Why we use poultry in flower farming
Though our farm is small, its sill a lot of work when it comes to weeding, pest control and general management. It requires a great deal of organic compost and natural fertilizer and in Autumn when everything fades there is more cleanup than I care to think about. One of the most annoying and troublesome things for us has been wondering seeds, particularly grass seeds, which inevitably end up in the beds year after year after year (we live by meadows and grassy woodland too large to effectively manage) and creates the weeding hell that is spring!
But growing organically means that dealing with all of these issues takes a little more time, money and effort than just throwing down some pesticides and weed killers and calling it a day. Our first year we had grass paths, but did away with that immediately to reduce encroaching lawn. We laid weed suppressant cloth around the perimeter, which helped a little, but still.... Each year I fight the grass seed wherever I see it, but also amaranth that has been let to grow too long, ornamentals which seed themselves behind your back, tomatios which pop up in droves summer after summer and smother the other plants before I even notice they are there, sunflowers in varieties I swear I never grew suddenly appear everywhere….
And that is just the things I DON’T want to grow. Then there is the matter of things I DO want in the garden. And of course as nature would have it, these things are not as excited to pop up everywhere uncontrollably and take over with beautiful blooms or luscious fruits. No, the things that I actually want are a little more stubborn, take a little more love and attention, and especially, food!
I started by ordering compost yearly, but that is expensive and while it is a necessity in many regards, there had to be a better way then buying and shoveling literal tons every spring. I switched to alternating compost and dried chicken pellets, which works phenomenally by the way, yet it was still costing me!
But it did get me thinking…
I grew up with chickens and was familiar with their ability to turn aerate and improve compost, create amazing manure and eat annoying little critters, like ticks (another massive headache in garden work, just ask my husband, he’s had Lyme 3 times)! But chicken poo, while amazing as fertilizer, is what’s called hot, its nitrogen levels are such that when fresh can actually kill a plant. Thus Chicken poo needs time to rest before it can be used on the garden. Water fowl however, produce a more tepid excrement which can be used immediately, they also eat grass, and bugs, and they are are cute!
And so it began. The ducks arrived, moved in and are now my resident poo patrol. They free-range in the day, leaving their nutritious little droppings around the yard, and at night they create a lovely little (large, they poo A LOT) pile for me to turn into fantastically fertile poo tea, I know delicious right!
But while ducks eat some bugs, they don’t eat them all… so arrived the guineas. Guenea fowl are a strange African bird with tiny heads (and even tinier brains) weird hilariously floppy bodies and a penchant for ticks! But not only ticks, they also do an amazing job on Japanese beetles, which I had all but given up on fighting, thinking I’d never see a raspberry or a zinnia again, until the Guineas arrived. With these odd, fun and also moderately, kinda loud and yappy birds, we have all but demolished out tick and Japanese beetle populations…
So now we have fertilizer, pest control and entertainment, but we still need compost and then there is also the matter of the hawk!
Yes the hawk. I didn’t mind him until I had poultry, he lives in a tree above the garden, eats mice and rabid bats and is pretty to look at. Unfortunately, he also found a liking for duck!
So while I had promised myself, and my husband, that 20 little feathered friends was definitely enough, I did the unthinkable, and ordered more!
The chickens and geese arrived together in a nice neat little box one year after the ducks! Our big beautiful chickens will be tasked with compost care, turning, aerating and sifting through our compost pile giving us better and quicker compost and while they do that, their big clumsy goose friends will watch over them (and the ducks). Too big for the hawk to eat, honking and chattering, these adorable dudes are great watchdogs and will protect their little chick friends from just about anything; House cat, Hawk, neighboring dog, stray bucket, branches, someone’s shoes in the lawn… you name it! Oh and also, did I mention they eat grass? Like only grass? Like all the grass? Like no more lawn encroachment or having to wiz the tall stuff around the orchard, or weed whacking the paths between the raised beds, the geese will eat it ALL!
The straw that all these delightful creatures live in gets recycled as pre fertilized mulch for our raspberries and dahlias, their poo gets either turned into fertilizing “tea” for the flower beds or is added to the compost for some extra nutrition, they keep the grass down, the bugs at bay, the mice away (oh yeah I forgot to mention, guineas eat mice!!!) the compost fresh and the lawn healthy. At the end of the season, instead of fighting grass seed and searching for runaway tomatios in the garden, I just let the birds at it. Seeds, fruits, bits of leftover foliage, all of it gets eaten and while they eat it, they poo, right there in the beds, already getting a start on next season’s fertilization.
But that absolute best part about poultry on the farm is how entertaining they are! Their weird heads, curious faces, nibbling beaks, territorial antics, funny noises and surprisingly individual personalities are so easy to fall in love with! Also, they make eggs!
Once you have one…..
Now I spend my winters trying to figure out how I can make emus, ostriches, flamingoes and kiwis work for farm life! Give me time, I’ll find a way.