Chickens are one of the easier and more useful animals to have in your backyard gardens. In permaculture, they are often the example of 'each element performing multiple functions.' In other words, having chickens as part of your backyard ecosystem accomplishes several functions at once. Not only can they provide you with eggs and meat but their manure acts as fertilizer for your garden, their feathers and egg shells can be added to your compost piles, and they can help clean up your garden beds.
In our yard we have both a permanent coop and a chicken tractor that I move around the yard. In cold climates, just having a chicken tractor wouldn't be sufficient enough protection and insulation for the birds during the winter. Our permanent coop, on the other hand, is insulated and in an area of our yard that is quite protected. I find I am only adding supplemental heat to the coop for the few days every winter when it dips below -20 degrees. Conscious of zoning in permaculture (i.e. putting things that need your daily attention closer to the house), I also placed the permanent coop roughly 50 feet from the backdoor for ease of feeding them every day. When you're making a trip out to the coop twice a day in the snow, you want to make that journey as short as possible!
Though I would love to have the chickens roam free around the yard, if they did so, they would destroy the growing garden fairly quickly and decisively. Instead, I've opted for letting them move around in the yard and garden in a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is a moveable coop on wheels. The tractor that we built houses two to three chickens at a time. Since we have five chickens, I switch out the ones that go in the tractor. Oftentimes, it's the naughty chickens...or the ones that I can manage to catch! There is a roosting bar and two nesting boxes in the tractor so the chickens are able to stay in there for days at a time.
Having this tractor allows me to pick and choose the areas of my annual garden beds where my chickens can scratch up and fertilize. I use the tractor in the spring and fall in my annual garden beds and place it in other areas of the yard during the summer. Check out my video below where you can see the tractor (and chickens) in action!
Do you have chickens or a chicken tractor? Please share in the comments below how you use them in your yard and garden!