Chickens: Hardest Working Garden Buddy Award

Posted on Nov 5, 2012 | 4 comments

Some friends and I were standing in the ramshackle remnants of the November garden at Larrapin after an arduous 2012 summer season. There wasn’t much to crow about once you got past the glorious stand of collard greens. Perhaps as a kindness, my friends remarked instead on how handy it must be that my chicken paddock is right beside the garden. The hens were casually pecking away at piles of end-of-season garden residue tossed over the fence to them. Yes it is! I nearly shouted, relieved to turn the attention away from all the things I didn’t do right in the garden this year.

The rooster is mostly yard art. The hens are the real workers.

Chickens are one of the best garden helpers on earth. If I could only choose three vital garden tools, I’d pick a good spade, an excellent deer fence and a flock of chickens nearby. A chicken is a leaf-shredding, weed chomping, compost turning, bermuda grass devouring, plant-food pooping, bug destroying machine who will lay the best eggs you’ll ever taste as a bonus and keep you smiling with amusing antics in her off time.You could genetically-engineer a cross between the family dog, a tiller and plant-food factory but you’d still be better off with a cute bunch of biddies.  If you are a non-vegetarian farmer-type of person, chicken goes great with dumplings too.

The conversation quickly turned to chicken housing, which is the key to keeping your chickens out of the garden—except when you want them in it—as well as keeping your feathered friends out of the mouths of predators. Because after all chickens, well, taste like chicken. Every predator on earth knows that, including but not limited to raccoons, possums, skunks and your neighbors dog. And that’s just if you live in the middle of town. Live further out in the country and you’ll add coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, bobcats and black snakes to that list. When the chicks are little, even rats and housecats can mean mortal danger.

Buckyeyes are a heritage breed: aggressive foragers who will also hunt mice with gory determination!

A well-built coop stands between your flock and disaster on a daily basis. Whatever you do, don’t skimp or go lazy on building your coop. It is the difference between being able to be away from home at darkfall without worries—versus watching the sun go down and knowing you may return home to a bloodbath on any given night. Never underestimate how many creatures want to eat a chicken. Your chicken. The one who is your best buddy due to her charming personality, cute quirks and blazing talents as a garden helper.

In the coming weeks I’m going to post on what I’ve learned in a decade and a half of chicken wrangling. There are ways to have chickens and not be tied to your house every evening at dusk. Hope you’ll join me and add your experience via the “comments” link!

Our sweet old gold hen, around 8 years old.


—A Larrapin Garden. Where posts may be boom or bust depending on the season, but if you  subscribe by you’ll get one weekly email to let you know what’s new.

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  1. As you know, I live in the middle of town, overlooking the Washington-Willow district to the south, and my son and I watched a bobcat walking slowly right down the middle of my street at 1pm and then turn south onto Willow. And bobcats are supposed to be nocturnal.

    • I know where you live Dwain and I’m amazed you saw a bobcat! I’ve never seen one, but have thought I heard one here, and at our last farm too. Thanks so much for commenting — glad to see you here! 🙂

  2. Am really looking forward to these articles. I have been wanting to raise chickens for a long time, but work and travel have kept me from it. Do you raise any other breed of chickens?

    • So glad Brenda! You will love chickens I believe. Right now I have Buckeyes and Black Australorps (glossy black and good layers). In the past I’ve enjoyed Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes and others. I’d say look for a breed listed as dual-purpose (layer/meat) even if you don’t intend to serve them for dinner! The dual-purpose (more old-fashioned) breeds are less flighty and nervous than many of the layer-only breeds. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a chart: Thanks so much for commenting and I’ll do the first post this weekend I hope!