If Bo and Nancy DeAngelo’s kids are hunting for eggs this weekend, it won’t be the first time this week they’ve gone to the yard looking for eggs. And the ones they’ll return with won’t be hard-boiled and dyed. They’ll be freshly laid and ready to be made into breakfast.
The DeAngelos keep 18 chickens in the backyard of their home on Table Mesa, and the chickens do a little lawn maintenance for them.
“They make wonderful pest protectors,” Bo DeAngelo says. “It’s not just the garden either. They have a tendency to reduce the overall pest level around the house.”
That’s meant fewer earwigs in the lawn furniture and fewer flies.
“They just love tomato horn worms,” DeAngelo says. “And millipedes and sowbugs are no longer an issue.”
They even keep the grass trimmed — DeAngelo says he only mowed his lawn two or three times last summer.
In official terms, chickens fit into what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes as “integrated pest management,” which means coordinating pest controls in a way that’s sensitive toward people, property and the environment. Those practices can supplement or replace chemical pesticides with mechanical traps, pheromones to disrupt pest mating cycles, and natural predators.
“Typically, the biological methods which would be used in a home garden are going to be more along the lines of insects eating insects, or the selection of specific plants which may discourage pests,” VelRey A. Lozano, integrated pest management coordinator for the regional EPA office, told Boulder Weekly via email. “It is difficult to specifically know what will work for a home garden, because it will depend on the area of the garden, the pest, the crop, etc.”
Integrated pest management is most effective when the specifics are lined up: targeting a specific pest according to its biology.
“With IPM you do want to be careful not to introduce another problem for the one you are trying to get rid of. Some of the things to consider with recommending chickens: Their fecal matter may create another issue, their dander and dust from feathers, housing, city ordinances, predators, etc.,” Lozano said.
Early on, DeAngelo had questions about the manure, bedding and predators, but so far, he says, “We’ve had zero problems.”
He keeps an eye out for rats and recycles the pine shavings used as bedding in his compost.
“You have to be careful with chickens because they do have to scratch and dig,” he says. That can shred your garden, so it’s best to keep chickens out of the garden until the plants are matured, and some plants, like spring greens and lettuce, aren’t going to be suitable for chicken patrol. A layer of mulch can also help, DeAngelo says.
If scratching and weekly coop clean-up are deal breakers, guinea fowl are an alternative. They’re still egg-layers and bug-chasers, but they can be less hazardous to gardens.
“When the chickens get out in the gardens, they scratch for food. They pull up worms and stuff,” says Jeannette Ferguson, author of Gardening with Guineas: A Step by Step Guide to Raising Guinea Fowl on a Small Scale and president of the Guinea Fowl Breeders Association. “Guineas get food within their reach. They go for bugs and insects that are sitting on plant leaves or on top of the grass blades. They don’t scratch.”
When Ferguson got guineas, her bug-free flower garden became show-worthy, and she’s won more than a hundred fair ribbons and rosettes.
Because they’re still basically wild, guineas must be trained to stay close to home. But while chicken coops need to be cleaned weekly, a guinea coop needs it just once a month.
Guineas produce eggs only from early spring to late fall, and prefer to lay them in secluded areas and among thicker cover. Because guinea eggs are smaller, they have to be substituted for chicken eggs at a two-to-one ratio.
City of Boulder zoning codes don’t have any limitations on keeping chickens or guineas, although roosters can lead to a noise violation.
If you’re not interested in bringing poultry home, or don’t have a garden space available on which to help green the planet, Earth Day activities this weekend will allow you to plant trees on someone else’s land, or simply donate to encourage sustainability education. Check out local events at www.boulderganic.com.