Why the link between Easter and spring festival and eggs? Because eggs are a sign of re-birth in many religions. At Easter weekend it’s chocolate eggs loom large in the mind and stomach. Easter egg hunts in the garden are a great way to entertain the children,whilst hunting for eggs when the birds have been laying outside the coop is not quite as much fun on a cold spring morning.
Keeping hens has been a common practise for hundreds of years both in the country and in town. Although hens have always been found in rural communities, keeping a small number of chickens has become more common again in suburban and urban gardens. Hens have been around humans for a long time; possibly as long as 10,000 years of domestication. There are certainly fossil remains in China from approximately 6,000 BC of a bird that couldn’t have occurred there naturally; the supposition being that it was imported, for food, or entertainment (cock fighting) or both.
Marie is very fond of chickens and has at various times kept Bantams, Leghorns and even ex-battery hens, among other breeds. You don’t need to be a permaculture advocate to see the benefits of hen keeping; as omnivores, ie eaters of a range of plants and animals for food, chickens love leftovers. They can potentially eat seven pounds of kitchen leftovers in a month, although this will depend on the size or breed of your hen; a Bantam is a small breed and obviously won’t eat as much.
Chickens are a very useful creature to keep; not only do they provide eggs (no potentially noisy cockerel needed for that) but they’re also a source of rich manure and a mobile pest control unit. As part of an overall productive unit, that is to say your garden or allotment, hens can be almost indispensable. If they are allowed to roam free during the summer they may well cause some damage to your ornamental flowers and your crops. But given the licence to scratch around after harvest and during the autumn and winter, hens will dig up pests, larvae, grubs that would otherwise damage your plants in the following spring. They can still be contained in a run, just move the run around.
Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen, and needs to be composted for six- twelve months as it might otherwise ‘burn’ the plants it came into contact with. If you use wood shavings in the run and hen house then you already have a head start on the composting process. Store it in a separate bin to your other compost, making sure it is kept damp, but not wet. Any vegetable peelings etc that you may have put in the run for the hens to eat can be thrown in too.
Although chickens are not difficult or time consuming to keep, they do require a commitment to twice daily care and holiday cover. They are sociable creatures so you would need two or three as a minimum and enough flexibility in your garden to move them around.
Urban and suburban hen keeping could be one way to reduce our landfill problem, improve the soil and increase local food production; a means of bio-recycling. For example, if two thousand households each had three hens, there is the potential for some 225 tons annually to be diverted from landfill to a more productive use.
And if you haven’t the room in your garden to keep hens for fresh eggs you could still have an Easter egg hunt in the garden this weekend with real (hard boiled) eggs or chocolate ones. We like to design fun gardens for children with hidden areas and tree houses at Plews; we’ve even been known to test them out…
Happy Easter from Marie, Nathan and all the Plews Team