In the past weeks, since the garden is basically harvested, we've let the hens have the run of the yard. They love the freedom! Usually, during the growing season, we give them plenty of room to run in their extended pen and short stints around the larger yard to eat bugs and greens while still corralled in temporary chicken fencing so they don't devastate our veggie garden.
But now, with the whole yard as their domain, they are happily running about eating the last greens, dandelions, worms and odds of vegetable remains. They love their dust baths, most recently a farourite spot has been under an old red wagon since it's the dryest place in the yard with our recent weeks of damp weather.
The funniest thing was how interested they all were in eating our marigolds. We have loads of the African and French marigolds planted throughout the garden as companion plants to our vegetables. Many of these are still blooming in the late fall and just now starting to go to seed. The tall yellow marigolds are more than 2 feet high and so the hens stand below and jump up with long stretched out necks to taste the flowers. It was so curious to watch how intent the hens were on eating these marigolds that I did some reading about marigolds and chicken health, and realized our hens know what they are doing! Marigold extract is commonly added to commercial chicken feed, mostly to add darker orange colour to the egg yolks, but also to provide carotenes, flavonoids, and other nutrients. Folk tradition talks commonly of feeding marigolds (fresh or dried) to hens or lining their nest boxes with the petals to repel fleas and mites. Marigolds have natural antifungal and antibacterial properties so can be made into a tea or salve to heal chickens when they are dealing with skin irritations. They aid in skin tissue repair, blood vessel growth, and are a toxin remover. Amazing! And so wonderful to watch nature follow it's own intuition. These smart hens!