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The Secret to a Perfect Garden? The Permaculture Power of Backyard Chickens

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As permaculture continues to gain momentum worldwide, more and more people are discovering the magic of integrating backyard chickens into their eco-friendly gardens and lifestyles. These feathered friends are not just adorable backyard pets – they’re powerful allies in creating sustainable, closed-loop systems that work in harmony with nature.

At the heart of permaculture lies a profound shift in perspective. Rather than battling nature through intensive agriculture, we aim to observe and mimic natural patterns and relationships. Permaculture guru Bill Mollison articulated this vision beautifully: "The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our chickens (actually, “children”)." And we believe what better way to embrace that responsibility than by inviting hens into our gardens.

The Origins of a Revolution

The term "permaculture" was coined in the 1970s by the dynamic duo of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia. Derived from "permanent agriculture," it rapidly evolved into a holistic framework for designing human settlements and agricultural systems modelled on the resilient relationships found in natural ecologies.

Mollison's profound words still resonate today: "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system."

This radical change in the way of viewing nature sparked a global movement, empowering people to become stewards of their land and create abundant, regenerative landscapes. At the heart of these landscapes, the humble chicken has emerged as a surprising superstar.

The Chickens Have Landed

Rewind a few thousand years and you'll find the ancestors of today's backyard flocks scratching and pecking in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), native to regions from India to Singapore, gradually became domesticated by ancient civilisations. These pioneering "chicken keepers" couldn't have predicted how integral their feathered friends would become to the permaculture vision and to us backyard chicken keepers.

Watching a flock of chickens in action is like witnessing a masterclass in closed-loop, regenerative living. Their innate behaviours perfectly align with core permaculture principles:

  • Waste Not, Want Not - To a chicken, your compost bin is a treasure trove! Their voracious appetites for insects, weeds and organic matter turn "waste" into a smorgasbord of delights. Their nutrient-rich manure completes the cycle, becoming fertiliser that sustains plant growth in your garden.
  • Soil Superheroes - With every scratch and peck, chickens aerate and invigorate the soil. Their powerful raking claws and curious pecking help break down organic matter, stimulate decomposition and incorporate their droppings into litter material – nature's ultimate soil amendment.
  • Pest Patrol - Aphids, slugs, snails, slaters and other grubs – these insatiable insect hunters relish every creepy-crawly morsel that they can find in your garden. By reducing pests through natural, cost-free population control, chickens eliminate the need for harmful chemical pesticides.

    Chicken Integration 101

    Incorporating chickens into your permaculture paradise is an art and a science. It requires careful observation, thoughtful planning and a deep understanding of your feathered friends' needs and behaviours.   

    Start by taking stock of your resources – space, time, climate and desired chicken outputs (eggs, manure, pest control etc.). This insight will guide many of your critical decisions like breed selection, flock size and housing design. For example, cold-hardy breeds like Silkies, Hy-Lines and the Sussex thrive in cooler climates down here in the south of Australia. Up in northern parts, more heat-tolerant varieties like Australorps, Rhode Island Reds and Barnevelders do well in hot summer conditions.   

    Next, consider how to honour your chickens' natural instincts while integrating them seamlessly into your garden ecosystem:

    • The Foraging Advantage – While daylight access to high-quality chicken feed forms the backbone of their diet, allowing your flock to free-range (if at all possible), enriches their nutrition with insects, seeds and greens while boosting your garden's pest control.
    • Dust Bath Delights – These seemingly odd behaviours are essential for chicken wellness both internally and externally. Offer a designated dustbathing area out of the rain using a combination of Bugs Away, dry soil, wood ash and wood shavings to create the ultimate parasite-removing mixture. A good dust bath will enable chickens to efficiently preen, remove parasites and engage their natural instincts.
    • Boredom Busters – Just like us, chickens need mental stimulation but don’t yet have screens and social media to turn to! Provide enriching elements such as peck blocks, logs, hanging bunched vegetables, straw bales, outdoor children's play equipment, perches or piles of leaves in autumn to promote natural behaviours and curious foraging.

      When strategically designed, the symbiotic relationship between chickens and your backyard environment will shine through. If you have more time in your backyard, some innovative solutions like chicken tractors (movable coops), allow your flock to fertilise, till and weed future garden beds through rotational grazing. Situating the compost system near the coop maximises manure collection while providing bedding materials nearby.

      The humble eggshell offers a surprising array of permaculture possibilities! Crushed, they deliver a calcium boost to garden soils. Fragmented, they create a prickly barrier to deter pests from tender plants. Even the coop itself can be a multi-purpose marvel – collecting rainwater for crop irrigation.

      Don't Forget the Fun!

      Beyond the practical permaculture benefits, chickens bring an undeniable touch of magic and joy to any backyard. Their quirky behaviours, entertaining antics, distinct personalities and connection to nature's rhythms remind us to embrace what is wonderful about nature and the world around us.

      From the thrill of collecting those first, warm eggs from the nesting box to the hilarious and sometimes raucous "egg songs" hens sing after laying, keeping chickens is an experience that reconnects us with the simple pleasures of life. Their vibrant feathers, dazzling in hues ranging from blazing oranges to iridescent greens, add living colour to our backyards.  

      Chickens even expand the palette of potential sensory delights for the keen permaculture observer. Did you know their exceptional eyesight may allow them to perceive colours invisible to human eyes? Or, that their earlobes change colour to convey emotional states, from fiery red (threatened), to pale (content)? 

      These humble backyard birds hold secrets and wonders still being unravelled by scientists. For example, recent research published in the National Library of Medicine, reveals that chickens can perform complex arithmetic and exhibit self-control – shattering misconceptions about their limited intelligence.

      A Lasting Legacy

      At its core, permaculture is a celebration of nature's resilience, beauty and abundance. By observing the harmonious relationships between elements and designing human systems to integrate with (rather than subjugate), the natural world, we’re able to unlock incredible potential for creating backyards that provide for many of our needs, sustainably.

      Chickens are the perfect embodiment of this ethos – living examples of permaculture's vision of working in partnership with nature. With their charm, practical magic and amazing abilities, these feathered allies remind us that solutions to modern challenges can sometimes lie in ancient wisdom.  

      So, whether your backyard chickens are already part of your permaculture paradise or you're considering adding a flock, remember the incredible possibilities they represent. By honouring their instincts and integrating their needs thoughtfully, you open the door to an abundant, regenerative lifestyle in harmony with nature's rhythms.

      Permaculture is more than just a system of gardening – it's a celebration of life, a reverence for nature's genius and a pathway to a brighter, greener future for all. And your humble backyard chickens hold the keys to unlocking that verdant world of interconnected abundance. 

      International Permaculture Day is celebrated around the world on the first Sunday in May each year - we’d love to hear more about any of your permaculture ideas!

      Want to learn more about permaculture?

      Free Range Chicken Gardens – How to create a beautiful, chicken friendly yard. Jessi Bloom

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