What you need to know before getting your own chickens
We don’t see many people keeping backyard chickens anymore, mostly due to regional bylaws, their reputation for attracting rodents, as well as the noise and smell, but there’s a reason they were once a popular household pet.
Chickens are vibrant animals with a lot to offer us and the environment. They contribute to the making of good soil, help promote sustainable food production, eliminate the need for factory-farmed food, and they make a wonderful (and natural) insecticide.
Along with the many environmental benefits, there are plenty of personal benefits to keeping chickens at home. If you’ve been on the fence about chickens, or are trying to convince your local representative to give chickens a chance, it might be worth reading and sharing these facts about backyard egg-layers.
THE BENEFITS OF BACKYARD CHICKENS
1. They’ll eat your food scraps
If you have a compost heap at home, chickens will dig through and eat just about everything from the food-scrap pile (although, most don’t like citrus fruit). If you don’t have many scraps, make sure to supplement with organic feed so they maintain the nutrition to lay strong eggs.
2. They help create good fertilizer/compost for your garden
Not only will chickens help break down your food scraps and compost faster, but their fertilizer is a great addition to the garden. Whether you have a compost pile or not, adding a bit of chicken fertilizer to your garden will create more nutrient-dense soil and help you grow your garden veggies.
3. They’re a trusty pest-control method
Chickens make a wonderful addition to bigger backyards or ones with nearby woods. They’ll relish in having so many bugs to eat, and if you leave them enough room to roam around, they’ll take care of the pests, ticks and other unwanted insects around your garden and yard.
4. They produce more nutritious eggs
When they forage for bugs, eat better quality feed and have room to roam, chickens have the opportunity to produce more nutritious eggs. Pasture-raised and backyard roaming hens lay eggs that contain two to three times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids than industry-sourced eggs, and one-third of the cholesterol of factory-farmed eggs.
5. They’re healthier and happier in your yard
By consuming eggs from your own chickens, not only will you know exactly where your food comes from, but you’ll also be supporting healthier and happier hens in the process. Industrial farms often keep their hens in close, inhumane quarters where they're not able to walk around and will eventually become depressed and aggressive. By keeping your hens ethically and sustainably, you are giving them a better quality of life and they’ll return the favour.
6. They make great pets
Chickens help deepen your connection to nature, and they’ll also help teach your children and loved ones how to care for the environment, its animals, and to show them the full life and food cycle of animals. Chickens actually make great social and affectionate pets, and they’re so enjoyable to watch roam around your yard.
7. They help you save money
Even considering coop costs and feed, most backyard chicken keepers save money. Organic farmers' market eggs can run anywhere from $6 to $8 per dozen, whereas backyard eggs can “cost” around just $3 to $4 per dozen.Photo by Tom Ungerer on Unsplash
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU COMMIT
1. Proper and secure housing for chickens
Chickens need a coop for safety from the weather, they need boxes to lay their eggs into, and a large space to forage and roam in, as well as three to four feet of space in the coop. You can use milk crates and other repurposed materials for laying boxes and coop building, and be sure to take predator-safety into account when building.
2. Daily chores
Chickens may seem easy to care for, but they are just like having any other pet. They require fresh water every day and about 1/4 cup of feed per day. They’re cold-hardy and heat-tolerant, but they still require protection from the elements in extreme weather. Chickens require dry areas to keep their feet safe as well as for their dust baths as they don’t bathe in water.
3. How to pick your hens
Find your local quail and poultry shop and see which breeds of hens they have available. Each breed of hen has a different personality, different laying habits, and even different coloured eggs! Some choose to raise their chickens from chicks, but you do risk having roosters in the mix, so others choose to wait until they’re “sexed” before adopting them. Your hens will begin laying at six months old, but remember that their production will vary with the seasons.
4. Your city’s laws and regulations around backyard chickens
Chickens aren’t always allowed in cities and towns, so be sure to check before investing the time and money. If you are allowed chickens in your city, make sure to do it responsibly to create a good reputation for other cities looking to yours as an example. More cities are making cases for backyard chickens, so reach out to your representatives to see if you can start a trial period in your area.