Gardening with Chickens & Quail

If you are fed up with buying food and realise you could have fresher, organically grown fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers in your backyard, then it's time to turn that boring unproductive lawn into a kitchen garden. Starting a plot from scratch is hard work and it's a good idea to share the initial labour with your (or someone else's) poultry. Chickens and quail work well in symbiosis to get rid of pests, eat weed seeds and squitch aka couch grass roots and work the earth into a fine tilth without compacting the soil. Both chickens and quail cost much less than a rotivator, don't need petrol and furthermore don't damage the structure of the soil. Gardening with poultry also provides the former with an excellent food source whilst they work.

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

Specialist Tools 

Two gardening tools well worth investing in if you are going to cut new gardens are:

An edging tool:- for cutting and maintaining borders and also for marking out turf into manageable sizes for moving.

A turf remover:- for lifting off the grass with the maximum amount of root and minimum amount of top soil. Removing turf this way also allows for the grass to be processed in a long length, which can be rolled as cut, stored and kept moist whilst waiting to be replanted.

These traditional spades are quite difficult to obtain unless like me you have 'hand-me-down' family tools or a good second-hand source but a quality narrow spade will do.

Invertebrate Pests Chicken and Quail Will Eat

organic gardening using quail for slug control
black fly
cabbage moth caterpillars (quail)
cabbage white caterpillars (quail)
cutworms (various moth larvae)
fire ants (quail)
white fly
wire worms (click beetle larvae)

There are more and obviously pests vary as to where you live in the World. In the main though I find chickens are pretty wary about red creatures, so they will not eat lily beetles, for example and the larvae have some rather clever but horrid habits that keep them safe. However, next time I find some I intend to try them on my quail! Most things we consider as pests also have a function in the garden's ecosystem, so using birds is a good idea because they will never get rid of every subject but rather keep them down to a manageable level.

Plus chicken and quail will consume:
Weed seeds
Squitch/couch grass roots

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

Chicken Field Trial

Recently we cut out and prepared several garden beds for a friend from a field using our chickens to clear up the soil and our quail to breakdown the additional compost we brought from home. In return our quail also cleaned up the grass turf we brought back to our own garden, including dealing with the dreaded slugs!

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

We took with us two Polish hens and a Cochin, all three are particularly tame and won't run amok when out in the open. They are amongst the few of our poultry that are happy being out in a non forest environment. The rest tend to find being in the open too distracting because they are accustomed to living in a protected area and are unhappy about foraging out in a field. I've tried taking many of them up to my neighbour's meadow and only Bungle my Golden Polish hen and Snowflake my Cochin will remain for any length of time, the others just wander back down to our property. Professor Hermann our Tolbunt Polish hen is a fanatical forager so I guessed she'd be happy wherever she was, as long as there was a constant supply of invertebrates and greenery.

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

In effect Professor Hermann worked tirelessly for six hours with only a short siesta when the mercury hit 30°C - 86°F.

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

Bungle decided in view of her seniority: 9 years  to Hermann's 2, she deserved more time luxuriating in the sun (feigning death on several occasions).

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

Although, to be fair, she did do quite a bit of work in the cooler part of the day.

organic gardening using Cochins for pest control

Snowflake worked hard in the shade, she's more of a snail eater than the rest and spent a lot of the day searching the bushes between the gardens, doing good work.

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

..and taking naps between times...

organic gardening using chickens for pest control

At the end of the day all three were too tired and replete with invertebrates to come when called for their treat of Basmati rice. We just scooped them up and took them home, along with another car full of turf for the quail to work on.

Bringing the Garden to the Quail

As previously explained the turf was brought back for the quail to deal with prior to us replanting it in our garden. Quail are really methodical in their approach to pests and incidentally great for greenhouse work, removing whitefly and green and blackflies (aphids) which are really too tiny for chickens to bother with.

organic gardening using quail for pest control

Quail will also eat many caterpillars that chickens will not touch including the dreaded cabbage white.

organic gardening using quail for pest control

Slugs are also a delicacy to quail, whereas not many hens will eat them. I have one Sebright cross 'Chickles' who will eat giant Leopard slugs and a few other chickens brave enough to eat the smaller ones. In the main chickens eat slugs because their mother made them eat them as chicks. I had one particular hen, I bought her as a broody and she had lived with an old lady who had denied her any food but grain. This even to the extent of cutting back her wing feathers savagely to stop her escaping the beaten earth run on which she lived. This hen never forgot the importance having access to wild food and when she raised chicks here in the forest garden, she would present them slugs over and over until finally they had to eat them. I think it is to her we owe Chickles' penchant for these slimy creatures.

organic gardening using Coturnix quail for pest control

I have a special compost bin inside my quail area and over Winter my quail work away at it breaking it right down into a superb quality growing medium minus sow bugs/woodlice et al and weed seeds. This provides me with a top quality organic compost for Spring sowing, all I need to add is a little garden soil and fine sand. So you get to save on organic potting compost too!

Below is the first of the gardens we have completed out of the six plots from which we have already removed the turf. When the peas and beans have grown up, I may take the quail over to the garden, for some delicate aphid and blackfly work! This will also give them a free-range opportunity.

making a new organic garden using chickens and quail for pest control

Hope you enjoyed this article and if you did then please feel free to share it and/or comment. There will also be an accompanying film coming shortly. If you would like to support our work for as little as $1 per month and get access to new projects then check out the Patreon link below.

Here's the film: 

Until the next time, All the very best from Normandie, Sue
© 2018 Sue Cross

More quail articles for those thinking of starting with quail:

Organic quail chick and mother henWhy and how? Getting started.

I had read that for centuries in Japan and China quail eggs had been used in  the treatment of various respiratory diseases and allergies.  Finding no organic eggs on the market, I decided to raise them more

Organic quail chicks with mother Ardenner bantam

Taking you through the first few days.

Polly and the quail at three days old and already something of a handful! I kept them in the nest for the first three days, letting them gain in more

Organic quail chick and hen free-rangingHow your hen can bring out the best in baby quail.

Years of selective breeding have not only bred the broodiness out of domesticated quail but also their ability to identify and seek out their own food. read more

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