Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Chicken yard recovery

Photo of a garden bed covered with fresh laurel leaves
Laurel leaf mulch
Since my chickens are still under cover because of the bird flu order, I'm trying to quickly rehabilitate the areas they destroyed last year.  Since we first started our flock about 5 years ago, we've always rotated them around the lawn and ornamental beds, giving them about a week or so in each section.  For the first few years they even had a moveable coop along with the moveable fence.  When our flock grew too big for the small coop, we built a larger stationary one, placed at the center back of the property, and so they had a small permanent yard along with their moveable fence.

About two years ago we were given a big wooden walk-in coop, and relocated them to the back corner of the property.  In order to access all the sections, their permanent yard became a lot bigger.  And they were really hard on it over the last year, especially since there are more chickens than even (currently 14).  Their yard has been compacted and bare with only the odd nettle for greenery--there are some shrubs, but all the lower leaves are gone, even on the holly and rhododendron (don't think they're supposed to eat these)...

Since they're off their usual yard, I've taken steps to restore the soil there, and the biggest is by mulching.  I don't mulch much because it's prime slug habitat, but in this case, mulch is a great solution.  I don't care about slugs so much in winter, and even if they did congregate, there's not really anything for them to eat here.  Instead, the mulch attracts worms and other soil organisms which will aerate and enrich the soil as they pull the top layer of chicken poo downward.  True, worms doen't need mulch to do this, but as they don't like sunlight, without mulch they only work at night instead of constantly.  I need them to work as hard as they can!

Now, as you can see from my photo, I used a rather unusual material as mulch.  I cut back my overgrown laurel hedge and trimmed all the branches;  it's the leaves I used as mulch.  It's been about a month since I put them down:  they're still green and fresh looking.  I don't know how long it'll take them to decompose!  But that's ok, too.  I don't need the mulch to decompose;  I need it to cover and protect the soil as it regenerates.  It's working, too.  When I go out there, I see all the new worm castings, compared to the non-mulched areas which have few or none.  Too  bad I ran out of laurel leaves before I ran out of chicken yard.

Even when the bird flu order ends, I plan on excluding the chickens from their old yard until at least late summer or longer, to give that area the best chance for recovery;  I might even sow some green manure seeds, for maximum impact.  It's too shady for food growing, but just right for chicken grazing;  it would be a shame to let it go bare and unproductive again. 

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