What do chickens eat? As fairly primal animals, they'll eat pretty much anything, including weeds, seeds, seafood and luckily for gardeners, all types of insects! Our short guide on using chickens for weed and pest control will open your eyes up to a world of possibility for poultry as organic and biodynamic caretakers for your garden and orchard--just some of the benefits of raising chickens.
Since many weeds and insect pests tend to spend the majority of their life cycle in the top few inches of soil, chickens are the perfect hunters for these garden and fruit damaging creatures. Chickens love to scratch and peck, so why not let them do so for your benefit?
Chickens are especially adept at keeping bugs at bay in orchards and in between plantings in flower and vegetable gardens. Orchards often see pests such as fruit flies, earwigs, leaf miners and codling moth, all of which are within the chickens' beak's reach. Black fly, flea beetles, slugs, caterpillars and cabbage moths are prolific garden pests, and chickens happen to love them as snacks.
Using chickens for pest control will require some kind of management and retaining system. Chickens will peck at vegetables in the ground, and can decimate crops such as kale, peas, beans and tomatoes in a matter of minutes. It's important to either fence them into the area you want them to work in, or to fence them out of the area you want to protect. Chicken wire makes the best chicken proof fencing, and is usually tall enough to keep them out if you make sure to keep their wings clipped.
It's also important to consider how often to move the birds--make sure there is enough space for the number of birds you are keeping, and make sure they are protected from any possible predators in your area. For orchard pest control, birds are best let out in the orchard over winter or in early spring. To control weed growth and pests in vegetable gardens, fence the birds into the are you want them to manage throughout the summer season when beds are resting before their next crop.
Not only do chickens provide a less labor intensive and completely organic method for pest and weed control, they also act as efficient fertilizers. Their manure is particularly high in phosphorus, but note that their ability to produce manure at a rather rapid rate is surprising. This is why moving the birds from one area to another is important, especially in order to prevent nitrogen and phosphorus run-off.
Related on Organic Authority
Image: Compassion in World Farming