in the company of chickens

One of the interesting features of the ecogarden under construction at Elizabeth’s place is the presence of chickens.

Aside from being a steady source of manure, they also roam the yard frequently, scratching around for worms and beetles and such. You can bet this activity will have a huge impact on the garden’s ecosystem!

Frankly, this is a challenge. As an ecogardener, I take great delight in undisturbed micro-landscapes. Sweet carpets of leaves or moss are just plain impossible in a chicken zone.

I can’t exclude the chickens, but I can introduce design elements that restrict their influence.

It’s pretty hard to scratch around in the ground when there are lots of angular rocks. With hills and valleys including rough stone walls and piles of rocks, they can be restricted to a smaller part of the garden. The crevices in the rocks will turn into unique, dynamic little microgardens.

Some of the flatter areas can be liberally sprinkled with rocks of many sizes, once the basic shape of the landscape has been created. I see irregularly shaped areas of densely scattered rocks, conforming in some way to the shape of the landscape. Will the chickens prefer not to scratch among so many rocks? Delicate, interesting plants might survive there.

Isn’t she a pretty girl?

Another design element is the choice of planting. We can experiment with different kinds of tough-seeming plants, expecting the birds to tear up some or all of them. What survives, builds the new ecosystem.

The end product would be a kind of shrubby, rocky meadow with hills and valleys marked off by low stone walls. The undisturbed crevices in the walls feature lots of interesting plants. There can be an open pile of rough rocks, where many kinds of creatures can take shelter, plus a log pile where a different collection of animals can live. The chicken’s scratched-in dirt depressions would be visible under the bushes in the flatter areas, contributing to an overall rough, lived-in feel.

Template for a chicken-resistant zone?

It is essential that the chicken’s freshly dug dirt holes must fit seamlessly into the overall artistic effect. It cannot be contrived – the chickens must be allowed to create the art, while we plant, design, and build around them. Eventually there will be areas where they do not go. Where they do scratch around, the local flora will be adapted and healthy by natural selection.

What kinds of California native plants do you suggest for this part-shade shrubby meadow with rocky hills and valleys, where the chickens roam free? Please add your ideas in the comments!

Next: after a summer break, we return to Elizabeth’s garden

This post is part of a series documenting the design and installation of an ecogarden at Elizabeth’s place. Here some previous posts in the series:

Elizabeth’s new ecogarden

taming the giant lavender

putting in a redwood walkway

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4 comments
    • Hello,

      I am not a chicken expert, so I am not sure which of the birds pictured in my blog post is your “half-moon spangled looking one” – but if you can tell me which one it is, I’ll be happy to ask Elizabeth what breed it is. Which picture shows it?

      Thanks,

      Nick

    • Hello again! Thanks for your patience.

      The bird on the left (and the other one also) is an Ameraucana mix, not a pure breed. She lays green eggs, like many Ameraucanas, which often lay blue or green eggs.

      You can read more about them at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ameraucana

      Nick

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