The Line in the Grass:
Why We Should All Keep Chickens
By Greg Peterson
Before vacating the Urban Farm almost a year and a half ago, I set up the backyard to be the chicken run. This entailed installing a temporary four-foot-tall wire fence that blocked the chickens’ access to the back patio gardens and opened up two-thirds of the back yard for the chickens to graze. So, for much of the past two years the Urban Farm has had a herd of chickens running wild in its midst, doing all the things that a good urban permaculture chickens do.
When I arrived back here at the Urban Farm last month, we decided it was time to shift things up and push the chicken run back a ways. So I removed the fencing, used a stake jack to remove the posts, and mowed the grass to clean up the area. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found: a perfectly formed green line running the length of the fence that was deep green on the chicken side and light winter grass tan/brown on the other. Ahhh, the magic of chicken manure and the magic of the permaculture chicken.
In permaculture, there is a concept called stacking functions. Basically, it means that we use a resource to do as many things as possible. This concept can show up in many parts of your life and can be as simple as stacking your trips when you go out for a car ride by visiting the plant nursery, grocery store and doctor in the same trip. It just takes a little planning.
Another way stacking functions can show up is by keeping backyard chickens. When we look at the industrial chicken, it primarily serves the purpose of providing protein in the form of meat and eggs. We call this monoculture, and in this model that is often all the chickens are good for.
The permaculture chicken does so much more. First of all, you can see by the greenness of the winter grass in the picture that they fertilize. Additionally, the chickens eat bugs and weeds, they make great tillers of the soil, provide a nice supply of fresh eggs and are fun to watch, as they make great entertainment. I believe that anyone who has a yard should be a keeper of at least a chicken or three. This is the perfect representation of stacking functions – one chicken and so many things that she provides.
In my backyard, the hens also did a great job of mowing the grass in their chicken run. Along with fertilizing, they kept the grass under control.
Now there is a downside to turning your chickens over to roam your yard. The biggest drawback is the squishy chicken poop that sticks to the bottom of your shoes and other parts of your bare feet. Yuck. Plus, if there are gardens in your chicken run they will do a pretty good job of eating all your new transplants and seeds, so pay heed.
I am not proposing that this is a solution for everyone and it takes preparation and planning to get your own green line in the grass, however it can be a very effective way to grow healthy chickens and manage your yard. In the meantime, I will be enjoying the nice healthy green grass in my backyard.