I have to admit, I think that chickens are one of the most amazing animals on the face of the earth. They can find food in almost any environment through their own efforts. They have a complex sociology and demonstrate a significant level of intelligence (although, admittedly at times, striking stupidity as well). They never encounter a pile of anything or undisturbed patch of ground that they fail to tear up completely. Most importantly, they can take simple kitchen scraps and turn them into meat and eggs. All they require in return is a little bit of fresh water, simple unheated shelter, some space to roam, and protection from predators.
Chickens on my homestead serve two main roles. The first (and most obvious) one is egg production. Even now, during the depths of winter, my flock of 19 hens will produce an average of 11-12 eggs per day. That’s more than my family of four can reasonably eat, so we share the surplus with our friends and neighbors. The second role that my chickens serve, which is actually more important than the first, is increasing fertility of the land through helping me to produce some of the highest-quality compost imaginable. I have a system in place by which I produce close to a cubic yard of compost every week, almost every week of the year, which I then use in my food forest, vegetable garden, and even the grass for my lawn.
Now, although I’ve developed this method over the past couple of years, I can’t take full credit for it. That credit goes to Karl Hammer, the proprietor of the amazing Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, VT, and Geoff Lawton for showing Karl’s work on his old website and then downscaling it to a small farm scale. Below is the video that Geoff put together several years ago from his trip to visit Karl, showing the way in which he uses chickens to help create amazing compost — and gets some of the best eggs and meat you can imagine pretty much as by-products from the process. I’ll be revisiting my own operation in detail in coming posts, but in the meantime I hope you’re able to find this tour of VT Compost Company inspirational and helpful toward your own efforts toward greater self-reliance.