Bonafide Farm

Child labor

July 26th, 2013 § 0

I had a lightbulb moment today when I realized that there was a way I could use my chickens to control insects in the garden…without sacrificing my plants or produce. I’ve been wanting to let the pest-eating power of my chickens loose in the garden, with hopes that they would attack the harlequin bugs on my kale, and the Mexican bean beetles on my beans. But, of course, when I let the flock in for a trial run they went right to my ripest tomatoes and dug in. They got a few good mouthfuls before I chased them out, and on their way they scratched the heck out of some smaller plants.

I’ve read that some people use bantams (mini chickens) in their gardens to limit the destruction from scratching, and yet other people suggest that Silkie chickens, which have feathered feet, are gentler as they scratch. I’m lacking in the bantam and Silkie departments, but I do have some very mini chickens of my own—the chicks! I knew that with their tiny size they’d be gentler on the plants than the full-grown birds, and being growing babies their appetites just don’t end.


Of course I’d still have to keep the chicks, and their mother, away from the tomatoes. I erected a hasty barricade from a couple of pieces of chicken wire held to the garden posts with zip ties, and then went to fetch my arsenal from the broody coop in the garage.


Dahlia’s relief was palpable when I released her into the fenced-off garden section. After a month and a half of living in small coops, and with half a dozen busy babies, I could tell she was dying for some room to stretch her wings. She scratched in the straw, and then lay down to luxuriate in the cool soil with the hot sun on her wings. Two of her chicks immediately imitated her basking behavior, which almost made me fall over from the cuteness.


Dahlia and her six chicks spent about eight hours in the garden today. Each time I checked on them they were busy scratching and searching for bugs, sticking close to Mom. They spent a long time under the pest-infested kale, which was great to see. The rest of the flock even came around for introductions, which I hope will help ease things when these babies need to join the adults. After only raising chicks in brooders, it’s a real treat to see natural chicken rearing in action.


Around sundown it was time to collect the family to return them to the safety of the garage for night. Now this was a hilarous undertaking. I am glad that the only creature around to witness was my dog, and he didn’t judge. I prowled amongst the vegetation, grabbing chicks. I put the chicks in to a five-gallon bucket to carry them back to the garage, but of course they’re now big enough that they easily fly up to the lip of the bucket and jump out. Each time I’d catch and add a chick, one would fly out and go running for its mother. It was a ridiculous chick chase, soundtracked by Dahlia clucking in concern as each baby was lifted airborne.

Eventually I got all the babies corralled and Dahlia tucked under my arm for our journey home. An ungraceful ending notwithstanding, I think it was a good day out of the chicks, and a big help for the garden.

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