Reducing the impact of backyard chickens

Most pets end up having some kind of environmental impact. While chickens have a much lower impact compared to dogs and cats, they still have some waste associated with them. You can help cut down the waste involved with keeping chickens in a few ways. Here’s a few tips for making chickens greener.

Let your chicken’s free range

There are some risks with letting your chickens roam around your backyard–outside their run, they are more at risk to predators and may end up being taken by a hawk or raccoon. This is why many people keep their chickens in a covered run.

Unfortunately, these runs are usually barren of all life, as chickens will quickly forage it down to nothing. Letting your chickens in the backyard is risky, but if you supervise can help cut feed bills as they gather their own feed from grass and bugs in the backyard.

If you want a healthy balance between safety and foraging options, you can make a chicken tractor for your chickens. A chicken tractor is a movable covered run. Think of a box frame with an open bottom, fenced on all sides. This will help deter most predators (especially in the day when you would hear a commotion) while also allowing them to look for food. Drag the tractor forward a little at a time so they can forage, but can’t be as attacked as easily.

Foraging is a great way to save on feed, as well as letting them enjoy a natural activity, fresh food, and cut down on feed.

Make a chicken garden

Another way to cut your carbon footprint is to actively grow food for your chickens. Chickens love pumpkins, salad greens and other leafy greens such as kale and chard, parsley, white clover, sunflowers, cucumbers, corn, dandelions, beets, berries, peas and many more plants are all chicken friendly.

You can either allow access into the garden for your chickens to forage, or you can grow it and toss it into the run for your chickens. If you do let the chickens in, be prepared for destructive habits such as tearing out plants completely, building dust baths in the loose soil, and eating plants you may not want them to.

Some people build tunnels or partition the garden for partial access, but your chickens will be just as glad for fresh food regardless of where it is located.

You don’t want pea shells?? What’s wrong with you?? We’ll eat them for sure.

Save egg shells and feed them back to the chickens

Chickens require a calcium source for strong healthy bones, as well as laying eggs. A study conducted back in 1972 found that eggshell worked better than limestone as a calcium source for chickens. A similar study more recently in 2011 found no significant difference between the two.

Cook your egg shells to sterilize them and then smash them into smaller pieces. The small pieces need to be big enough for chickens to pick up, but small enough that they don’t recognize them as egg shells and perhaps encourage them to eat their eggs.

Compost your chicken manure and bedding

Composting your chicken manure and bedding can turn trash into valuable treasure. Chicken manure is a favored gardening supplement. Use it in your own garden (or chicken garden!) to provide nutrition to your plants. Just make sure that it is properly aged as fresh manure can burn plants.

We compost ours in our tumbler, which we like so much we will be getting a second one so we never have to stop to wait for the aging process to complete.

Use plastic free bedding sources

All those fall leaves make great bedding. Your chickens will love scuffling about in the leaves, looking for bugs hiding under them, and more. Just run them over with your lawn mower first so that they are closer to bedding before chucking them in.

The best part of fall leaves is that even if you don’t have your own deciduous tree, odds are if you knock on your neighbors door and ask if you can take their leaves, they’ll probably say yes.

Reuse feed bags

Unless you are great at balancing the nutrition needs of chickens, or have enough land for them to free range on permanently, you will eventually have to purchase feed for them. Feed can be very challenging to source plastic free. The cost of plastic free food is out of this world, and that’s not a choice many people can afford to make.

While you might be able to fiddle a custom made feed together out of scratch grains from bulk bins, the odds are good you’ll end up having feed bags on your hands if you have chickens.

We first recommend that you write your feed company and request sustainable feed bag options. After this however, there are a lot of options for feed bags. I use them to store compost in, since I only need it a specific time of year and don’t want it disappearing into the earth. The rest are reused as trash bags, as I still have trash in my life.

Remember those fall leaves for bedding? Save the bags and use them to carry the leaves home or to the coop in.

Finally, you can also see if someone in the area makes them into feed bag purses or totes, or try making them yourself.

Together, these changes should greatly cut down on waste, and make your pets a little kinder on the Earth.

But wait, there’s more!

Chickens can also help you cut your carbon footprint. If you eat eggs, keeping hens in good condition with a good life is much better than buying them from the store. Yet this is only a small part of what valuable chickens can do for you and your carbon footprint. Here are just a handful of things they can do:

  • Chemical free pesticide
    Chickens love to eat bugs. They’ll be more than happy to hunt bugs out of your garden during the winter months when your not growing anyway. They’re pretty efficient at picking up all the larvae hidden in your garden, and will deposit fertilizer at the same time.
  • Weed seed removal
    Again, after the garden is empty they’ll have no trouble picking up delightful seeds and gobbling them down. What you see as an annoying weed seed, they see as a delicious buffet.
  • Zero waste food disposal
    You may have enjoyed sliced cucumber with a little salad dressing, but what do you do with the peels? Do you actually want to eat the leafy tops of the carrot? What happens when you planted too many zucchini plants and the neighbors start locking their cars to keep you from leaving them more “Gifts?”

    Chickens can eat a wide variety of vegetable scraps, and will be happy to consume your waste. Yes, even that slightly wrinkly tomato that just doesn’t look appealing anymore.

Chickens make wonderful pets, and by being a bit more mindful of their set up, you can reduce their carbon footprint and your own too.

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