Usually when a chicken gets loose in the garden, Bracken herds them back into their yard quickly before they can do too much damage (he has a gift it seems for herding chickens), but this time of year we’re letting them in the garden on purpose. They do an excellent job at their duty of fall garden clean up crew. After we harvest all we want at the end of the garden season, and block off access to the front yard (we put up a temporary green plastic fence, not pretty but it does the job), we open up the door and let them at it. If our chickens could pick a favorite time of year, this would be it, because that’s when they get to free range around the garden. They get to scratch around the garden throughout the winter too, but the fall is when there is the best stuff to eat and the most of it.
Ideally, our chickens would have access to pasture year round (which makes for the healthiest eggs and the happiest hens), but we have no pasture here on this mountainside and we have limited space, so we give them the biggest yard we’re able to and then we let them have access to the garden during the times we are not eating out of it. Their yard gets muddy so Jeff and Bracken have hauled many loads of leaves to their yard this fall, which makes it so much nicer. We bring them kitchen scraps almost daily (we eat a lot of veggies around here) and garden treats, but there’s nothing like being free in the garden all day!
The other day Bracken and I let them out into the garden and then stood and watched them for a bit. (I had my camera with me and it’s quite entertaining attempting to take pictures of chickens, they don’t stay still for very long.) The chickens seem happy alright, but our two ducks are the ones that are vocal about it. They wag their tails in happiness (I never knew ducks did that until we got some) and make what I can best describe as “happy noises.” Bracken loves when we let them out in the garden and likes to pull up greens and bring them treats, even when they’re already busy eating something else.
As much as we want to let them be in the garden nonstop, we’ve learned from years past that it’s best if we space it out to once a week or a few times a week because otherwise they pretty much destroy the place and turn it into a mud pit. When we space it out a bit, it keeps it green and makes for more for them to eat and enjoy for a longer period of time. And makes them appreciate those “garden days” even more I think!
P.S. I think I took these last pictures in September, if I remember correctly. We were driving by the feed store one day when I saw on their sign it said ‘Chicken Leashes.’ It made me laugh out loud and I said to Jeff something along the lines of: “That is so silly! I can’t believe the things people will buy!” But then I paused and realized I was most certainly one of those people because what would Bracken enjoy more than taking his chickens on walks around the yard? For much of the year, when the garden is growing and we don’t want the chickens eating it, Bracken could take a hen on a walk to the areas we don’t mind her eating. That was the plan anyway, and Bracken was super excited. We tried taking Honey on a walk and then Sassy, our two tamest chickens. Neither of them were used to it and didn’t cooperate much. We have plans to train them, though. I dream of a day when all the chickens come running when they see Bracken holding the harness because they want their turn going on a walk with him!