Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chickens as Lawn Mowers

As regular readers know, I started a community group, "4 Chesapeake Hens," where I live in Virginia. Our group got the law changed to allow up to six "female chickens" on all single-family residential lots with certain restrictions. There are setbacks for the coop from the property line, for example. There is also a sunset clause on the legislation, so the City Council will be revisiting the "hen issue" in October or November.

One of the reasons my husband and I wanted chickens was to help with gardening tasks such as fertilizing, tilling, compost-turning, and organic weed and pest control. What Don and I did not realize until we owned our own chickens is that they do a pretty nice job of helping to maintain parts of our back lawn and sparing us some of the use of our lawn mower. Since gas lawn-mower engines are both noisy and very polluting to the air, I now think our our hens as even more of a benefit to our local environment.

If you don't believe me, that's understandable. Folks picture chickens as dirty, smelly birds that burn the soil. But we are "urban chicksters," and our hens are kept in a portable coop and pen, also called a chicken tractor, that we move around the yard. By moving the pen frequently, we prevent the chickens from burning the soil and scratching and eating it bare. Instead they weed, graze, and slightly fertilize an area before we move them onto new ground.

This spring we had some lawnmower trouble and let the backyard go a little too long before the first mow. Our backyard is also fenced to separate the chicken/garden section from the dogs' run. Check out the differences in these sections of our yard as shown in the following pictures. I snapped them right before tackling the lawn with the mower. Keep in mind that NONE of this lawn has been mowed so far this year:

This is the area that has regularly been visited by the hens and intensively grazed due to the chicken tractor

Don't know what I mean by a chicken tractor? Here are three of our girls saying hello!

The other two are working a compost pile/future garden from a pen attached to the tractor. Where there's no lawn, there's lots of high-carbon organic matter!

Here's an area of the lawn that gets occasional visits by the chickens but is too uneven for the tractor

Here's the same lawn where the chickens never go. The paths have been worn by our three dogs. What a difference!

Interested in seeing some hens up close and personal? Visit us during the Chesapeake Tour de Coop, held next Sunday (April 21, 2013, from Noon to 5 PM, weather permitting).

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