How we use chickens on a vegetarian homestead
What is the role of chickens on a vegetarian homestead?
Just a few months after moving to our homestead 4 years ago we added 6 hens and 1 rooster. Of the 6 hens; two were americaunas, two were buff orpingtons, and two were rhode island red. The rooster was also a rhode island red. The rooster was named Rocky and the hens were my spice girls; Salt, Peppers, Chili, Cayenne, Ginger and Tumeric. Now, my daughter names all our chickens and she sure comes up with some cute names!
There are many reasons to have chickens, even if you aren't planning to eat them. Chickens are amazing first farm animals.
Here are the reasons why we have chickens on our vegetarian homestead:
1. To eat ticks! Our homestead was covered in ticks. We couldn't go outside without getting at least one tick on each of us. We had a routine of checking everyone for ticks when we came inside. The tick population was out of control and something had to be done. This is the main reason why we bought chickens soon after moving to our homestead. They had a coop and a run that was secure but we let the them out of the coop during the day and they free ranged in our yard. They spent lots of time in the woods behind the house.
They seemed to have controlled the tick problem because now we hardly ever have a tick on us even though we spend hours outside.
Chickens also love all kinds of insects. We had lots of grasshoppers in the front yard when we first moved here. After having the chickens free range for a year we saw a dramatic decrease in their numbers too. I also catch japanese beetles and the chickens are happy to eat them.
I don't let the chickens in my garden during growing season for pest control. They prefer the tasty salad greens and ripe tomatoes over the bugs.
2. For their eggs of course! Being a vegetarian, eggs are one of the staple food in our diet. Eggs are a great source of protein and nothing beats farm fresh eggs! We give chicken our kitchen scraps, extra garden veggies, bolted and bug infested veggies and even hand picked bugs and they eat all that and turn them in to delicious eggs!
3. To use as a "tiller". Another way we used our chickens was to let them have access to the garden during the winter. We built a mobile chicken hoop house and we moved it to the garden after everything was harvested and let the chicken in. They would peck and scratch and add their manure to the garden. They did make a mess and they didn't give equal attention to all parts of the garden but overall it was a good experience and I plan to do it again. They don't "till" the way a machine would but they will scratch and peck until all greenery has vanished and no bugs are in sight!
4. To use their manure as a garden fertilizer. This is gross, but earthworms love chicken manure! When we first started our garden on our homestead, the ground was hard as a rock and we used a pick axe to prepare our first garden bed! The soil here is clay without any earthworms. We started to add all the chicken coop bedding to the garden bed and noticed earthworms for the first time.
5. To mix and turn compost materials. I add bags and bags of grass clippings and dry leaves to the chicken run each year. I let them scratch and peck and add their own manure to it for several weeks. Whole leaves gets shredded and everything is fluffed and mixed multiple times. Sometimes I add this bedding directly to a garden bed I'm planting and mix it in to the soil or shovel it all in a compost bin and let it sit until I'm ready to use it.
6. For the pure joy of it. I can watch my girls peck and scratch and chase bugs for hours. Its pure entertainment! I've watched one hen catch and swallow a baby snake. I've watched a hen catch a frog and the rest of the flock chase her around for a taste of the frog.
The sweet song they sing after laying an egg telling me "come see what I just did!" I used to have laying baskets for them but they always chose to lay in one basket. I'll see 2 or 3 hens snuggled up in a small basket to lay eggs.
7. To use as incubators for eggs. I didn't have a broody hen until I bought bantam cochin hens. These are small hens with feathers all the way to their feet. They are absolutely adorable and the most amazing mamas! I was so excited when one of the bantams went broody and hatched her own chicks and raised them! So the next time she went broody, I placed few fertile eggs I bought from a co-worker. The hen hatched and raised those chicks as her own. Its so much less work for me when hens do all the work of hatching and raising chicks.
These are all the amazing ways chickens can be used on a vegetarian homestead.
Do you have chickens on your homestead? What "work" do they for you?
If you're looking for your first homestead animal, I highly recommend chickens. They are easy to take care of and require much less investment.