Sunday, March 04, 2007

Life Without Chickens

scientific drawing of Quack Grass
Quack Grass drawing from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture

This is our first winter without chickens in about six years. I am buying eggs from one of my coworkers, or trading with Jenny at Meadowlark Farm, eggs from their chickens for Richard's fresh-caught perch.

But eggs is only one of the benefits of keeping a few chickens around the house. Our dog gets plate scrapings, but I still feel bad about the food that gets thrown away, food that used to go to the chickens. Dogs have no interest in banana peels or potato peelings or squash seeds. Chickens will pick every last edible scrap and then scratch what's left into their litter so that it's 75% composted before it ever hits the yard.

I worried about this when they started culling yard poultry in countries where avian flu had hit. Rabbits were suggested as a replacement source of meat, and there is a logic to that idea. Rabbits are small enough to be cared for by children and elders, and they will eat some table scraps. But a rabbit's diet needs to be monitored: too much fresh vegetables and they will get scours, too much grain and they will get colic. Chickens are omnivores. They eat anything that people eat, and they eat a lot of bugs and weeds that people won't eat.

Every spring I do my body-building, garden reclamation and chicken feeding all at once by digging up two or three wheel barrow loads of quack grass each day and giving it to the chickens. They eat the green grass, scratch up the matted roots, and eat it again if rains come and it dares to try sprout again. I don't know of any other way to kill quack grass without herbicide, and even that doesn't work as well as an eager flock of hens.

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