a real tree, and they were right about it being safer than any cage I could provide. But free ranging chooks are just too destructive in a garden, and I have work for them to do!

So they have a moveable roost, and a water bucket and laying box, and an old kids “shell” pool propped up to provide bit of shelter from heavy rain, and I have a fresh new chook run, complete with a few weeks supply of greens, every month. I throw the chooks the weeds, household scraps, azolla, grass clippings, and any other organic matter I can get my hands on, along with a few bags of horse or cow manure which they scratch through looking for insects and in the process mix nicely with all the other organic matter.

This is where they were last, a couple of weeks ago. They’ve created a good 30 cm of sheet compost over the bed by scratching through all the organic matter I’ve thrown to them, and they’ve very diligently scratched right over the surface soil searching for any insect larvae or eggs.  I’ve been able to plant advanced seedlings straight into it.  (But I should get around to top dressing with some more mulch sometime very soon).

And this is where they were before that, about two months ago.  And where they’ll come back to again in about another 8 or 9 months. By planting advanced seedlings, I’m harvesting in a matter of weeks.

Chooks and vegetable gardens are such an elegant arrangement.  I’ve tried lots of ways of combining them, from domes to compost making down a slope, but I’m really liking the current solution.


{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Zara February 19, 2012, 11:08 am

    Wow they do such a good job, and they seem to enjoy it too. It’s much better than having to do it yourself that’s for sure.

  • Kari @ bite-sized thoughts February 19, 2012, 5:06 pm

    What a brilliant illustration of how gardening and chickens can work together, and quite beautifully so. I’m really very impressed!

  • veggiegobbler February 19, 2012, 7:31 pm

    Brilliant. I’m fairly new to chook-keeping but have realised I really ought to do something similar. Their run – which is really quite big has been scratched bare. Today I organised some more chicken wire and once my tomatoes are finished I’m going to fence off that bed and set them free there. Oh and they can eat my weeds that have grown up the paths too.

  • cityhippyfarmgirl February 19, 2012, 7:47 pm

    That top photo looks like chook heaven Linda. So lush.
    One day I really hope to put your permaculture methods to work for me.

  • Kate February 19, 2012, 9:06 pm

    And we’re really loving your domes!! Before that we had electromesh and a moveable box trailer with a roof. Whichever way it’s done it’s a marvelous way to garden.

  • Liz February 19, 2012, 9:48 pm

    This is a great idea. We are currently in the process of designing a chook pen and run and I definitely like the idea of having a moveable pen that I can put on various garden beds which allows them to get into different parts of the garden but still controls where they go/what they destroy.

  • Linda February 19, 2012, 9:49 pm

    Linda, are you leaving the gardens permanently fenced or moving the fences? The former I would imagine or it would be very intensive. I love the idea of then being able to provide a more natural environment for the birds, such as a tree roost and shelter, rather than a shed!

  • Johanna February 19, 2012, 10:19 pm

    I see you garden is looking like a tropical jungle too. The difference is that I have to pluck up the courage to enter mine with a sickle. I have to admit I do like your chook method.


  • Kellee February 20, 2012, 10:11 am

    Hi Linda
    I was just wondering if you have permanent paths around your garden and if so what are they made from grass, mulch, stones? I have small stones around my garden beds and it is a constant battle with weeds, could you suggest anything better ?
    Thanks Kellee.

  • Christine February 20, 2012, 1:45 pm

    I’m really liking your current solution, too! The movable roost is brilliant! Just to get things straight in my head though…each bed is individually fenced? With a little gate or opening for the chooks to move into the next one?

    Our dome is still going strong several years on and it’s such a pleasure to see the girls out in the garden so happy and productive! Thanks for inspiring. 🙂

  • kim February 20, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Thanks for this post. I often wonder what your vegie /chook area looks like large scale. They are a great team.I wouldn’t go back to the old way of garden now.

  • Linda February 21, 2012, 8:35 am

    Hi Kellee, Johanna is right – my garden looks a bit like a jungle! It isn’t neat and tidy. I’d like it to be more so, but then I weigh up the work it would take, and accept that it probably never will happen. My paths these days are grass, that I mow less regularly than I intend. (Seeing the black snake disappearing is a good incentive). They used to be dug out and filled with sawdust, doubling as drains in very well weather. I could shovel the sawdust out into a chook pen when it got weedy and replace with fresh sawdust. It was a good system. Now I think about it, I should go back to it.

  • Linda February 21, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Hi Christine, no, every bed is individually fenced, with paths between. They actually have some permaculture stacking, that I’ll write a post about one day. They have low herbs like garlic chives around the outside on the northern side, and tall things like tamarllos and coffee bushes and red sugar cane on the south sides. To move the chooks I have to herd them from one bed to the next, but they know the magic red bucket so they follow me. Glad your dome is still working for you. I wish I could still use them – they were my best solution until the bandicoot invasion.

  • Linda February 21, 2012, 12:47 pm

    My garden beds, unfortunately, have to be fenced these days. Not just fenced but fortress fenced – wire dug in a foot underground to foil bandicoots and netting over the top to foil bush turkeys and bower birds and possums and chicken wire in between to foil padimelons, wallabies, etc. It was hugely labour intensive to build and does give me sympathy for the attitude many commercial farmers have towards wildlife – to try to do it on a commercial scale would be prohibitive. After spending several decades rehabilitating a degraded cattle property to be environmentally healthy, we’ve succeeded all too well! I don’t think it is healthy for chooks to be kept in the same run for a long time – they bare the ground and build up parasites and diseases, and they are such good garden workers, it seems like a waste. But I now have a good range of top order predators to deal with too – big carpet snakes, goannas, quolls, wedge tailed eagles, powerful owls. I am glad they are coming back, but it does make it challenging to keep chooks safe, being as how they are so tasty. I’ve never managed to build any kind of cage that will keep a determined carpet snake out, but the roost design is working.

  • Marie June 14, 2016, 12:04 pm

    Linda, you are amazing! and very inspiring..xxo

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