Gardening and Self Sufficiency
Gardening and Self Sufficiency
Two-Legged Friends – and the Gardener
Chickens – It is an exceptionally good idea to run chickens underneath as they improve the fertility, control the grass and reduce pest problems to a minimum. Cynically, it is said, they are even more effective if you do not feed them too much. Bantams give more beaks and eyes for the same amount of food, lay as many but slightly smaller eggs, and are more prone to escapism than the bigger breeds. Marans or Rhode Island Reds are good breeds for most households.
A couple of hens can be kept and run on a small lawn in a mobile ark which is moved each day. It is gratifying how much grass they then neatly eat. For several birds a hut is needed. If permanent, site it next to the compost heap or toand as these will benefit from the additional nutrients in the localised droppings. Ideally the hut should be mobile, so the hens get access to different areas. The more they run around on new sites the better the egg quality and production will be. And you don’t need a cockerel if you just want eggs. The birds will need nice fat perches in their hut, nest boxes, water, grit and oyster shell. (They can be given back eggshell, but only if it is baked and crushed first.) Household scraps plus garden wastes and grain will make a couple of hens happy, and they will give you eggs from early spring to late autumn for about five years. In winter, you just do without eggs unless you give them extra light and hot mashes. Their parasites can be kept down if you give them a dust bath to roll in.
Chickens, just like the wild birds, love their greens and if you let them amongstthey choose and broccoli leaves first, but they also really like , and leaves. Neighbours are often only too happy to give away their scraps and why not encourage their children to feed your hens for you. In some areas foxes may be a problem. A solid hen house with a shutable pop-hatch simply opened each morning and closed at dusk will have them sleeping safe. Automatic ones are also available. Keeping them in till late morning usually ensures they will lay in there where you can find the eggs!
Ducks are more garden friendly than chickens as they do not scratch about and they eat more. Indeed, they are wonderful to watch dibbling their bills in amongst the ground cover, but they would rather be in your pond or pool. They destroy almost all pond life, so keep them out or preferably have separate ponds! Ducks need no shelter, but appreciate one, and may use a nest box. They can live on grass plus household scraps and some grain and most lay many more and bigger eggs than chickens. I find duck eggs good in cooking but even more use for feeding my young chicks. Muscovy ducks are the best for and they snap up a lot of flies, White Aylesbury’s are the best eating and Khaki Campbell or Indian Runners can, amazingly, lay an egg for almost every day of the year.
Geese make great lawnmowers. They will live on grass alone, but tend to eat theand steal any windfall apples before you can get to them. They debark young trees and low branches and rip off dangling labels, so trees may need protecting with guards. Geese are very good at destroying buttercups and can be used to clear them from pasture, unfortunately clearing the clover as well. They must have water to wash their eyes but do not need to swim though they love it. They are fastidious cleaners and a small pool is a kindness, a plastic child’s sandpit will suffice. Geese are hardy, though a hut and nest box is still a good idea. They lay a large number of very big eggs that make excellent egg custard and cakes. As with the ducks I freeze the surplus eggs to be the fat and protein feed for my young chicks.