Thursday, May 1, 2014

On Free Range Chicken Gardens

For years, our yard had LOTS of pine straw. I loved it around our plants in our gardens. Then I decided that I wanted to raise some free ranging chickens so that we could enjoy the benefits of the super healthy eggs they produce and I just love chickens anyhow.

I knew from past attempts that chickens and manicured landscapes just don't go well together, so what to do? I am pretty particular about our yard. I like our foundation area to be tidy and if you've ever had a loose chicken, you know they can destroy gardens pretty fast. I began researching online and came across a book that has become my chicken garden bible! I am in love with this book and read it all the time {you can find it here on Amazon}.

So, our first step was to remove all the straw and then to begin planting perennials and shrubs that were chicken safe.

{"Flame" honeysuckle vine, "Alaska" daisy, and Alberta Spruce to name just a few of our new plantings}

This takes a whole bunch of patience, I'll just tell 'ya. It's a three year plan because plants don't mature over night. They require years to fill in the space that you've provided them. We surrounded our new plantings with mini pine bark mulch instead of the light and fluffy pine straw. This has worked well. The chickens do scratch a bit and kick out the mulch onto the walks and driveway area, but it's pretty minimal.

You have to be o.k. with a little disorder if you're going to keep free ranging chickens, but it's totally worth it!

Now, where to put those free ranging birds? There are so many super talented DIY'ers out there with the greatest building skills, and they turn out to-die-for coops, sadly, we're so not those people as you'll soon witness when you see our coop. Building grand structures just escapes us. So, we approached our coop like we do all our other projects, do the best we can for the least amount of money. I wanted to see these chickies free ranging mostly in our front yard area, so our coop was placed under a massive maple in our front yard. This coop is a recycled dog house put up on stilts to provide safety.

I built predator proof doors on the front and back {for ease of cleaning out the coop}. Then a little decorating :)

{cutie sign from Bainbridge farm goods. Check out all the cuteness at their Etsy Shop }

I wasn't concerned with the size statistics you generally hear about for coops {average 3-4 sq. ft. per chicken} because our birds only sleep and lay their eggs in the coop. The whole day they're free ranging. We have five hens and one rooster and that's the max this coop will hold. I fill the coop with a thick layer of hay and clean out the droppings weekly. They are all quite happy with the set-up.

I can't tell you how happy I've been with these chickens. We are moving into year two with our gardens and are looking forward to adding more ground covers to reach our goal of pretty much no pine bark mulch at all one day. It's extremely rewarding and with the benefit of a super food being provided to your family, it's win-win. The statistics on eating eggs from free rangers as opposed to store bought eggs is indisputable.

{Our Super Happy Little Foragers}

If you've ever considered having chickens, I highly encourage you to try it out. They are so much fun to watch and often provide a much needed dose of comic relief! And let's face it, the more laughter the better! Happy Thursday Everyone!

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