If you think that poultry will only bring eggs and meat to your homestead, think again! Most birds bring some incredibly helpful personalities to your garden as well as your farm. With a little bit of strategizing you can learn how to best use chickens, ducks, geese, and more to help combat bugs and keep your soil fertile.
Chickens are the most popular backyard fowl, and they are very useful in the garden. Chickens love bugs and grubs and will help keep many pests at bay. Unfortunately, they are indiscriminate, and will also munch up good bugs when they are looking for a snack. In a vegetable garden it’s a good idea to fence off some of the more tasty vegetables, such as tomato plants, as you might come out to find your fruit eaten along with the insects.
Where chickens really come into their own in the garden is turning your soil either before, or after you harvest. If you spread some manure around to enrich your soil, your chickens will happily work through it, moving the nutrients around and spreading a pile of leaves or mulch all around a garden space. This is also helpful in your compost heap. Compost needs oxygen in order to breakdown, and chickens digging in the compost heap will help the pile breakdown quickly.
Everybody poops, and chicken’s droppings are particularly rich in nitrogen. Chicken manure is approximately 1.8% nitrogen and having your chickens in your garden will help spread valuable fertilizer. Even if you don’t keep your hens near the garden, you can compost the droppings from each clean of their coop, and use that to bed down your garden every year.
Ducks are also garden helpers. Like chickens, they love eating insects and bugs, and unlike chickens they will even chow down on the largest and scariest of creepy crawlies. My chickens will not touch the massive, green Tomato Hornworm, but the ducks go crazy for them. Ducks also eat slugs, which are often overlooked by other birds.
Unfortunately, like chickens, ducks will happily munch on tasty greens. Again, fencing off areas (especially when your plants are young) will help protect them from hungry ducks. Ducks can be especially in fields and vineyards, and one of their favorite insects is grasshoppers, a pest that often destroys field crops like wheat and oats. Duck droppings are also useful, and you can even reuse their dirty bathing water as a nutritious drink for your plants.
You may not be as used to seeing geese in the garden, but they serve their purpose too! Unlike ducks and chickens, geese are mostly herbivores. They won’t eat bugs, but they do love weeds. Pretty much any tender green shoot will quickly be gobbled down by geese, including nuisance plants that might be crowding out your veggies.
Of course, since geese love all tender green shoots, they can decimate a garden patch. The first rule is to make sure your plants are mature before you let the geese into the garden. Keep an eye on them, or use them to weed crops that they don’t like. Geese will weed strawberries, bushes, and orchards without paying any attention to the crop plants. Their long, agile necks mean that they can reach weeds we wouldn’t even see without doing any harm to the vines around them.
There are even more unexpected poultry garden friends! Guinea Fowl, for example, can wreak havoc on your tick population, which is always a good thing. Quail eat bugs and don’t scratch as much as chickens, and because of their small size they aren’t as likely to eat your vegetables.
So if you have a flock of fowl, or you’re looking to add poultry to your farm, make sure you utilize them as much as possible and you will be surprised how helpful they are with your garden!
Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.
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