Chickens: why you need them

It is not often that people talk about how pets can benefit the garden. I can attest to the damage my dogs have done to the garden - from digging up newly-planted perennials to eating the carrots out of the garden to ripping up the lawn as they play. But, I don't have dogs to help with the gardening. Cats can create equally bad experiences in the garden, since they love to use freshly-tilled soil as their personal litter box.

Despite this, there is one pet you may want to consider letting into your garden - a chicken. Having a small flock of backyard chickens can benefit your garden. One of the benefits of adding compost to a garden is the additional nitrogen it provides. Since chicken droppings are high in nitrogen, adding them to the compost will increase the amount of nitrogen in the compost. Plants need nitrogen to grow.

Chickens also hunt and eat a variety of bugs. Even if the chicken coop is not placed within the garden, they will control the overall population of bugs in the yard, including the garden. This will reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides.

Another way chickens benefit a garden is by scratching. Chickens naturally scratch at the ground as they hunt for bugs and vegetation to eat. Letting chickens into a garden at the end of the season will help ready it for winter. They will clear out or break down old plants, weeds, and any remaining bugs. In the spring, before planting, chickens in the garden will scratch and aerate the soil, clear out new bugs, and again, their droppings will provide necessary nitrogen.

Besides raising chickens to improve your garden's health, fee range chicken eggs provide more health benefits than store-bought eggs. If raised properly, chickens can also be very friendly and some will even sit on people's laps.

There are many benefits to keeping backyard chickens. They are a fun and entertaining pet, and raising chickens provides health benefits, tastier eggs and chicken meat, and benefits for a garden.

Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at a.lennox.barlow@gmail.com.

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