Im in southern California and my back yard is desperate for some ground cover. The sun is just destroying my soil and not much life anymore. I have 6 chickens and would love a solution that would benefit the chickens and the soil.
Hey Sam. In my experience unless you rotate your chickens they will completely decimate any ground cover growing in an area the size of most people's backyards. Have you considered a deep mulched wood chips. A deep mulch of a foot or more will protect the soil and provide food for your chickens as it will attract a lot of bugs especially if you add a nitrogen source like spent brewers grains or coffee grounds, both of these you should be able to get for free. As for plant matter you could try patches of comfrey, clover or even moringa trees that you keep low by regularly chopping and dropping for the chickens to consume. Paulownia trees might also work in this situation and some can be left to grow for shade and hawk protection. Also consider a black soldier fly bin that will feed high protein larvae to your birds when filled with food wastes or even more spent brewers grains. You could divide up your yard depending on the size to allow for plant regrowth. Hope that helps.
There is no such thing as a ground cover for chicken because they scratch up everything. But chicken combine perfectly with an orchard and it is a double use in case you need entting for the orchard. Just put a piece of chicken wire under young trees. There are trees who love chicken manure like banana, passionfruit, all citrus and every hungry fruit. Chicken like the shade too.
sam Crane wrote:Im in southern California and my back yard is desperate for some ground cover. The sun is just destroying my soil and not much life anymore. I have 6 chickens and would love a solution that would benefit the chickens and the soil.
My climate is similar to yours, I've got 4 adult chickens and 6 teenager chickens in my backyard. I can't give them free range of the entire yard all the time, because the chickens would annihilate it. I've got an enclosed run that encompasses the back corner of my block and wraps around the back fence. They've also got constant access to their 3m x 1.5m coop (which is full of a deep bed of straw). There's NOTHING growing in the run, unless you count the nasturtium that pokes through the chicken wire. The run doubles as my composting area, so I'm always throwing lots of lawn clippings, garden waste, and kitchen scraps in for the chickens to scratch through. Every morning for a couple hours, I let the adult chickens out of the run and give them supervised free range of the yard (I herd them away from vulnerable seedlings, but otherwise, they do what they want). They nibble grass, gobble borage and comfrey, pick at strawberries, and dig in the wood chip mulch for bugs and worms. In the evening, the teenagers get their turn for a couple hours.
Doing this, I can keep my chickens from impacting my garden beds too much. They don't have enough time to tear up the lawn. And during patches of crazy arid weather (when the chickens do more damage to stressed plants), I give them more things to do in their run so they can spend a shorter amount of time in the yard.
If possible, I'd recommend dividing your yard into sections, and only letting chickens into an area once it's had time to recover. Grow plants that are hard to kill. If the chickens annihilate my borage or comfrey, it springs right back again as long as there's something still there in the ground. I also notice that my chickens don't pay much attention to my established lavender, sage, and rosemary. These might be good plants to try growing if you don't want your entire yard to be a desert.
Deep wood chips are a good option- the chickens LOVE scratching through wood chips to get to the greeblies, and it'll benefit your soil. Just be aware that it won't take long for the chickens to kick wood chips everywhere and expose the dirt below. Be prepared to regularly fill in divots if you want it looking neat. And the wood chips will break down faster with the constant turning and chicken poop.
And, for whatever it's worth, I notice that some chickens seem to be far more destructive "scratchers". My Barnevelder will out-scratch any of my Orpingtons.
Remember that chickens scratch because they're looking for protein (worms, bugs, etc). They'll never NOT scratch, but they might be more inclined just to eat the greens (rather than annihilate them) if they've got all the protein they desire already in their diet.
Everygreen needles make great chicken bedding/ground cover and mix well with their manure in terms of ph and C-N ratio. I bet oak leaves would too if you have more of those. Anything high in carbon and silica will mix well to build soil, but the more diverse the better.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
Fire me boy! Cool, soothing, shameless self promotion:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while