Yellow Chicken House

Chicken Keeping – The good, the bad and the egg-ly!

The Changing Face of a Garden with Chickens

on May 4, 2014

In previous posts, I have mentioned my love of a company called Omlet. They have transformed chicken keeping into a brightly-coloured and immaculately marketed hobby that has arguably influenced a nationwide trend of backyard chicken keeping. It’s a revolution! The middle classes can educate their children about the food chain whilst simultaneously enjoying the smugness of a sense of sustainable living, no longer a slave to inferior, supermarket eggs. Not a farmer? Not a problem. This trend means people like myself, who would have previously believed myself to be ‘incompatible’ with chicken keeping, can now enjoy a slice of The Good Life in the comfort of my little back garden. I can gaze in wonder at the eye candy on the Omlet website; little blobs of award-winning plastic, sitting on immaculate, neon green lawns, enticing me with their aesthetic beauty, whispering “buy me, buy me….”
Despite being a self-confessed animal lover, avoiding eating most meat (all but fish) for the last 19 years (wow, has it really been that long!?), I had always thought of chickens as being devoid of personality. Had I not stumbled onto Omlet’s friendly, happy website, my perception of chickens may never have changed. However, as much as I love Omlet’s idealistic portrayal of the urban chicken house, I have since learned from experience that the reality of maintaining a lawn with free-ranging chickens is a little less pleasing on the eye than the Eglu marketing ploy. I suspect the photographer had forgotten to remove his rose-coloured lens cap before beginning the photoshoot. Here is the latest edition to the Eglu product range:

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Notice the suburban dream lawn – the cleanliness – the lack of chicken poo….

Not that I expect Omlet to start featuring fertiliser heaps and mud trenches in their marketing plan but I feel it’s important to note that a tidy, respectable garden like the one shown is possible but not inevitable when there are chickens present. When Martin and I moved into our house, the garden was very overgrown and untidy, overflowing with weeds of all shapes and sizes and with an inpenatrable wall of nettles lurking ominously at the back. Before buying the chickens, I spent a good couple of months battling against the mess and disorder left behind by the house’s previous occupant. Once I’d done as much as I thought possible, I bought my Eglu Go in a happy shade of yellow and placed it on my poor quality lawn:

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The chickens immediately began devouring every weed, every blade of grass, everything green in sight. I set up a fence to keep them contained to the lawn and allowed them free reign to enjoy the bulk of the garden. I watched proudly as they kept the weeds as bay and relentlessly scratched at the ground, fertilising it as they went.

Fast forward 6 months and the pride had begun to wane. In hindsight, I should have restricted their space accordingly to allow for proper rotation and recovery of the ‘used’ areas. Instead, I allowed the following to happen:

20140504-231817.jpg oops.

I must stress at this point that having chickens does not automatically lead to a colourless, grassless garden. My garden simply became that way because of a lack of proper rotation of grazing space and naivety. In effect, the chickens ‘cleansed’ our garden of all weeds and pests, churning up the earth and allowing me to remove rocks and litter with ease. Unfortunately they also destroyed all desirable aspects of my garden too. My fault, not theirs.

After the extreme, wet weather conditions of late 2013, the garden became a muddy, desolate wasteland. All foliage had been eaten and the earth was soaked through. The chickens hated it just as much as I did. They winced in disgust with every step and their poor little feet were caked. I did my best to improve their conditions at the time but realised a more long-term solution was required. At this point, Martin had begun building the new chicken run (see previous post) so I began digging up the blank canvas of the garden and re-seeding the space of the previous lawn. I joked afterwards to Martin that I would give it a couple of weeks before my lush, thick lawn would show itself. He laughed and told me not to get my hopes up, which makes this picture all the more satisfying…..

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I have often heard tell of the untold values of chicken poo as a fertiliser but never seen it’s effects with my own eyes … until now. I sprinkled a few cheap grass seeds onto freshly-tilled earth and hoped for the best and the above happened!
The chickens now live in their coop and additional run, which I have modified into a chicken playground (more about this is my next post) and they free-range for an hour each evening under strict supervision. It does drive the girls crazy to be able to see the grass but not be able to reach it, for which I compensate for with as many stimulating, interesting in-coop activities. My girls seem happier than ever and my garden is the best it’s ever been! Now I just need Martin to start growing veg and the garden will be complete.

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