The Benefits of Permaculture
The article titled Permaculture, also found on this site, educates readers about the practice of permaculture to create an organic, almost self-sustaining food source that can be used for subsistence or, on a large scale, commercial farming. The article also details different techniques that permaculture can be practiced. Aquaponics, which is another farming process described in an article on this site, utilizes permaculture, aquaculture, and hydroponics to create a sophisticated system from which both fish and plants can be harvested from.
In this article, the practice of permaculture will be described when chickens are introduced into the system, as well as exactly why one would want chickens in the system, and how they can benefit the farm overall.
The Benefits of Chickens in Permaculture
Chickens can provide a multitude of benefits to your permaculture system, or even to a small flower garden, as well as your personal convenience. Save a trip to the store, and let the chickens help tend the garden, as well as help clean up after dinner. Adding chickens to your permaculture system can save time and money in very noticeable amounts, and can even earn you a little extra.
When kept healthy and happy, a hen will lay an egg nearly every day. The time that a hen will lay eggs becomes later by roughly one hour every day, and the hens will usually lay eggs from morning to midday, but never at night. This means that the chickens can be allowed to roam and graze during the afternoon, and egg collection can be made easier when the time that they will lay is predictable.
But why fresh eggs? Well, while store-bought eggs don’t require the ownership of a chicken, the eggs found in the store are lower in nutrients as well as flavor. As another benefit to raising chickens, one can know exactly how the chickens and eggs are raised and treated, because there is direct control over the chickens’ health.
A Walking, Clucking Composter
Many people are worried about the costs of feeding chickens, but in reality, the cost to feed them will be next to nothing. They can drink tap water (though fresh water is healthier), and will eat many kitchen scraps — fruit and vegetable stems/cuttings, leftovers, etc. — and will turn it into some of the finest manure in the world. This manure is highly rich in nitrogen, making it ideal for aiding in plant growth. By mixing this manure with other garden plant clippings and dead leaves, an excellent compost can be created that will be ready in a fraction of the time it takes for preparation of conventional composts.
Based on what scraps and/or cuttings the chickens receive, additional chicken feed may need to be added, which can be created from simple grains and lentils, as well as nuts and seeds. This makes feeding the chickens quick and cost-effective.
Chickens will eat nearly any greens — including weeds — and also enjoy common garden insects. They also dig small holes and clean themselves with the dirt in order to keep lice off of them. With this combination, leaving the garden open to the chickens immediately after harvest (and before planting the next set of crops) with prove ultimately beneficial. The chickens will turn the soil, making it healthier for the next batch of plants while cleaning themselves, eat up most of the pesky weeds, and take out the insects that are harmful to the plants. The chickens can also be allowed to forage and graze in the garden while the plants are growing, because they typically will not eat live plants if they are bigger than seedlings. Allowing the chickens to tend the garden can save time and work, and will help the garden grow even better.
Socialization & Behavior
In the wild, chickens live in flocks or families. The size of a flock is normally one rooster for every 8-10 hens, and the chickens will instinctively form these social orders on their own, unless, that is, you build a coop for them. The chickens will be happier, and therefore healthier and more productive, when they have plenty of friends to keep them company.
It is also important to note the behaviors of chickens. When laying eggs, hens are habitual. That is, they will find or learn of a place to lay eggs, and lay all of their future eggs there. By placing a real or fake egg in a nest box, the hens will begin to come to the box and lay their eggs there. Once one hen begins laying eggs in the box, the rest will follow, as chickens learn by example.
Sometimes, an egg will break for any of a number of reasons — being knocked around, stepped on, etc. — and the chickens will then eat the egg. This is not a matter to be concerned about when it happens occasionally, but if the frequency increases, it may mean that an egg-eater is present in the flock. This troublesome chicken should be removed immediately, as other chickens in the flock will learn this behavior and copy it, breaking eggs on purpose to eat them.
Entry into the Permaculture System & Maintenance
When chickens are introduced to a new environment, it is best to build a coop for them, giving each chicken their own space for sleeping and/or privacy, as well as a nest box to lay eggs in. The coop will also give protection against animals that would eat the chickens — cats, dogs, foxes, coyotes, etc. — and much-needed shade on sunnier days. The chickens should be kept in their coop at night and in the morning until around midday or until all of the hens have laid their eggs, then let out to graze and forage for food and water.
Sick chickens are typically easy to spot, and should be removed immediately until they recover to ensure the rest of the flock doesn’t become ill as well. Discourage violent behavior as well, but allow the natural pecking-order social structure to align itself among the flock.
Breeding More Chickens
While hens will lay eggs regardless of whether or not they’ve ever seen a rooster, roosters are required for fertilization of eggs so that they can hatch into chicks. The hens will sit on theirs or other hens’ eggs in order to keep them warm, and it will matter little to the hen who laid the eggs she sits on. The hen will regularly — at least once daily — leave her nest to eat, drink, and defecate, as well as lay new eggs in the box. She will sit on eggs whether or not they have been fertilized, as well.
Eggs will take around 21 days from the beginning of incubation to the time that they hatch when fertilized. For an egg to hatch several days early or late is not unusual and, depending on the breed, will tend to hatch earlier or later than 21 days. As in human embryo development, chicks can die before hatching. This can be due to egg deficiencies, extreme temperatures, or disease. Double-yolked eggs rarely hatch, because the egg becomes too crowded during embryo development. If a hen pushes an egg out of her nest, that means that she knows something is wrong with the egg — such as finding that the embryo has died or the egg has not been fertilized at all.
Please keep in mind that different cities have different laws regarding the number of animals allowed to be kept. In Moscow, Idaho, one may keep as many as six (6) chickens (As stated in Title 10, Chapter 04 – Animals and Fowl, Section 4-12, article A, subsection i of the Moscow City Code.) In Pullman, Washington, the amount of allowed chickens or other domesticated animals is determined per lot and through a series of conditions. To determine how many animals are allowed on a specific lot, contact the Pullman City Planning Department at 338-3213 or the City of Pullman directly.
Sum It All Up
An investment in a small flock of chickens is a positive one, whether or not one wishes to add them to their permaculture ecosystem. The chickens will eat kitchen scraps and weeds, maintain the soil, and perform natural pest control, all while requiring only a few minutes of attention per day. The result is a neat and tidy garden, fewer insects roaming around, and fresh eggs for breakfast every morning! Purchasing and raising chickens is a sound investment and has positive impacts on one’s permaculture system or garden.