Thirteen mixed hens, mostly Rhode Island Reds, are all that is left of the flock of two years ago, the year the coyotes were so bold in daytime raids. We keep them separate from the Buckeyes which have replaced them, mostly using the Reds to groom pastures or till green manures into the big garden plots, but they have laid decently for us on their diet of mixed fermented grains, meat scraps, and greens, with a little dairy waste thrown in.
This winter they have been housed in one of the tall chicken tractors (there’s a picture somewhere, but all I can find is this one of hens in a low tunnel), plastic covered, and furnished with two nesting boxes — these last have been mostly extraneous, but one fertile hen has continued to make her offering every day. We park the tractor in the home garden, where it just straddles two 30 inch beds and the path between them; in two days the chickens have ripped out all the chickweed we are so prone to in winter. Then we move them forward. It’ll be weeks before they’ve cleaned all the beds we need done. We could just let them out to forage the whole garden during the day, since that plot is tightly fenced, but the high tunnel full of spinach is in there, too, and with the warm weather we’ve been having the tunnel has had to be left open, and wouldn’t the hens have a hayday in there if they could. Better to keep them penned (the chickens don’t agree) and keep their impact concentrated where it does the most good.