Our Gardening Guru, Charlie Albone, provides his expert advice about keeping chickens at home in a small garden.
I’ll be honest with you – I used to be scared of chickens. My thinking was never trust an animal with claws, a beak and wings … whilst only having a brain the size of a grain of sand. Luckily for me I have got over my fear of chickens and 4 lovely brown hens all called Beryl live at my place and I can highly recommend them even for a small back garden.
As well as having great characters chickens do many great things for the garden; firstly they help reduce kitchen scraps by eating most vegetable matter you throw at them, secondly they poo this out which can be used as fertiliser and thirdly they aerate areas (by scratching around with their once thought of : dangerous claws) all of this whilst producing eggs for the kitchen.
Chickens need a few things to survive:
A chicken’s home should be an area where they can take shelter in poor weather, perch when they fancy a perch (which is how they sleep) and also a place they feel safe to lay eggs (a nesting box). This chicken house also needs to have a run that is secure from predators like foxes (even living in the city there is foxes so keep your chickens secure) and must be kept clean.
Food and Water
Water should be fresh and always available and as mentioned before food can be as simple as kitchen scraps (this will need bulking up with chicken pellets to ensure a balanced diet). If its eggs you’re after you will need to feed them something with a bit of protein in it – available from a pet food warehouse, I use golden yolk.
Fertilising Your Garden
Chicken poo is a great fertiliser for the garden but it’s at its best when it has had a chance to rot down a little. The best way to do this in the small garden is to either leave it in a black bin that can get some air (punch a few holes in the lid and base) for six months or so or just add it directly to your compost tumbler or heap. I find adding it to the compost is much easier and when you come to spread your compost you feel like its some kind of super charged rare compost! (Gosh that makes me sound sad).
Chickens are great at working in the garden when allowed to free range and don’t worry they do come back. They scratch up area with their talons aerating the soil and turning over areas in no time at all. When I’m changing over crops in the veggie patch and have some bare soil I secure mine in as they eat the weeds and bugs whilst turning they soil and adding nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in their poo.