I do not come by my love of chickens naturally. I was gradually exposed to them as my children raised them over the course of 10 years. Now, I have had my own chickens for 3 years and have to say that a few hens, maybe a rooster, are practical pets for the gardener. Let me count the ways!
Chickens are weed whackers without a loud heavy motor or power cord. Nearly every yard has some section where it is hard to grow things other than weeds. A little band of chickens will diligently scratch those weeds out of existence.
Chickens are born composters. Bring your grass clippings (nothing recently treated); your autumn leaves; your kitchen scraps and overripe produce; and your fresh and tender, non-seeding weeds. (I recommend avoiding putting in fibrous plants, weeds in seed, or bind weed) Even if the chickens don’t eat it, they will mix and turn it with the soil. Just add water regularly.
Chickens are small and portable. They are easy for kids to spend time with (using caution with full grown roosters, of course.) If time is spent with chickens while they are growing, they become quite friendly. Small pens are fairly easy to construct, which make it possible to move the chickens to various locations around the yard, either for remote weed control or simply to let the kids play with them on the grass. Word of caution: chickens are SO portable that sometimes foxes walk off with them. We will be reinforcing our chicken yards.
Chickens lay eggs, which taste much better than those from the grocery store, for some reason, and go well with many vegetables grown in the garden. I love my blue-green araucana eggs.
Chickens eat many insects. Heavily infested plants with less mobile bugs can be dumped right into the chicken yard. And kids are more inclined to pick the noxious bugs out of the garden when they can be fed to the chickens. However, you might have to put limits on earth worms taken out of your garden…
Chickens are self-propagating, if they have enough space and safe habitat. Actually, our best brooding experience was with an escapee hen who found her own quiet haven. The kids spent hours interacting with those little chicks. Still it seemed best to let my youngest daughter teach me how to clip chicken wings.
Chickens provide opportunity for hands on science for the kids. From hatching to butchering, kids have many opportunities to learn about the cycle of life. If you aren’t up for the butchering yourself, you could take the birds to Cluck & Pluck, a little operation just outside of Homedale, Idaho (541-856-3347, they are open Saturdays May – November, call to make arrangements)
Chickens are soft and add color to the landscape! A gentle touch soothes them and relaxes the hard working soul, so everyone wins when you pet your chicken. The bloom on their combs and wattles rarely fades. Why invest in a gnome, when you can have a chicken?
All in all, chickens are fairly low maintenance and reasonably personable, as well as being useful. What garden accessory can compare to the multi-use design? I’m convinced every gardener should have some, and if I can fall for a chicken, anyone can.