Chickens give us eggs, and those eggs are a great source of high-quality protein. But they can also give us so much more. Below are some innovative ideas from backyard and small-scale commercial chicken keepers that may help chooks to reach their full, productive potential.
Chicken tunnels for low-work cultivation
Chickens love to peck, they love to scratch, they love to dig, and they love to eat all kinds of little weeds, bugs and beasties—not to mention food/crop waste. Oh, and they love to poop too. That makes them very helpful "hired help" in the garden. As this clever "chicken tunnel" system demonstrates so effectively.
Training chickens for slug control
Back when I kept my own chickens, I was always disappointed that they didn't eat slugs. But perhaps I didn't try hard enough. Chris Wolf of Inspiration Farm, filmed here by permaculture legend Paul Wheaton, claims to have trained her chickens to like large slugs. All it took was some gruesome scissor action.
Making compost with chickens
When I posted on Vermont Compost's chicken keeping system the other day, I focused on the fact that it eliminated the need to buy any kind of grain as a feed. Which is pretty awesome. But there's another benefit too—when chickens pick over an unfinished compost pile, they help to turn the waste into concentrated manure which helps the process of building hot compost. Neat, huh?
Heating chickens with chickens (and their poop)
In this chicken-focused compilation from Paul Wheaton, among other farmers he visits Marina and Robert of Dell Artimus Farm. The couple has a mobile chicken coop with a slatted floor—and they move that coop around to fertilize their fields. In the winter, however, they don't have so much use for a mobile poop machine—so they insulate around it with hay bales, add a good shoveling of wood chips, and then allow the composting process to heat the chickens above.
Heating a greenhouse with chickens
Open just about any book on permaculture, and you'll most likely see the example of the chicken greenhouse—a clever combination of chicken coop and greenhouse that utilizes waste heat from chickens to keep the greenhouse warm at night, and heat from the greenhouse to warm the coop in the day. It also, supposedly, allows for bug control and maybe even a little carbon dioxide to help the plants grow. It's a neat idea in theory, and I'd love to show you a video of one but I can't—unfortunately it seems that hardly anyone has built one. As Rob Hopkins pointed out in his experiment in search of this permaculture cliche, glass greenhouses are not the best retainers of heat—and you need an awful lot of chickens to provide significant body heat to warm a greenhouse. If anyone knows of some successful examples of this theory in practice, please do send them my way. I'd love to see it actually work.