I’m generally pretty Type-A when it comes to homesteading stuff.
But this year, my obsession seems to have reached an all-time high…
We’re planning on adding a greenhouse; we’re adding a better-quality milking room for the dairy cows (reveal coming soon!); and we’re building multiple chicken tractors around the farm for the chickens.
NEVER before have I felt more called to grow more food and help others to do the same.
A big part of our list this year involves how we can make our homestead processes more efficient and sustainable, which has brought me into the world of chicken power aka using the natural inclinations of a chicken to minimize your work load.
Sounds pretty dreamy, don’t ya think?
Chickens are already well-worth having around a homestead, if only for their egg and meat production.
However, what if you could put your birds to work helping with your chores?
I know– you’re thinking that I may have been isolated in quarantine a little too long, huh?
But really truly– this is the thing.
And here are a few of my current ideas:
How to Save Time with Chicken Power on the Homestead
1. Use Chickens to Turn Your Compost Pile
We recently built a compost bin INSIDE of the chicken run (you can see the process on this YouTube video). The reason was twofold:
First off, I needed a compost bin that was closer and more convenient to the coop so when I’m cleaning out old bedding, I don’t have to walk 13 miles to the big compost piles behind our barn. (Aka laziness.)
Secondly, I wanted to give the chickens a chance to help me aerate and turn the pile.
And so far? So good. The coop bin has DEFINITELY made me feel more inclined to clean out the bedding, and it’s the #1 favorite hang-out for the flock (and the cats– see below).
2. Use Chickens to Cleanse your Pastures
This one comes straight out of the Joel Salatin playbook: use chickens behind grazing animals to spread their manure and remove insects.
This is best done with a chicken tractor set-up (aka mobile coop), as it’s hard to get chickens to stay where you want them to stay. (They are rebels.)
But with a simple chicken tractor (I’ll hopefully be posting the plans/design for the one we built soon!), you’ll not only save on feed costs, but give your birds new scenery and fresh air.
3. Use Chicken Manure to Enrich Your Garden Soil
Chicken manure is a very popular organic fertiizer option with gardeners. It only takes a handful of chickens to provide you with plenty of nitrogen-high manure for your garden for the entire year.
It is not only high in nitrogen, it also contains potassium and phosphorus, too. The trick is aging the chicken manure first because it is considered a “hot” manure (if you put it right on your garden, it could burn your plants). It needs to be aged for at least 4-6 months before using it in your garden. There are a few ways to do age the chicken manure.
First, you can put the chicken manure in your compost pile. A good quality compost pile needs to be made up of both green matter (your nitrogen source, which includes fruit and vegetable scraps and chicken manure) and brown matter (your carbon source, which includes leaves, grass clippings, or non-sprayed hay). So mix the chicken manure in with your brown matter and occasionally turn the pile so it can properly age and decompose. Wait about 4-6 months before you use this compost in your garden.
Another way to use the chicken manure for fertilizer is by bringing the chickens directly to your garden. The best time to try this tactic is in the fall. That way, the chickens bring their manure directly to your garden, and it can age for 4-6 months throughout the non-gardening wintry months and then in the spring, it will be aged enough that you can plant in a well-fertilized garden.
A warning: chickens are incredibly DESTRUCTIVE in the garden. If you have anything growing in the garden when you bring the chickens to the garden, you’ll want to pay extra attention, or you’ll lose crops in an instant. Chickens love digging and scratching up the soil and they love snacking on garden produce, so you could have a destroyed established garden spot in mere seconds if you aren’t careful.
We made moveable chicken tractors that fit right over the top of a garden raised bed (here’s how we made our raised beds). This way, the chickens can’t run amok in our garden, but instead they are confined to one space at a time.
4. Use Chickens to Aerate Your Soil
Since chickens love to walk around and scratch up the soil, you can use this to your advantage for your homestead. Simply use your chickens to aerate your soil. They are natural rototillers for your garden and yard.
So if you have a pasture spot that needs rototilling, or some parts of your garden that needs the soil aerated, you can put your chickens on those spots and let them do it for you.
The chicken are not only breaking up the soil for you, they are eating hibernating pests and putting down a decent layer of manure, too. The best way to use chickens as natural rototillers is with a moveable chicken tractor design.
Simply move the chicken tractor around the pasture, lawn, or garden and let them do their thing. You will want to use them on your garden in the fall, so that there is about 4-6 months for the chicken manure to age before you start planting in that spot.
5. Use Chickens on the Homestead as Natural Pest Control
As you know, chickens are omnivores, which makes them a stellar pest control option. Bugs are one of their favorite delicacies and a flock can help keep pest numbers down around the farm.
And not only does eating bugs help your homestead, it’s great for the chickens’ diet and can help them produce tastier eggs (read more about that in my Guide to Raising Laying Hens).
Chickens absolutely love hunting down and eating pests including:
One thing you’ve got to keep in mind, though, is that chickens can be rather enthusiastic in their pest hunting. They will peck through and scratch up dirt, compost…and gardens to get to those pests and they won’t stop at the pests. Nope– they don’t discriminate, so they’ll eat up your tender baby plants, too.
Therefore, if you’re letting them stroll through your garden to find pests, you need to give them your complete attention. Otherwise, skip the chickens in the garden concept, or just feed them buckets of pests you pluck off the plants yourself. I love picking off hornworms from my tomatoes (here’s my expert tips on growing tomatoes) and bringing them to the chickens in a bucket.
6. Use the Chickens to Eat Your Weeds and Your Food Waste
Chickens love foraging through a pile of weeds and it makes weeding the garden slightly more bearable knowing that I can pull the weeds and gather them in a large bucket and dump it into the chicken run to make the chickens happy and healthy (these other tips for natural weed control help make weeding the garden more bearable, too).
Since chickens eat pretty much anything, it also means I love using chickens on the homestead like a natural garbage disposal. I gather up my food waste and bring it out to the chickens, who then turn the food waste into valuable manure/fertilizer. It’s a win-win situation for the homestead because I’m making less trash and getting free fertilizer in return.
7. Using Chickens on the Homestead as Natural Entertainment
“Chicken TV”… it’s a thing. I have spent an embarrassingly large amount of time watching our chickens, especially when they’re scratching the compost pile. It’s therapeutic and one of my favorite ways to “detox” after a busy day. Don’t judge me until you’ve tried it.
Final Thoughts on Using Chickens on the Homestead…
Using chicken power is not a new concept. There are many smart, sustainable-minded farmers that have been using chickens on the homestead for many years. However, I love constantly thinking of new ways to improve things for our own personal homestead, especially this year as we work to up-level our productivity and self-sufficiency.