Free-range bantams are easy and cheap to keep and benefit your garden. They also support a chemical-free, low-waste lifestyle!
For five years, I have kept free-range bantam chickens and not once have I wished I didn’t have them. My sister-in-law visited a market one weekend and found someone selling pairs. She ordered her pair and told me about it. This sparked some interest and I asked around if someone was willing to part with a few of their bantams. A lovely contact I made via Instagram offered me a cockerel and two hens. And so my story with keeping bantams began!
I started out wanting bantams because I love watching them peck away at the ground and bustle around the garden as if they’re wearing big ball gowns. However, after about a year, I realized that there were very many advantages to keeping free-range bantam chickens. What’s more, they support our family’s goal to live a more earth-friendly, low-waste lifestyle!
So, if you’re trying to gather reasons for keeping some free range chickens in your back yard, the following information is for you!
#1 – Chickens Create Manure
Chickens poop a lot. Whether you keep your chickens in a large enclosure or let them roam freely around your garden, you’ll know that there is never a shortage of chicken poop to step in. To some, this may be a deterrent, but if you are like me and love gardening or value healthy soil, you’ll be jumping for joy.
Chickens kept in a coop create enough poop for you to shovel onto your compost heap while free range chickens add manure to your garden as they walk around. Both ways of keeping chickens means you gain manure.
I grew up with my Dad making regular journeys to the local nursery and picking up bags of manure. He always picked from the discounted pile, not seeing a reason why a hole in a manure bag meant a large discount. Yeh, our car boot sometimes smelt a bit ripe but did you see the veggies he grew?
I, on the other hand, don’t have to source manure from anywhere else because I collect it from my chickens! Chicken poop is very acidic so it is best to add it to your compost heap first and let it lose some of its heat before adding it to your vegetable beds.
My favorite way of using chicken poop is to make, what I call, “Chicken Poop Garden Tea“. This recipe makes a natural liquid fertilizer to pour at the base of your plants! I cannot take the credit for this recipe because, like many of my garden practices, my Dad taught me how to do this!
You can find my recipe for Chicken Poop Garden Tea here.
#2 Free-Range Chickens Help Aerate Soil
If you’ve spent 5 minutes watching a chicken, you’ll know that they scratch and peck the ground day in and day out. What may seem like a chickens way of life, scratching and digging for bugs and seeds, is actually an amazing way for nature to aerate soil.
As the chickens scratch and peck, oxygen is added to the soil and soil layers are mixed. This also helps compost and mulch distribution and integration. After watching the documentary Kiss the Ground, I realized the importance of what chickens and other livestock do for our soil.
#3 Chemical-Free Pest Control
Let me start by saying that when we moved into our rented home, there was a major ant infestation. Three months after moving in and letting my chickens loose? There was no longer an ant problem.
I’m not saying that our goal should be to annihilate the ant population but over here in Zimbabwe, ants tend to take over gardens and even homes if they’re left to their own devices. Most people turn to chemical controls but my free-range chickens tend to the problem and therefore support our goals to live as chemical-free as possible.
In general, free-range chickens are great for pest control. They tuck into termites with much joy and I’ve seen them devour crickets and some grasshoppers too. Every so often we find big fat cutworms at the base of plants and these are a wonderful treat for my chooks!
#4 Chickens Reproduce Quickly and Easily
I cannot count how many chicks I’ve had scampering around my garden over the past five years. My girls sit on 12–20 eggs at a time and most (if not all) of them hatch! At some point, I’ve had over 40 chickens running around my garden. Due to the size of my garden (and I have a large one), this is not ideal for my chickens nor my garden. That many chooks chew through all the plants in no time.
And so I choose to gift my chicks to people who want them. Some bantam owners like to add new blood to their flocks whilst there are many who want to start out on their free-range chicken journeys. We have three full-time staff members who are elated to receive chicks to add to their flocks at home. Let’s not forget that chickens are a good source of protein and for the lower-income population of Zimbabwe, grocery-bought meat is often off the cards because it is expensive.
#5 Chickens Eat Kitchen Scraps
Ever given your chickens watermelon rinds or brown lettuce leaves? My chickens love getting fruit and vegetable scraps.
Do some research about what foods shouldn’t be given to chickens (avocado, dried beans, etc.) but if you’re a family who love green veggies and some fruit, most of the leftovers or ends should be okay to give to your chickens.
If you make my pickled cucumber sticks, be sure to give your chickens the scooped out cucumber seeds!
#6 Free-Range Chickens Don’t Need Big Coops
If your chickens are in a coop full-time, then it’s only fair to give them enough space to walk around, explore, and nest. However, if you let your chickens roam, their night-time coop doesn’t need to be all that grand and can be mobile, too!
My bantams like to roost together and once settled for the night, they don’t move around. At the moment I only have three bantams because we are about to move house and I needed to simplify my flock. However, I could easily have another three fully-grown chickens roosting in our small triangular coop. My goal is to have one or two more coops made for when my hens lay more eggs and my flock grows again.