Fresh eggs are not the only reward for raising a flock of chickens. Backyard birds have distinct personalities and are quickly becoming a popular choice of pet in urban yards. With nearly a hundred different breed types in America alone, there’s a chicken to match every personality.
Why have they become popular? Society as a whole is looking for more ways to be self-sustaining. Controlling part of your food cycle is a great way to take charge of your carbon footprint. Chickens can provide both eggs and meat though many backyard flocks are for eggs alone. Eggs aside, chickens can also be helpful in the garden, provide valuable lessons to children, and are fun to raise.
Many cities now allow 3-4 hens per yard. Each hen should have 3-4 square feet of coop space, and the same amount of room in a run. They can also be allowed to roam freely during the day, and kept in a coop at night. The cost to start a flock is low and can be virtually dollars if you go the DIY route.
Let’s examine some advantages of keeping a backyard flock:
Eggs are amazing. They are full of protein and good fats. They are versatile, and literally one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It makes sense, once you consider that the nutrients inside each tiny container have to be powerful enough to grow a baby chick. Even unfertilized eggs retain some nutritional benefits and have been a staple food for centuries.
Fresh eggs from your backyard are even more incredible. When compared to those laid by a caged hen, free range eggs contain:
- ⅓ less cholesterol
- ¼ less saturated fat
- ⅔ more vitamin A
- 2x more omega 3-fatty acids
- 3x more vitamin E
- 7x more beta-carotene
Yard-fresh eggs are clearly healthier than their store-bought counterparts!
It’s great for the environment
Food sourced locally reduces your carbon footprint. Getting food from your backyard is as local as possible, and is great for the environment. The eggs don’t have to be treated with chemicals or transported. This also helps to cut back on industrial farm sales. Overall, the act of eating your own eggs is fabulous for the planet.
Eggs aside, chickens play an interesting role in your backyard ecosystem. Chickens have two main activities: eating food and looking for food. Both of these are good for your yard and the environment.
Let’s consider the eating habits of chickens first. Besides feed and a calcium source (like oyster shell), chickens are omnivores with a voracious appetite. They will eat almost anything. This is good news for you since they will happily take your kitchen scraps. The only food scraps that are not healthy for them are items such as meat and junk food. They will eat your fruit and veggie scraps, leftover pasta, and even stale crackers. A small flock can eat enough of your leftovers that you’d notice a decrease in your overall trash amounts.
Chickens love to forage. They will happily scratch around your garden, pulling up and pecking at weeds, eating slugs, and dropping fertilizer while they do it. They love to hunt insects and worms, acting as a free, egg delivering pest control service. While scavenging around the yard for food, they also scratch up the dirt, which turns the soil. If you have fruit trees, chickens will eat fruit that's fallen to the ground long before insects are attracted.
Droppings can be collected and used in compost to speed up the process of composition. They contain high levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous, which work as a sort of fuel for compost.
Your kids can learn a lot by caring for chickens
Chickens are low-maintenance animals, requiring a minimum amount of attention and care. Once their home is established, the only daily interaction necessary is providing food and water. When chickens start laying eggs, they should be collected once a day. Many coops have built-in access to nesting boxes. This can be as simple as opening a door and reaching in.
If your birds are allowed to roam around the yard, they need to be put to coop nightly. This task is a great opportunity to introduce responsibility to young children. Many flocks will go into their coop to roost once the sun sets on their own. A young child could lock the door as a nightly chore easily. Coop bedding should be changed every week, and their entire home cleaned out on a monthly basis. A well-designed coop will be easy enough for a school-aged child to clean with minimal supervision.
The amount of work is low and provides a great opportunity to teach children about responsibility through animal care. In addition to the chicken chores, there are other ways to turn your flock into an educational experience:
- DIY coops can provide a lesson in engineering, carpentry, and math
- Breed selection gives the chance to research online, compare/contrast
- Food and lighting optimization can be the source for scientific experiments
Flocks are fun
Chickens have distinct personalities, appearances, and use interesting sounds to communicate. They are known as being simple creatures, yet you may be surprised to discover how much fun they can be. For example, I love to share my lunch with my flock! With regular handling, they can become very friendly, even trusting enough to eat right out of your hand.
Watching chickens run around your yard may benefit your mental health. Studies show that the love hormone, oxytocin, is released while observing and interacting with pets; including chickens.
Backyard chickens can produce eggs, provide fertilizer, do garden chores, and provide lots of fun for the whole family!