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Published On: Mon, Jun 12th, 2017

What’s Great About Keeping Chickens In Your Backyard

More and more homes in the US are starting to keep chickens again. Have you started seeing backyard hen coops pop up in your own neighbourhood? You may even have already gotten some fresh eggs thanks to a chicken-keeping neighbour!

My family members had their suspicions when I said I wanted to raise chickens in our backyard. Things have worked out so well for us that I ended up writing my own guide to backyard chicken-keeping! Why raise chickens? Isn’t it a terrible imposition having noisy, messy birds flapping about? Could fresh eggs really make up for the hassle of keeping chickens? The short answer is that they certainly can, but let’s look in more depth at all the advantages of keeping chickens.

photo normanack via Flickr

Fresh Eggs
This is obviously the prime motivator for most backyard chicken-rearing. A fresh, warm egg that’s just been laid is an incredible boon. It might sound gross the first time you consider it, but the benefits are amazing.

Fresh eggs will appear shockingly vibrant and rich if you’ve been raised strictly on the store-bought variety. The thick, healthy shell is tough to crack. Once you get inside, you’ll find a vibrant orange yolk that’s surprisingly resilient. It’ll easily stand up to handling without breaking. Fresh egg whites are especially goopy and thick. Fresh eggs are ideal for poaching.

Chickens subscribe (though probably not by choice) to the maxim “you are what you eat.” All of the nutrients you feed them come back to you in the form of eggs. Leftover fruits and vegetables, weeds, grasses, chicken feed, and even insects all add more great nutrition to your home-grown eggs. A hen that’s getting a healthy, varied diet will produce eggs that are far more nourishing than their grocery store counterparts.

A word about egg-laying volume. You’ll probably want multiple hens because they don’t all lay at the same time. A hen that’s actively laying is going to produce an egg every 25 hours or so. Right now I have five hens. Sometimes only one of them is actively laying, but right now they’re all at work. On one recent morning, I collected six eggs from their nests; they produced five on another day. If that sounds like more eggs than your family could possibly get through, you don’t need to try and care for six hens. A small household will generally be fully served by a modest flock of two to four hens.

photo wattpublishing www.WATTAgNet.com. via Flickr

Educational Value
Keeping chickens is about more than putting incredibly fresh eggs on your family’s table. My hens became steadily more valuable as my family got comfortable with them and then got interested in Real Food.

Raising our own food has unlocked a new interest in my family for finding out where our food comes from. Seeing what we feed the hens teaches my children how their food is made.

I consider this an important lesson to impart to my kids. When I was young, I had only a vague and abstract understanding of the fact that hens were responsible for producing eggs. What I was lacking was a grasp of just what those hens did and what they went through. When you keep chickens in your backyard, you’re going to be giving your children a front-row seat on the food-producing process. Your kids may even end up petting your hens and thanking them for the fresh food they create. I love the innate respect that children develop for food-providing animals when they have a chance to get to know them.

Simple Care
After you’ve gotten your little flock established, you’ll find it surprisingly easy to attend to your chickens’ day-to-day needs. Hens, like other animals, required clean shelter, food, and exercise. The hardest part of this equation is to build and outfit your coop so that it’s welcoming to the chickens in your garden.

Once that’s taken care of, your daily investment in caring for your chickens can be as little as 10 minutes or even less. They simply need food and water, the occasional treat in the form of kitchen scraps, and a quick egg check. That last chore is easily delegated to your children! For a free-range flock, that is, one left to wander throughout the backyard, you’ll find that your coop only needs to be cleaned on a three or four-week schedule. Bear in mind the patio might need more regular cleaning.

 

Chickens Control Insects
Our home is in a desert region, so controlling scorpions was actually one of our biggest justifications for getting chickens. I know that like any form of life, scorpions have a place in the ecosystem. Within the confines of my backyard, though, their role is to get eaten by my hens, and that’s the way I like it.

Bug hunting seems to be at the top of a chicken’s list of favourite pastimes. Free-range chickens will spend entire days foraging in your backyard. They’ll happily gobble up grasshoppers, termites, ticks, caterpillars, flies, slugs, beetles, worms, weevils, snails, centipedes, and spiders. Practically every form of insect life that might be a pest to your family will be a delicacy to your chickens.

With chickens, you don’t need to drench your yard in herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers to keep it healthy and pest-free. Chickens are great for minimizing both bugs and weeds. Just bear in mind that chickens are innately curious, and they’ll peck virtually anything. Don’t leave out anything for your chickens to eat that you wouldn’t eat yourself.

Chickens Fertilize Your Yard
As suggested above, chickens are all-natural fertilization machines. Nitrogen is a key ingredient in fertilizers like compost, and chicken poop is positively packed with the stuff. My free range chickens poop all over my yard and scratch their leavings into the grass with their feet.

As I’ve also mentioned, free range chickens will also poop on your patio. I’ll admit we’ve had to rinse off more than a few shoes since we got chickens. I’d rather do a little more patio cleaning than lock up my birds and have to deal with scorpions again. I’ll take a little errant chicken poop over stinging pests every time.

You might even get some completely unintended benefits from chicken poop. I found what I thought was a weed in the rocky part of my backyard recently. On closer inspection, it proved to be a tomato plant. One of my chickens had enjoyed a bit of leftover tomato and then done a little of her own planting when the time came to poop the seeds out! It made for a hilarious story – and some tasty surprise tomatoes, too.

Author: Lavina Fernandes

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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