Learn how to grow a sustainable garden for your backyard chickens to save money on their feed bill. You can plant shrubs, trees & herbs for a more holistic and permaculture homestead. We will go over some basic guidelines to get you started, but before we get to that, why should you plant a chicken garden?
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The Benefits of Planting a Chicken Garden
There are so many ways you family and homestead can benefit from a chicken garden. Here are five ways I found.
1. Your family can eat from the garden.
Before letting your chickens harvest, why not go in there and get the best for your family? For example: pick as many figs, stone fruits (peaches, apricots, etc.), apples, and mulberries from the trees as soon as you see that they are ripe. Get as many as you’d like through the season and then whatever you miss falls to the ground and there you have it--free, sustainable chicken food.
2. Microbes like the plant life.
By growing trees and plants you are making the microbes in the soil much happier than if you left the soil bare. Not only then are you providing food for you and the chickens, you’re building soil.
3. Chickens like the more inviting living habitat.
The chickens enjoy protection from aerial predators, shade and protection from extreme weather conditions. The trees and lower plants provide a protecting, safe, chicken-friendly environment that makes the chickens healthier and happier.
4. The garden feeds the chickens
Whether you pick for your family first or not, the trees will drop their fruits and the chickens will love the “free” chicken food you are offering them. Another benefit is they do a great job cleaning up after messy trees like mulberries.
5. It’s a great way to make your homestead more holistic and sustainable.
All-in-all, growing a garden for your chickens is a great permaculture, holistic and sustainable technique that will benefit all aspects of your homestead.
How to Start Your Chicken Garden in 4 Easy Steps
1. Plan your garden (layers and herbs in a garden)
There are two other blog posts here that go with this article and can help you plan in more detail. In the first of the two, I talk about the layers you can plant in a chicken garden. Having these layers is important for a sustainable garden. Basically, you want to plan so you have a higher level (tall trees) and a lower level (shrubs and small trees) and herbs, flowers, etc. Learn more about that here.
Now look at the area around your coop and see what could go where. Is there something that needs shade? Think about planting a large tree there. Is there a place you want to keep sunny? Make sure you don’t plant a tree that will give you shade where you don’t want it.
You can do this all in your head, or grab a piece of paper and jot down your ideas. Draw out your coop and the surrounding area you have to work with. (It doesn’t have to be to scale.) Draw the coop and stationary things with a black marker, then come in with a pencil and start sketching in some trees. Move and adjust until you have it the way you want.
2. Choose what you will start with: seeds, transplants, etc.
Now you need to think about how you will start these plants. Trees and shrubs are usually best started from transplants. Herbs and flowers are going to vary depending on the kind you choose and how hard it is for you to start them. Some plants and herbs are easier to start from seed than others.
Purchase your plants and seeds. You also may want to keep in mind any soil amendments you may need for your area, but no matter where you live, adding as much compost as you can is always a good idea.
3. Plant it!
You have your plans, and your plants, now you need to plant them in the correct locations. Make sure to keep the chickens locked up or fenced away while you are planting. Now there’s one more step before you let those chickens in...
4. Protect your young plants and seedlings
Everything when it is first planted will need protection from the chickens BEFORE you let them in the area. Even a transplanted tree could be killed by a small flock of chickens who like to dig and might scratch up the roots.
You need to do two things when protecting your plants. Protect the leaves and stems/trunks, and the roots.
The easiest way to do this is to use chicken wire around each individual plant and tree. When you do this, make sure they can’t get through, under, or over the chicken wire.
Perennials are especially important to protect. You’re investing in them so they’ll give lots of food for years. With annuals it’s not as big a deal if the chickens break in and eat your seedlings. Not that you’d want them to, but the perennials are more important.
It’s work to make secure fences, and it can be a tedious job. Do it right the first time and you won’t be sorry.
Maintaining & “Growing” Your Chicken Garden
This will take you a few years to really get it going and productive. Once it is though, you have sustainable feed for years down the road.
Your plans are going to change as you learn and grow through experience. Try to plant a few new things every year and soon you’ll look back and see the rewards of all that work.
How to Save Money with Your New Garden
Once your garden is up and producing, this will save you money on your feed bill. Learn to take into account your chicken garden as a part of their food source and you can cut back on you feed bill.
How to Save More Money on Your Chicken’s Feed Bill
You can save more money on you chickens’ feed bill. Here are more than 10 ways in this other article.