Creating free food for my hens…a successful experiment.

Blueberry bushes with wire fencing cages and log pieces to protect them from scratching hens! In winter they are surrounded by a thick layer of oak leaves – one giant compost bin…

Years ago I read an article about compost and chickens and it gave me an idea. My hens have a very secure pen, where they run when danger threatens. But nearly every day I let them out into a grove of wild hazelnut trees and blueberry bushes that is separated from the garden and orchard by a little deer netting fence.

That fall when the huge oaks around my house dropped their hoard of leaves, and after my garden beds got their yearly layer of them, I raked and dragged many huge piles and dumped them around the blueberry bushes in the hazel grove. I figured even if it didn’t work for the chickens the blueberries would like it.

I also made a habit of tossing much of the end of the season garden debris over the little fence onto a pile at one end. Through most of the winter the material in this pile is too stiff to be interesting, but by spring it has broken down enough for a hen to scratch into it and it is filled with creepy crawlies that are a chickens steak and lobster! The leaves have done a similar thing, creating months of happy scratching.

Through late winter and spring the hens hardly touch the sprouted grain I put out for them because they get a much more satisfying meal from their daily scratchings in the hazelnut grove! Between that and all the lovely fresh spring weeds and overwintered garden greens, I save a great deal on the food bill for the hens and they get a diet that is much more to their liking. I don’t have a garden that I can let the chickens roam free in – and no grassy fields to let them into, so this ends up being a really nice compromise for me and for the girls. The hazelnuts and blueberries seem pretty happy too!

The hazelnuts create shade, nuts, protection from hawks, and material for wattle and trellises. When I am harvesting wattle material I clean up the branches and drop the material on the ground where it can slowly rot and feed the trees.


  1. They don’t eat the hazelnuts – or the blueberries… They eat the worms and other small things that inhabit compost piles and piles of rotting leaves… I did plant a mulberry tree there and they get any berries that fall – and there are trailing blackberries that grow naturally in there that they eat as well. But mostly its all the compost-dwelling critters they prefer.


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