We love our hens...they tap on the back door each morning letting us know they are awake and ready for attention. We've been trying to give special care during the past weeks, as the weather has been especially cold around here. We've piled up mounds of clean straw in sunny spots in the yard where they like to hang out on warm days, and yes, we admit we even let them sneak in the house to warm up for a few minutes on occasion. We try to bring them special food treats each day, like sprouts or carrot peelings, oats soaked in warm water, and extra grains and seeds, but it's certainly not the naturally healthful diet they get when foraging in the yard for bugs, greens and grass in the warmer months. A friend mentioned she sprouted oats for her hens in winter, which seemed like a simple yet effective thing to do. I am currently researching biodynamic chicken care, and in general biodynamic principles that can be applied to the small farm/urban farm and garden. I found some useful articles about chickens here, and the site Backyard Biodynamics looks promising (but the part I really wanted to learn about was just in point form as it's the outline for a sustainable gardening course they are leading - in Australia!), as well as the Small Farm Permaculture & Sustainable Living website. This page, Pasture Restoration of Heirloom Chickens looks really great, on the Permaculture Institute (New Mexico) site. They offer ideas such as introducing perennial woody plantings, poultry forage and groundcovers like chicory, various brassicas (radishes, mustards), comfrey, alfalfa, vetches and clovers in the pastures where the hens roam. The plant list for the permaculture approach to chicken pasturing also includes Nanking cherry, sand cherry, siberian pea shrub, day lilies, apples, plums, raspberries, mulberries, sea buckthorn, apricot, and comfrey. On a small scale property at least some of these plants could be included in the layout, offering forage food for free roaming hens...ah, planning for the new season ahead.
Speaking of permaculture plants like these, a friend just loaned me her catalogue from Windmill Point Farm, an organic permaculture farm in Quebec (near Montreal) that also operates Green Barn Nursery that we've mentioned on this blog before. They offer a staggering list of berries, fruits, nut trees and other permaculture varieties that grow hardy in our zone - incredible - and I wanted to order one of everything! Check out this website if you are thinking of adding a forest garden or any permaculture plants to your yard.