I’m a bit feather-brained at the moment.
We have three chickens – Minnie, Polly and Iona – they’re our first little flock and we’re extremely fond of them. I have previously documented their arrival here and since we got them they seem to be quite happy in our back garden. They’ve recently started laying again after a bit of a break over Christmas time and their eggs are delicious. My current favourite lunch is poached egg and avocado on a nice bit of thick bread, with a good cup of tea. YUM.
Our hens live in the middle of a back border in a second-hand Eglu (thank you, Gumtree) and have a small run outside of the main coop and wire run. We have experimented with free-ranging before, but for various reasons I have always gone back to restricting them to their bigger run and keeping them out of the main garden.
The reasons included – bird flu restrictions (the advice was to keep them under cover and away from wild birds for several weeks), poo on the grass and paths, fears they would eat some of my plants – plus one of them worked out how to escape and, having had a taste of freedom, would get out at inconvenient times.
However, I recently bought and read this book…
…which has reminded me of my original hopes when we got the hens – that they would be an important and valuable element of our garden, not destroying it but contributing to it.
This book has been around for while, it’s not a new release, but it’s still very relevant. The author, Jessi Bloom, is an experienced chicken owner and writes with passion and enthusiasm about how easy it is to integrate chickens and gardens. She gives advice about housing, planting, training and looking after hens.
The main message I took away from reading this book are that chickens can not just live in your garden, but can actually be beneficial too – I already compost their poo so that the nutrients will return to the soil, but the book also made it clear that hens can reduce pests and weeds and be useful garden helpers.
It’s helped to calm my fears about letting the hens loose. If there are young plants you don’t want them to eat, these can be protected. Yes, there may be occasional damage but it’s avoidable and not a great tragedy if it does occur. Let’s face it, the nature of gardening is such that if something doesn’t work the first time, you can simply try again. And yes there may be some poo on the grass but at this time of year it’s not a big issue and a quick sweep of the lawn in the spring/summer should see it clear for the kids to play on. In fact, I might even get them to do the poo-picking!
And so, our ladies have been released. They are free-ranging part-time (afternoons, when we’re home to keep an eye on them) and seem to be loving it. They’ve already established the New Favourite Dust Bathing Area – under a conifer I recently clipped so that the hellebores underneath would have a bit more breathing space.
I do have plans to introduce new plants to the back garden but now I’ll be more mindful of how to protect these until they’re established. I feel more comfortable that what’s already there will survive a small amount of treading or scraping and if it doesn’t, well, it can be replaced.
This back garden area will eventually be an area of woodland planting – tough, hardy, resilient to a bit of ‘chicken love’, and I hope they really will keep the pests down and the weeds at bay. For now, I’m enjoying seeing them run across the garden, wings outstretched, or run up to me hoping for treats and just kicking about making their little ‘boop-boop’ noises. They’re good garden companions.
In fact, they’re so good that I’m now keeping my eyes peeled for a second coop – either for raising chicks or for a new flock. I was warned that chicken-keeping becomes addictive and it’s true. Hence why I’m feather-brained – I keep wondering if it should be Pekins, bantams, ex-batts, Auraucanas, Buffs….