Ask Master Gardener Volunteer Linda Clemens
Many people with a yard consider raising chickens as a source of homegrown eggs. Chickens can also be a very useful addition to the home gardening team. We combine raising a few chickens with vegetable gardening here in Wakulla. We keep our chickens in a pen at night, and let them out during the day when we are at home. Our vegetable gardens are fenced off to exclude the chickens, but they roam freely within our fenced yard and woods. Here are some of the benefits we have found in combining chickens and gardening:
Benefits of raising chickens
Number one benefit, of course, is the eggs. The flavor, texture and color of home-raised, free range eggs can’t be beat. Eggs are an important source of protein if you are trying to create locally sourced meals from your home-grown produce.
Chickens are omnivorous
A close second in benefits is pest control. Chickens are omnivorous and always hungry. They love to eat cockroaches around outbuildings, ticks, insects that overwinter in the ground underneath your fruit trees, practically any kind of caterpillar, and grasshoppers. I have even seen our hens carefully and delicately picking fire ants out of a fire ant mound. (Helpful Hint: You want to make sure that you keep the chickens out of your vegetable garden because they like vegetables, too.)
A third benefit is manure. We collect the manure that accumulates under their perches to incorporate into compost. We also pile leaves in their pen in the fall, which they work into the perfect soil amendment for our flower beds by spring.
Chickens make good organic garbage disposals
A fourth benefit is that we rarely ever throw any kind of food item away. If we don’t eat it, and the dogs don’t want it, the chickens can be relied upon to eat almost anything. This includes overgrown collards and bolted lettuce from the garden, apple peels, watermelon rinds, and banana peels.
Last but not least, chickens provide a constant source of amusement. A chicken chasing a grasshopper is a pure joy to watch.
Information about raising backyard chickens can be found at the University of Florida IFAS Extension Electronic Data Source (EDIS) website at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_backyard_flocks. Another good resource is the Escambia County Backyard Poultry Guide, compiled by UF IFAS Extension Agents.
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