Every home needs chickens. They are the best pets! They are fascinating to children, entertaining to watch, they process your kitchen scraps into amazing fertilizer for your garden, are easy to look after, AND they give you eggs! What more could you want?
Here I’ll be talking about:
-design considerations of a permaculture chicken system
-how the chickens work with other elements in our garden
-mistakes I made, because that’s how we learn right?
COOP PLACEMENT: close to house to make interaction easy
Because we have to interact with the chickens multiple times a day (feeding, collecting eggs, letting them in and out of coop) they are placed in Zone 1, the closest area to the house. This close proximity makes it easy to care for them and get the benefits from their outputs. It isn’t a chore to carry scraps or feed to them like it would be if they were a large distance from the house.
COOP EFFICIENCY: entrance is placed on the way to other stuff, reducing trips
By this I mean that the entrance to the coop is on a path to other things we interact with daily. This reduces the number of trips required to get things done. In our case, you need to pass the coop to get to the washing line, the lawn where the kids like to play, and the veggie patch. So I will take down a basket of washing and the chooks' scraps, and come back with eggs, all in one trip.
LAND CONTOUR: run is built on contour so soil and nutrients can be easily captured
Our block is on a slope. The chicken run is fenced so that the bottom edge is on contour with the hill. Because chickens love to scratch and dig, they kick around a lot of dirt. This will go directly downhill to a crop that will benefit from it. Being on contour means that all the rain that falls will flow through the chicken run, collecting all those yummy nutrients, and we can capture it at the bottom with plants that require high levels of feeding.
HEAVY FEEDING CROPS: Citrus trees are planted directly below chicken run to benefit from their outputs.
Citrus trees are what’s called ‘heavy feeders’ so they require a large amount of input in terms of water and fertiliser. When placed downhill from the chickens, they are able to benefit from the chickens’ high nitrogen output. This happens entirely passively with rain and the chooks kicking dirt out to the trees. I don’t have to lift a finger to fertilise our citrus trees…boom
COMPOST GRADING: The chicken run is graded to the level of compost breakdown.
Let me explain; there are 2 short lines of fencing that partially separate the run into 3 sections going downhill. The top section is where the chicken’s food is placed (kitchen scraps, garden cuttings, weeds) and the coop is cleaned out to. This is the least broken down section. After a week of this being added to and turned over by chooks, it’s shovelled down to the next section, then a week later to the 3rd and bottom section. The chooks are most interested in the fresh stuff at the top, then less so as we go downhill. By the time the compost material reaches the bottom of the run, it is rich, dark and so full of nutrients it needs to age for a while before it can be used or it will burn the plants. From here it gets kicked out to the citrus trees by the chooks or wheelbarrowed out to sit and cool down for a bit before being added to the garden as fertiliser
RODENT CONTROL: Seed is suspended off the ground to discourage rats.
Because our hens are so close to the house, we need to be careful to not create a rodent problem. We suspend their feed container off the ground so less is left lying around, and keep it in their secure coop at night. We also only feed them in the morning, allowing them to eat all the scraps up during the day.
PASSIVELY FERTILISED GARDENS: Garden beds are placed on contour downhill from chooks
This allows rain to passively fertilise the garden beds through the downhill movement of water. The rain picks up nutrients from the chook run and move it downhill to the veggies.
As you can see, there are a lot of considerations that go into a good permaculture chicken system. By thinking through the inputs and outputs of the chickens, we’ve been able to maximise their benefit to the garden, and make caring for them easy and with a low time input.
-Need to be able to section off areas of their run to grow green fodder for chooks
-Grow vines and medicinal crops for chickens around edge of run for more shade and fodder
-Build a chook tractor to place them safely on garden beds and give the run a rest (stay tuned-it's in the making!)
-Passive drinking water collection with a tank for storage
-More ventilation in the coop itself
-We placed the run under our large crab apple tree, with the plan that fruit dropped by the marauding cockatoos could be eaten by the chooks. After it had already been built, we then realised we should net the top to protect from predators. So no fruit can fall in, and now we have very difficult access to the apple tree for pruning and harvesting. Oops
-Not really a mistake, but our dog is a psycho that won't leave the chickens alone. Anyone know a good trainer?
-Chicken house isn't well ventilated enough for my liking. The chickens don't seem to care though.
The chickens have been in for a few months now and we love them! Our son is constantly out there playing with and feeding the chooks. I’ve noticed the garden really took off once the chickens arrived. Their high nutrient manure has done wonders for our soil fertility.
Do you have chickens at home? What’s your favourite thing about them?