Chickens in the Garden: The Deep Mulch System

This is part two of a multi-part series. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

A second approach for keeping chickens in your garden is the deep mulch system, described in detail in Andy Lee’s book The Chicken Tractor. You can begin with part of your existing garden, or select an area in which you wish to start a garden.  In either case, first clear the area, mowing it if necessary, and then put a chicken tractor on the freshly cleared area.  The chicken tractor will stay in the same location for about five weeks.

Each day, add about a one-inch layer of dried hay or straw as bedding. The chickens will eat seeds that are present in the hay and use the hay as their bedding.  Adding fresh hay daily provides a fresh and clean surface for them, and the bedding will gradually build up to form a thick bed of hay mixed with manure over the five week period. Since the chickens don’t have access to the soil, it is a good idea to supply them with some poultry grit.

At the end of the five-week period, move the chicken tractor and the chickens to a new location, leaving the thick bedding in place.  The bedding forms what is, in effect, a well-balanced compost heap, containing a good mix of nitrogen from the manure and carbon from the dried hay or straw. After moving the chicken tractor, water the bedding. The bedding will decompose, starting from the bottom, where it contacts the soil.

This is an excellent way to build up soil fertility in your garden, as long as you aren’t in a hurry.  If you are going to use this system, it’s best to start it about a year before you plan to plant, to allow the bedding plenty of time to decompose.

If you are just starting a garden, this is also an excellent way to eliminate weed or grass cover and build up soil fertility before starting a garden.

For more information on the deep mulch system, see Andy Lee’s book, The Chicken Tractor.

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2 Responses to Chickens in the Garden: The Deep Mulch System

  1. Cindy says:

    Can this mulch be put around the base of the plants for winter mulch or is it too hot?

    • Cindy,

      You would have to experiment to see what works best. I think the results will vary depending on the type of plant that you are putting it under, and the chicken manure/mulch may be “too hot” for some plants, but it may be fine for others. Rather than move the mulch and manure, I prefer leaving it in place in the garden, so that it can gradually decompose in place and enrich the garden soil prior to the next planting.

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