Our chicken yard serves 2 purposes: It’s the playground for our feathered friends but it’s also a great source of beautiful compost for our gardens. We don’t allow our girls to roam free because of the challenge of predators nearby like bald eagles, red tail hawks, raccoons, and mink. We’ve provided the chickens with enough space to run around, have dust baths, and roost. And since we can’t let them roam about the yard, we bring the yard to them!
This little chicken farming trick is the best trash hack we’ve brought to our hen yard. Much like the practices of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, mimicking natural patterns on a domestic scale, we believe our chickens should work for us in producing the best organic matter for our crops and vice versa.
When we mow the lawn, the waste from that effort, the grass clippings, are dumped in there for the girls to munch. When we rake the fall leaves, the waste from that practice is thrown in by the wheelbarrowload. Even our garden clippings and weeds go in the hen run. It’s salad for them. The level of the hen yard, after a few months of this is raised significantly, but the endless scratching, pooping, and pecking breaks the organics down at a remarkably fast rate. And the end-product? After only a few weeks of being in the yard, we have the best compost I’ve ever seen. Waste to gold that’ll go on our veggie beds and back on the lawn to be put back to use again. It’s a truly closed loop practice and I revel in the circles I move in daily around the property, completing this life and food-giving cycle of the natural world.
By the bucketful, we shovel compost out of the hen zone and into the garden, thankful for the girls’ help in turning our yard and garden back into gold. The little bugs and slugs on the backsides of leaves give them endless treats to find as they scratch for them around their yard. They’re just as excited about getting a load of leaves as they are a bucket of school lunch leftovers or algea from our pond. It reduces our chicken feed expenses, too.
But probably the greatest benefit to bringing the free range to the hens is the quality of the eggs. Our yolks are a fiery orange, pretty similar to what you’d see on a chart for pastured hens, because we’re bringing the greens and proteins right into their yard. The slugs, bugs, snails, and larvae that come with the deep weedy greens we toss in there. Along with our non-GMO organic soy-free feed, these eggs are as healthy as we can get ’em.
Yet another benefit of this practice is that the rainy season chicken yard mud is offset by the mounds of leaves we throw in there. By providing new leaves on the floor of their yard, the mud-factor is reduced greatly and our eggs therefore don’t get soiled. Anyone in the Pacific Northwest will know what I’m talking about.
Last spring, our newly-transplanted rhubarb amidst daffodils were as glorious as ever, just popping out, thanks to the girls’ gold.
And our winter garden has produced greens for months due to the rich infusion they get from our chicken yard.
What do you throw in your chicken yard? And do you then take the resulting “waste” out into your garden or compost? Please share in the comments below.