Environmentally Friendly Chicken Keeping

Environmentally Friendly Chicken Keeping

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Chris Lesley Smart gardening, material reuse, and other easy tricks to incorporate into environmentally friendly chicken keeping.

Because of the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on our ecosystems, opting out of that system and keeping your own chickens is an environmentally friendly poultry choice. What chicken breeds to keep, or whether to let them free range, are more or less neutral from an environmental perspective. However, the choices you make with and for your flock can help your little farm be as green as possible.

Fertilizer Machines

One of the easiest ways to make a chicken coop as environmentally friendly as possible is to combine it with a vegetable garden. This will not only allow you to repurpose your chickens’ waste, but your hens can also take the place of some of the worst chemicals used in gardening.

The first and foremost utility of chickens in a garden is as non-stop fertilizer producers. Anyone who has ever tried to clean a chicken coop will know that these birds do nothing all day except produce high-quality, nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

By fertilizer, we are of course referring to chicken poop, which can easily be composted and used as a non-toxic, nitrogen-rich fertilizer. This will not only save you money; it will also guarantee that you’re not adding to the potentially toxic waste the commercial fertilizer industry creates.

To make the most effective fertilizer, you can spread fresh poop on your garden, or you can compost it first, which has the added benefit of speeding up the composting process for anything else you might have in the pile. Because of its high nitrogen content, you won’t need to spread it as thickly as you do other manure-based fertilizers. You’ll also want to do some research on your plants before you get too heavy-handed with the chicken poop fertilizer. Some common garden plants, like tomatoes, can easily overdose on nitrogen, and all of your plants will eventually suffer from having too much nitrogen if you overdo it. Luckily, other common plants like squash, cabbage, and broccoli can remove nitrogen from the soil and thrive in nitrogen-rich chicken fertilizer.  

Eating Machines

Another huge benefit that chickens can bring to a garden is as non-toxic, all-natural pest eaters and weed killers. Chickens love all kinds of plants, and they especially love to eat insects and bugs, so they’ll be more than happy to rid your garden of unwanted interlopers of both kinds.

You should know, however, that chickens are eating machines, not born gardeners. They will munch beneficial worms and ladybugs as readily as problematic grasshoppers and flies, and they will probably much rather eat your ripe tomatoes than the weeds surrounding them. I certainly didn’t realize this the first time I let chickens into my garden, but they need to be carefully controlled to make sure their presence is as beneficial as possible. There are many ways to do this, including fencing and human supervision, as well as managing their time in the garden so that they are never amongst the ripest, most tempting plants. Even if you decide not to let the birds into the garden directly, they can still help you reduce waste by munching on picked weeds or rotten vegetables you feed them.

Even with these challenges, using chickens in the garden is still generally a more environmentally friendly option than using the many chemical pesticides, weedkillers, and fertilizers on the market, which can generate toxic runoff and even be hazardous to human health. 

Reusing Materials

One of the best, easiest, and cheapest ways to make your flock as environmentally friendly as possible is by reusing materials wherever you can. This can start even before you get your flock, with building a coop out of recycled or salvaged wood scraps. Old furniture and leftover lumber from other projects are both great starting points for this. I’ve had a lot of luck asking local businesses for old pallets or other scrap wood; they often have no other use for them and are happy to give them away.

Once you’re done building your coop, don’t throw away the leftover wood, chicken wire, or hardware mesh. All of this will come in handy down the line as you need to patch up and repair the coop and surrounding fencing. Scrap wood can also be used to build a “jungle gym” or other structure your birds can climb and explore, especially if they aren’t allowed to free range and need some extra exercise and enrichment.

Predator Proofing

Another great place to reuse materials is in creating predator deterrents and toys for your flock. Old CDs, broken mirrors, and shiny ribbons can all become effective deterrents for birds of prey; cardboard tubes from toilet paper or paper towels can become seed roll treats. Some keepers have even found that their flocks love to peck at their kids’ old toy xylophones, so you never know what might entertain your flock!

Just make sure anything you plan to leave in the coop or run area doesn’t have toxic paints or varnishes or tiny parts the birds might dislodge or swallow. If you’re not sure about this, feel free to skip the DIY – no Pinterest project is worth harming your girls.

Reducing Waste

For all the good recycling and reusing does for the planet, the absolute best thing is to reduce the amount of waste you’re generating in the first place. Luckily, not only are there many easy ways to reduce the amount of waste your flock produces, but a backyard coop offers you a few great opportunities to reduce your family’s level of waste as well!

One key way to reduce waste (and save yourself a lot of money) is to limit the amount of electricity it takes to keep your birds comfortable. You can almost always cut down on the amount of electricity you use in heating and cooling the coop. Lower your heating requirements by making sure the coop is well-insulated in the winter; a thorough inspection in the fall can help you find any places where drafts can get in, so you can plug them up with wood scraps, rags, or other insulation before the cold really hits. Making sure your coop is well-ventilated in the summer will also reduce your need for electric fans or other cooling methods, as well as being better for the flock’s respiratory health.

Using Left-overs

Another major source of waste in most households is food waste. Your chickens will be thrilled to help you solve this problem! While there are some human foods, like alliums (onions and related plants), citrus plants, caffeine, and alcohol, that should never be fed to your flock, lots of foods that you might never think they’d eat, like bones and fish guts, they’ll actually love. Just be sure to research anything you give them, and not to feed them anything that’s highly processed, salted, or spiced. And remember that most of their nutrition should always come from foraging and an appropriate feed.

Keeping chickens is a great way for ordinary people to contribute to making the planet a better place to live, and following even a few of these suggestions can help make that decision more impactful.

Chris has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is the Chickens and More poultry expert. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including three Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens. Her new book, Raising Chickens: The Common Sense Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens, is available in paperback and eBook form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *