A Gardener’s Guide To Keeping Chickens The Right Way

I have learned a thing or two during my time keeping chickens and have accumulated some know-how that I just know someone out there will find useful too! It’s easy enough to have a standard coop and run, and chickens will do just fine with that. I have discovered some ways to maximize the benefit of keeping chickens, especially if you’re a gardener, but also to encourage more people to consider becoming gardeners too!

Some of The Basic Needs of Chickens

The Chicken Run

A good chicken run will have both shady and sunny spots, some gravel or sandy areas for pecking at pebbles, and some soft soil for dust bathing to keep the mites out of their feathers. Chickens love anything green and will completely clear a large area of grass if allowed to freely forage every day. For this reason, a chicken run designed with two separate free-ranging areas that can be alternated between seasons provides added benefit to both the chickens and the garden- and to you as well!

Chicken Keeping For Gardeners | Home LoveTry designing a vegetable garden bed next to a chicken run and switch which occupants reside in either one over each consecutive season. A coop built near access to both, perhaps one that doubles as a garden tool shed, is a brilliant system that I have been designing plans to build when we move to our foreverstead. Many of the principles in this design I already use in my current small backyard system, but I have optimised them for when we get to start anew with more space and wisdom. I will share more about that below.

  • sunny and shady spots
  • gravel or sand to nibble at for digestion
  • soil or ash for bathing feathers and preventing mites and lice
  • green space for foraging

The Chicken Coop

Chickens need a place to roost, a place to lay eggs, and a place for food and water in their coop. A good coop will have a window for natural light to get in, and some ventilation to keep the air inside from stagnating. In colder climates, a coop designed with some thermal mass to capture sun heat will take the edge off of those extreme winter nights when the temperatures dip well below freezing.

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I do not supplement my chickens with artificial heat or light as I feel that they are naturally adapted to withstand rigid temperatures and winter seasons, provided they have access to sufficient shelter and protein. I have seen many chickens lost to moisture in the coop originating from condensation or from fire due to heat lamps.

I prefer to use the deep litter method in the chicken coop to increase the potential for winter heat and provide the chickens with some room to dig while they’re cooped up. I’ll mention more of that in the next section.

  • nests (at least one per 4 chickens)
  • roosts (2 inches wide so they can keep their toes near their bodies when it’s cold)
  • food and water

Food for Chickens

Most chicken keepers feed their chooks a 17% layer feed as their primary food. Of course, in the summer, they eat bugs, plants, and sometimes even small animals like mice and frogs. In the winter, they need to be given extra protein to keep their metabolism up and their body temperatures warmer. My chooks get a handful of cracked corn before bedtime when the weather is cold, to increase their body temperature over night.

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Because of the lack of foraging opportunities in the winter, many people will grow indoor crops to bring to their chickens. While I have done this on occasion, it is a lot of work. I do however, compost directly in the coop as part of the deep litter bed system. The girls will eat what kitchen scraps they desire as it arrives and then leave the rest to wilt and dry up on the coop floor. As the floor accumulates a layer of composting ‘greens’, I add a layer of ‘browns’ by spreading out more straw over the coop floor. When the chooks get their nightly cracked corn, I toss it to the floor and they dig and turn the bedding while foraging for their treats. The coop doesn’t get cleaned all winter (except for scraping clean the roosts, replacing nesting straw, and managing the food and water supply). By spring, the dense layers of bedding with the straw, compost, and chicken poops get shovelled out into the season’s garden bed and mixed into the soil as amendments.

  • Standard feed (17% layer feed is the norm)
  • forage- compost, plants and grasses, bugs, etc
  • protein for cold weather- cracked corn is our preferred treat

For fun, here’s some poorly executed mock-ups I did of my chicken and garden keeping design that you may be interested to take a look at. I didn’t add this to the drawings, but a tin roof and rain barrel for catchment would add another component of ease to this multifaceted system. During each season of the year, the spaces serve a different function. Rotation of those functions create a system that reduces your workload, increases production, and makes your chickens happier. All you have to do is keep the chicken door closed on the garden side each season. You can use the shaded area on the garden side as storage for your wheel barrow, rototiller, lawn mower, or anything else needing protection from the elements.

       SUMMER

 

Chicken Keeping For Gardeners | Home Love
During the summer, toss all your garden scraps and kitchen scraps to the chickens.
Chicken Keeping For Gardeners | Home Love
The chickens will be happy to help clean up the garden and clear it of any overwintering pests or eggs that may lurk. Let them help clean up before transferring them back to their run to finish preparations before winter. An optional measure you can take is to plant a chicken-friendly winter crop in the garden after harvesting is done. Keep the chickens out so the crop can establish until winter sets in. Here’s a helpful article on chicken-friendly cover crops from GardeningKnowHow.Com
Chicken Keeping For Gardeners | Home Love
I love the deep litter method because it allows for easy management of compostables over the winter and helps keep the chickens happy without hurting the budget. My current coop is an earthen floor and I find that the chooks really enjoy being able to continue digging through the dirt well into the snowy months before the layers of bedding begin to start piling up. On the side destined to be next year’s garden, you can store all you equipment beneath the shelter roof, where it’ll be ready to use as soon as spring rolls around.
Chicken Keeping For Gardeners | Home Love
In early spring, only allow the chickens to roam on the side destined to become the season’s garden. Allow time for the cover crop to sprout and re-establish if possible before moving them to their new run. During this time, the chickens will continue to maintain your garden plot, keeping it free from pests and weeds until planting time.
Chicken Keeping For Gardeners | Home Love
And finally, the second summer. The second gardening season. The process begins anew and your chickens spend a season in their new run while you grow your garden in a healthy nutrient-rich plot. It really is all like clockwork! CLUCKWORK!

Chicken Health Care

I have never had to take any extreme measures to care for my chooks. We have had a couple of them die unexpectedly but they were isolated events that I suspect were natural causes. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be prepared for the unexpected or that chickens never get sick or injured. There are several groups on Facebook for Chicken people to share photos and videos concerning chicken ailments where tons of good advice is freely offered. Whether you suspect your chicken has wryneck or bumble-foot, fleas or mites, or an internal injury or psychological illness; the folks in those groups can advise exactly the treatment best suited for your chickens needs from vitamins to Gatorade to diatomaceous earth and everything in between. I recommend joining them if you are new to keeping chickens.

Like I stated in the beginning, basic chicken keeping is super simple and worthwhile. But Chicken keeping as a gardener can be incredibly beneficial and fulfilling if a few basic principles and plans are utilized. I hope you find some useful information and inspiration here. I can’t wait until we finally find our foreverstead and I can document the process of executing these plans myself!

Happy Homesteading Xx

 

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4 thoughts on “A Gardener’s Guide To Keeping Chickens The Right Way

  1. Perfect post! I have just finished my coop – and the girls seem to be very happy – laying eggs on day one of arrival, so I must be doing something right. They are still not using their coop perch. Its above the egg boxes and wide enough, but they seem to be spending more time crowding round my first egg box near the front of the coop where they have been entering before they learn to use the proper entrance which is more wind proof. Is it lack of light in there? At sunset they head up the ladder no problems. We close the front and they all huddle in that corner. We haven’t put straw all over the base of our wooden coop yet – its raised off the ground so they have shade and a dry patch underneath. So maybe the straw egg box is more cosy? We might compartmentalize the main coop area into two, to make it more cosy perhaps – but that still doesn’t get them up on the perches. Our coop is 3 x 3 meters. Help!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They like to roost where they feel they have shelter at their back. So, depending on the height of the coop maybe you could raise the perch? Or put the laying boxes above the perch to provide a nearer ‘roof’ above the perch. I find my girls really prefer natural tree branches to a single 2×4, with several directions to choose from. I had to hack an apple tree last year so now we have a big apple tree branch with two forks in it for them. They spend more time there now but I still have a few stubborn girls who insist on hanging out in the nestboxes 😂 I hope one of these ideas will help Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just saw that
    Followed my blog Southwest Homestead. Thank you so much I think we have a lot of similar interests. Being a new blogger sure is challenging. I appreciate the support.

    Liked by 1 person

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