When Cory and I were planning our move to a hobby farm in Minnesota, one of the items at the top of our list was to build a chicken coop and raise some laying hens. The chicken coop was a pretty big project (it doesn’t have to be but we built a deluxe version) but it was worth it. We now have about a dozen chickens who provide us with eggs and occasionally, a blog topic.
1) They are fun to watch! Cory and I are contemplating adding a bench to our chicken coop so we can just sit there and watch them. They are funny with their antics and their behaviors. Some of the hens want to make sure the entire world knows that they have just layed an egg. They like to scratch around to look for bugs or sunflower seeds that we threw down for them and they like to roost at night. Once you become familiar with the natural behaviors of chickens, you really start to feel bad for those raised in production agriculture environments where they are prevented from doing these behaviors. Some people go to the park to feed the pigeons or the ducks, I go to the back yard to feed the chickens.2) Eggs of course! Oh my, there’s nothing like fresh eggs. Once you’ve had them you realize that store-bought eggs have virtually no flavor. The brilliant orange yolks of fresh eggs are packed with nutrients and flavor. When we end up with a surplus of eggs we certainly have no trouble finding people willing to take them off our hands. Farm-fresh eggs have more nutrients and Omega fatty acids than production eggs too.
3) No need for an alarm clock! OK, that one may not be an advantage. Our original intention was to have only hens but when a couple of Buff Orpington pullets turned out to be roosters, we were already attached to them. Thankfully the coop is far enough from the house that this hasn’t been an nuisance for us but there are some advantages to having a rooster or two. Roosters mind the flock and alert the hens when there is a predator like a hawk or coyote around so the hens can take cover. Once we suspected we had a couple of boys in the bunch, we started picking them up and taming them. Right now, our two roosters are actually the tamest chickens we have.
4) Parasite control! If you have horses or other livestock, having chickens around is a bonus! Chickens will go through the manure and pick out any parasite larvae. They also help to spread the manure around to fertilize the soil – all the while depositing their own, nitrogen-rich manure too. In nature the birds follow the herbivores to keep the biodiversity in balance. They also eat ticks!
5) Composting! Now we don’t have to worry about raccoons getting into our compost pile quite so much! Almost all of the peelings and other veggie by-products we create get passed through the chickens before heading to the compost pile. This is great for any wilted produce that is no longer all that desirable for use. We simply toss it to the chickens and they turn what would’ve been wasted money into eggs for us. How cool is that? There are a few things you should not feed chickens, so it’s good to read up.
5 ½ ) (Gasp!) Meat. OK, so some people may eat their chickens. I’m fine with that, but in this vegetarian household, our chickens all have names and they will not find their way to anyone’s plate. If you do eat meat, chickens that you raise in your own back yard will certainly be fresher and more nutritious than production-raised birds. You should know that certain breeds were developed for egg production and others for meat production. The layers tend to be boney and not carry a lot of meat. The broilers (meat birds) have been bred to grow so quickly that sometimes their legs give out before they reach maturity. Search for a heritage breed that will be more hardy – and some will be decent layers up until the time they are cooked.
We have really enjoyed having chickens. It’s not always simple; we need to keep their water from freezing and protect them from the barn cats and other predators but they provide us with eggs and entertainment and help us to avoid supporting production agriculture facilities that prevent the laying hens from being able to scratch or roost. Right now, I need to end this article and go to the barn to see what the ladies (Chicken Hawk, Black Mamba, Esmerelda, Ruby, Queen Latifah, Road Runner, Phyllis, Pencil-head, Animal and the the other girls) have layed for us today.
Have a healthy day!