Chicken Staycation: Greener Pastures Make for Happy Chickens
Winter wetness has been a tough reality for my chickens (and me), especially considering February rainfall broke an all time record in the Puget Sound (Seattle) area. Wet chickens are right up there with wet cats, not a pretty sight; and no matter how much I try to keep things dry, Mother Nature still insinuates herself into their lives on a daily basis from muddy eggs to sodden feathers.
I could see that the girls and sir rooster needed a break, a chicken staycation so to speak. My greenhouse sits just south of my chicken coop and run, always teasing the flock with the promise of warmth, forage, dryness, and light. Heck, I would venture to say, my greenhouse is to chickens as the Mall of America is to a busload of winter-weary Minnesotans. I’ve hesitated letting them in the greenhouse for fear of complete and utter destruction of every living thing within its clear-plastic-covered walls. For those of you unfamiliar with a backyard flock, their sweet appearance belies an innate demeanor; chickens are velociraptors with feathers and beaks. Left to their own devices, a flock can decimate a garden faster than you can say, “Bob’s your uncle.”
In February, my greenhouse is in a sad state anyway, plants limping along, last season’s beauties collapsed on the floor, mourning a party that had to end. And that’s where the chickens come in (literally). They get a day trip to a dry spot and floral shop of edible and scratchable curiosities. In a week or so they will make handiwork of weeds, failing foliage, and crawling critters. I put up a screen for the area housing my current crop of spring blooming bulbs, and then, opened the door, and said, “Let the party and vacation begin.” I had half a mind to join them — to unfold a lawnchair, pour a libation, and set my iPod to ambient ocean waves.
Earlier this winter, I extended my chicken run by letting the flock have access to my overgrown, weedy, all-is-forsaken raspberry patch. Within one week, they weeded it thoroughly, and by the second week, the barnyard banshees tore up and scratched through the top two inches of soil, rototilling the entire patch into soft fluffy mulch. By having mobile electric fences (to keep predators out and chickens in), I can change up the chicken yard boundaries every so often.
I keep the chickens out of the raspberry patch during the growing seasons as they peck at new sprouts, that when fully grown, will produce next year’s berries. The hens are also capable aerialists when it comes to securing low hanging fruit. Sometimes I let them in for one day just to clean up the fallen berries and a few weeds, while entertaining me with their antics. I lure them out of the patch and back the coop with a chicken’s drug of choice, mealworms.
I shot a video to mark this auspicious occasion. Who doesn’t love home movies of a friend’s latest vacation?
Feature Presentation: Chicken Staycation
Wishing you were here!
–the ladies and gent of the roost
Update: Happy hens lay pretty eggs.
The eggs shown above were some of our flock’s first. The blue eggs are from cream crested legbars and the brown eggs from buff orpingtons and the black australorp.