Chickens in the Organic Vineyard
Organic chickens in the organic vineyard are wonderful. I would like to forget using the diesel tractor ploughing between vines, the latest must-have in my organic vineyard maintenance is chickens. Leading the way in the Swan Valley I have introduced chickens to the vineyard to help with the upkeep.
As an organic vigneron in the hot climate grape-producing region of Perth’s Swan Valley I allowed my chickens to roam the vineyard. The chickens scratch and aerate the soil, peck, eat seeds and insect larvae. They are doing a lot of the work for me.
Chickens in the vineyard are an asset to any vineyard whether it is organic or not. Generally they are quite hardy and independent. A well tended vineyard and a source of fresh water and a safe place to roost is all that is needed during summer, winter and spring. Autumn is different!
Chickens are also home lovers, meaning that they return home every evening so they are easy to handle, compared with ducks. We had some ducks many years ago and they would not go home. Every day they had to be rounded up or foxy would visit during the early evening and night and have duck dinner. This must not have been pleasant for the ducks and was not for myself.
My chickens ( chooks) are much more alert and a little wiser and survive the occasional fox visit.
During the late summer month’s chooks in the vineyard is not a good thing unless your vines are on high trellis. Chickens love grapes; to see them jumping is cute. But not economically viable to lose your crop you have worked so hard for. Here the chickens are locked up behind the house in a large run until all the grape picking is finished.
In the late autumn chickens in the vineyard are wonderful. They clean up all the vineyard of old dried grapes and enjoy the fresh young shoots of new weeds.
My current flock of chickens were rescued from a local egg farm.
The pale combed feather-less things were thin and poorly, but laying eggs every day for a few weeks. Due to the lack of night lights and high protein crumbed food they stopped their egg laying. With the winter’s shorter days this makes their ovaries shut down and go on holidays until the spring comes. When the weather warms up, the days are longer and they become healthier.
When they first arrived they huddled together and did not know what to do. When allowed out of the hen house they did know how to scratch. Later they turned the wood chip mulch over in one morning. For some unknown reason they were very tame not scared of my hands and would eat food from them eagerly.
After eight weeks their feathers had all grown back and they started to look like well kept healthy chickens. Now when I open the hen house door in the morning they run out and off exploring as though they have no time to lose.
We love our chickens, they are so inquisitive and cheeky, especially Wendy. They take off in the morning to their favourite playground during the day. Sometimes the orchard, looking for grubs under the trees, the olives or the mulberry tree. Other days it’s down the vineyard, turning over the ploughed ground. They search for anything nourishing and living. Grubs and snail eggs get a work out besides the seed bank from the previous winter’s green manure crop.
During a spring long table lunch in the underground cellar my chicken named Wendy came visiting, checking us out, saying hello and seeking any food scraps we may have dropped.
Some years ago we had an outbreak of vine weevils, however since the organic chickens arrived we have not seen another outbreak.
We were given a mother and some chickens by a couple who had to move house. The mother educated the babies and at night she would spread her wings so that they could all huddle underneath and keep warm. It was such a delight to watch and so educational to myself. All the chickens I have ever seen were all orphaned at birth and sent to the chicken farm to be raised into egg layers.
My organic chickens are so tame they will eat out of my hand. They will even talk to you in their own peculiar way. Have you seen a chicken smile? I swear that once you have something for them to eat they will come running and smile, cocking their heads looking up at you and saying thank you.
We love our chickens!