Old Fashioned On Purpose

116. How We're Using Chicken Power on the Homestead This Year

May 06, 2020 Jill Winger
Old Fashioned On Purpose
116. How We're Using Chicken Power on the Homestead This Year
Show Notes Transcript

Just a few weeks ago, I made mention of our mission to increase our food production this year.  While I’ve already covered several topics regarding food production, chicken power is one we’ve never really utilized.  While this might be a foreign concept to some, it’s truly incredible how useful (and even entertaining) chickens can be on the homestead.  From disposing of food waste to pecking compost and even tilling sod, listen today to discover how these little birds are so much more than just efficient egg layers. 

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welcome to the old fashioned on purpose podcast. Back in episode 103. I talked about how we are ramping up our food production this year, and a big part of that is going to be using more chicken power than we ever have in the past. Now I'm kind of ridiculously excited about this, To be honest, sowed in today's episode, I wanted to share it. Some of the ways were putting our flock to use around the homestead. I'm your host, Jill Winger, and this is the podcast for the Trail Blazers, the Mavericks, the makers, the homesteaders, the modern pioneers and the backyard farmers. If you're ready to boost your food security and create more of a homegrown lifestyle, well, you have found your tribe a friend. I'm interrupting this episode for just a sec because I know a lot of you are planning on expanding your homestead efforts this year, and you are in need of some supplies because it's more important than ever to be supporting small businesses. I wanted to tell you about one of my favorites, Lehman's hardware. Trust me, if you're listening to this podcast, then I guarantee that Lehman's is pretty much your dream store. They're all about supporting old fashioned people like us, and they carry everything from kitchen supplies to canning equipment to gardening tools and everything in between. I have yet to find it in any homesteading supply store as comprehensive as they are. And guess what? They are offering a special discount on all of their baking supplies just for my listeners. Use code. JillMay, when you check out to save 10% on anything's is baking category, So head on over to theprairiehomestead.com/lehmans. Check out all they have to offer and take advantage of your now back to the show. So chicken power is not a new concept. There have been really smart, sustainably minded farmers doing this for quite some time, But to be perfectly honest, we haven't really utilized it as much as I would have liked to. We've just kind of been on a different path. And so, as Christian and I have been walking around and dreaming and thinking of all the way as we want to just make our homestead better increase productivity, increased production make it more enjoyable. I was telling him the other day, I'm like, I want to do this in a smart way, right? In years past, we haven't always done things in the smart way. We've done it in the clunky, roundabout, long, monotonous, tedious way just because we were new and we didn't know what we're doing. But as we've become or experience, there's definitely ways you can make things more streamlined. And I want to make sure with whatever things were putting into place this year, whether it's milking, work, cows or building the greenhouse, that it just makes sense. You know, have you ever done a project where you're so excited and you get it done and it's there, and then you go to use it and or, you know, dive into whatever you built, and it's just there's some pieces that just don't flow, like we've done that so many times, and part of that is just a learning curve. But you can't beat yourself up over it, but I just want to make sure whatever we're doing this year is smart. So part of that is really looking closely. I think, at permaculture type systems and how things can be more symbiotic and how they can work together to not only benefit the land and the animals and be more organic, but also just let us be. Maybe not as hands on, also known as. Maybe we can be a little bit lazy in a few different aspects. So chickens, I think, are going to be a really big piece of that for us now. Pigs are another way. You can, um, till up different pieces of ground or work different garden spots or pens. But we don't have pigs right now. And honestly, I don't know if our situation would lend itself very well to pig power. So we're focusing on chicken power instead. Now the thing you need to understand about chickens if this is a new concept, there is this idyllic vision that a lot of people have of the farm, right. You have the beautiful garden, and then right next to the beautiful garden, you have a flock of gorgeous barred rock Rhode Island red chickens pecking in the soil, and it's so beautiful and calm and serene and pastoral. And that just is not very real life, because chickens are extremely destructive. They are little roto tillers. And if you have a garden and you have chickens, you probably have experienced this, and it's probably made you very annoyed at what happens when a chicken gets into your garden. So we've had our garden fenced for years, with the sole reason being we had to keep the chickens out. I don't care about the deer. I can't about the other stuff. I'm worried about the stinkin chickens because when they get into a bed of young tomato plants or some little baby seedlings, it's all over. They will destroy it. And I have lost so many vegetables over the year to rogue chickens, so we have a fence. Honestly, the chicken sometimes still go over into the fence and will cause some destruction. But it does. It's better than nothing. So this vision of a garden next to the chicken house with no fence dividing it is really not realistic. Let's we can also get creative with this right if we can turn this problem into a solution, because chickens like to scratch, they like to dig. They like to find the bugs and the dirt they like to find the seeds and that the little goodies down there. And so if we can harness that natural instinct for our benefit, that's where things get really exciting. So here's how we're doing this this year. There's two main ways that we've implemented so far, and I hope to add some more in the future. So the first thing we did is we put a compost bin in our chicken run rights. We have this fenced enclosure that are chicken stand for some month of the year. Now I have some gigantic compost piles behind the barn where if we are cleaning out pins or there's a whole bunch of manure from the cows or the horses, it goes in the pile. So we've kind of done that for years, and people always ask me, Well, can you tell me how to do a compost pile? And I'm like, I just stick mine in a pile and don't look at it for a year, and then I use it so it's I don't have a lot of great resource is on kind of your typical backyard compost bin. But the problem that I was running into those piles are way back behind the bar, and our chicken coop is kind of towards the front of the barnyard. And so when I would go in to clean out the chicken coop when I got gross, you know, the bedding need to be swapped out. It was such a pain to go haul it all the way back if I had 16 wheelbarrow loads or whatever, like hauling it back there was just annoying. And I wasn't cleaning it as much as I probably should have, because I hated the jaunt back and forth over and over. So I thought, What if we could streamline this a little bit and put the compost bin in the chicken run, and then the added benefit is chickens? We're gonna go through that compost and work it up, and they kind of spread it out. But you can squish it back up where it should be, and they can help to aerate the compost, turn the compost, work the compost, so it's kind of a win win. I have an easier place to dump the bedding, and they have a new project, and so we put this together over the weekend, and ours is super simple we used three pallets. If you've heard me talk about pallets before, you know, Christian despises pallets. So this was a really big step for him that he actually built thing out of pallets. And he told me as he was building it The only reason I am agreeing to let this be out of pallets because I know they'll fall apart soon, and I won't have to look at it anymore, which was super sweet of him. But he hates pallets because he thinks they're cheesy. So he rather would build things out of real wood and have it be very high quality built for Armageddon. That's how he rolls. And I'm kind of like in the middle. I like to get it done. So I'm like, If we can do this with pallets in 15 minutes versus me waiting for you to build the world's fanciest compost bin, I'm kind of like on the side of the pallets. Do you get me? You feel me? Maybe you have this dynamic in your relationship. But anyway, all that said he agreed to build this little bit out of pallets. We stuck it in against one wall of the chicken round. We took some triangle shaped pieces of wood and used it on the corners to kind of hold it together. And then I just started layering. I was pulling some old dead plants out of the gardens. I put those on the bottom, and then I put some cleaned out chicken shavings on the top. And then we dump some food scraps from the kitchen on the very top of the whole thing. And the chickens went nuts and they dug and they spread and they packed. And honestly, there's not much left of it right now, so I need to go fill it back up. But we're using chicken power to to work that compost. And then I could take it straight out of the bin and put it in the garden, right? And in a couple months, so saves me. Time makes my life more efficient, and I'm honestly, I have been spending a lot of time, like maybe an embarrassing amount of time leaning over the edge of the compost. Been watching them peck like it's very therapeutic for me. I don't know why, but it feels good in it right now with our world just feeling so crazy. Like I'm like, leaving my phone in the house. I'm just like I'm gonna go down, watch chickens for a while, calling it chicken TV, and that's where I am. So I don't know. That's another benefit. You gotta watch them in. It is better than like the spot, right. Anyway, so that's our number one compost pile in the chicken run number two. I'm actually really proud of this one because I thought of it on my own. I'm probably not the 1st, 1 I was walking through my garden last week and kind of making mental lists of what I have to do to get get it ready for planting. We don't plan till end of May. So I got a little bit of time hands. I was thinking, You know, one of the things I really don't like about my raised beds is that every year before planting, I kind of have to work up the soil. Now we don't walk in our beds, obviously, so the soil doesn't get smooshed down too much, but it still settles over the winter, and it just sometimes is not soft enough for me to plant the seeds in, you know, going just from wintertime into planting time. There needs to be a little bit of working happening, so I have to get up there with my shovel and I work it up and it's fine. It's a good workout, but it kind of it's annoying cause it's a little bit monotonous. It takes a lot of time. So I thought, How can I prevent this job from occurring every single year? So I'm thinking, I'm thinking and I thought, Well, if we put the chickens in our garden, even if we locked them in with the gate, they don't obey. They scratch in the mulch on the walkways where they shouldn't and then they jump out and they're just rude. So, you know, I'm like if we could confine them to the beds, they could eat the weeds coming up or the grass and dig it up and work through all the old seeds that may be left over in there and the bugs, and that would be perfect. And so I had this liable moment and I thought, What if we built Ah, chicken enclosure? A chicken tractor, I guess sort of, and that would fit exactly over the raised beds, and we could put it over one bed, put fibre six chickens and it, let them do their thing for a week or so and then move it. And we could just go through this process of moving it down through all the beds. And by the time Memorial Day rolls around, which is my planting day, I bet I don't have to do is much manual digging. And so a commissioned Christian, Christian, he was very excited because this was something that wasn't built out of pallets, so he got to work on that. We finished it yesterday, in fact, and I posted some pictures on social media so you can go check those out. But it's working really good, and I'm actually really excited. We have, um, some plastic panels on top to give them shade and to protect them from rain or elements. We have a little nesting box,  and we put six chickens in there last night. It's cause it's been warm, right? I won't leave them out there if it's very, very cold. But it's been warm and they're loving it there, eating the grass That was coming up in the beds. They're working on the weeds and I'm excited to see after, I don't know, a week of them being out there how much progress they make. So fingers crossed, This will be a solution to my raised bed issue. And then the plan is, once the beds are already and they're planted, I won't need them in the garden anymore, right? So we can take thes chicken tractors and put them out in the pasture or potentially on our lawn. We do have some lawn, which I know is whenever I say that, I'm like, I'm gonna get yelled at because, ah, sustainable farmer permaculture People hate lawns. But here's the deal. We don't spray it with any herbicides or pesticides. And I would love to have a food forest in the front yard. But Wyoming doesn't like that. Like Wyoming doesn't lend itself well to that. And, you know, eight months of the year we have brown dead things, so I don't know. Wyoming likes to grow grass, and so we have grass in our front yard. I don't know why I'm telling you this. I shouldn't have to justify to anyone. We have a one. But anyway, I want to use the chickens on the lawn to help dig up some of the dead grass, right? Aerate the lawn a little bits we're gonna do that. We're gonna put it out in the pasture with the cows, and they can kind of go behind the cows and clean up the cow Patties. So I'm excited to see how this goes will definitely be keeping you updated on social media and YouTube and through this podcast of how this goes. But I think it's just gonna make life a lot easier. Kind of closed these systems of helping find ways to spread out the common over and dig up the old grass and old weeds. And I think it's just gonna be good. So that is the Those are our two big lightbulb moments this year with chicken power. And there's also a few other ideas. Like if you're considering how you could apply this to your homestead, um, you can also remember that they as they're picking and eating, they also have things coming out the other end. So if you need a spot in your garden, fertilize. Maybe not just till, but you need to fertilize. Stick them in there. Um, if you have a wide open garden plot, maybe you don't have raised beds Even better. And what you can do if you don't have a fence around your garden, you can take some poultry netting on those little movable steaks, and you can keep them enclosed that way and potentially just move them around. You want to keep them in a fairly small area to start, so you focus their energy on that one area, and then you can just kind of move them around until they have covered your entire garden spot. Another thing they can do is help you to spread mulch, so I don't have any of this to do right now. But if you've got a big bunch of leaf mulch or grass clippings or hay mulch, let me tell you, chickens love to spread, so you put a pile, may be in the middle of the garden and then let them in. And I guarantee you they will have that completely flattened within a little bit of time because they're really, really good as they scratch and as they peck they fling stuff everywhere. Potentially, also, if you have just a regular old compost pile like ours is a little bit too big for the chickens to make much of a dent in, You know, the one that's in the backyard. But if it was a little bit more of a manageable size, I could potentially rope the chickens in around the compost pile with this poultry netting and have them focused that energy on the pile as it stands right now, sometimes when our chickens are free ranging what? I don't do that much anymore because they just destroy the yard and they get into the garden and destroy it when they're not supposed to be. But when they are free ranging, a lot of them will go to that compost pile and get to work on the bugs and all the stuff in there. But like I said, ours is really tall, so there's only so much the little tiny chicken could dio. But it's an option. If your compost pile is a little bit more of a manageable size, and then lastly, another really important way, I think, to utilize chicken power on your homestead and your might already be doing this, but let them be your garbage disposals. This is in my opinion, one of the most valuable aspects of home chickens is that they're taking food waste, which America throws away so much food waste, and they're turning it into valuable manure fertilizer, right and otherwise just goes in the landfill. So I want to do a whole other podcast episode coming up on how we can better utilize the food waste that's coming out of our kitchen. But just for right now know that they're already doing a lot of amazing work. Even if all you're doing is feeding them kitchen scraps and getting eggs, that's a magical stuff right there. So kudos to you if even if that's your main chicken power objective, that is fantastic. So all in all, I think this is the year for us. And maybe you, too, for just getting more creative for thinking we're outside of the box and really streamlining our systems. And I hope that you find, even in the middle of this crazy time, a little bit of inspiration and just extra fire as we work on our homesteads together. So if you are ready to dive into this home setting thing even more than you are now, but you're not quite sure of where to start or maybe how to do certain projects. I've got you covered. I have an entire library of resource. Is I put together for homesteaders just like you, and you can get complimentary access over at theprairiehomestead.com/grow, and that is it for today. Don't forget to subscribe. If you enjoyed today's episode and leave a quick review or rating just to help more people find the podcast, I read every single one. By the way, thanks so much for listening, and I can't wait to chat more on the next episode of the old fashioned on purpose podcast.