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!