Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 Reasons to Get Backyard Chickens (and 4 reasons not to)



10 Reasons to Get Backyard Chickens

1. Eggs! The most obvious reason to get backyard chickens is that you get delicious eggs! There is nothing like country eggs (although ours are in the middle of the city...) and your own free range eggs that you know are pure and healthy are a huge incentive for having chickens. The eggs are the reason that we started some backyard chickens to begin with, but we had no idea how many other great reasons to have chickens we would discover along the way.


2. Chickens are low maintenance. If you are interested in exploring self-sufficient living, chickens are an easy "gateway" animal. You build them a coop, give them some food and water, and let them run around and lay eggs. Pretty simple!


3. You can have chickens almost anywhere. Even in the middle of the city, there is room for a small coop with a few laying hens. They do not take up much space, and most cities allow them. We allow our chickens to free range in our fenced in backyard, so they literally take up no extra space than we already had. 

Okay, so I don't recommend you keep them in the house, but they will sneak in if you leave the back door open on a nice spring day!


4. Chickens have a great personality! I had no idea how much I would fall in love with our chickens! They each have names, come when they are called, are super sweet (love to be petted and held) and are more like pets than farm animals. They each have their own quirky traits, and we love to go in the backyard to just hang out with them in the evenings, laughing at their crazy antics.

The chickens were very curious about our new bunnies, and when the rabbit would hop, all the chickens would jump in the air, flap their wings, and squawk!

5. Chickens will replace your bug man. If your chickens free range, they will keep your yard free of many unwanted pests. My chickens eat all kinds of bugs, and I have even seen them eating small garden snakes on several occasions. The chickens know to wait outside of the vegetable garden gate when I am in there because I will bring them all of the caterpillars I find on my plants. Less mosquitoes, love bugs, june bugs, caterpillars, and snakes? Fine with me!

Brandy Jr, my "gardening chicken", waiting outside the gate to the vegetable garden for me to bring her some caterpillars.


Brandy Jr. eating a big grub!

6. Chickens are natural weed and feed for your lawn. You will not have to mow the grass as often. Living in Louisiana, our mowing season is usually from March through October (sometimes longer), and it is an every week thing unless you want your yard to look like a jungle. But now that we have chickens free ranging in the back yard, we cut that area half as often as the front! And for some reason, they like the weeds the best, so they go around eating the weeds first and naturally fertilizing the grass as they go. Now if only I could find an animal that does laundry and dishes!

7. Chickens are inexpensive. So far this year we have spent $70 on chicken feed for our flock of seven laying hens, and we have gathered 68 dozen eggs! That is just about $1 for every dozen of fresh, free range chicken eggs. Anyone who has bought these at a farmer's market knows that $6/doz is a common price, so it is definitely worth it on the financial side! I'm not including the price of the coop or the chickens in this but even if I did include all of the start up costs (that we will benefit from for years to come), it still comes out to less that $4/doz.

Our first egg! What a day!

8. Chickens make a great garbage disposal. I hate wasting food, but sometimes the leftovers just don't get eaten in time or the produce from your garden is half eaten by a caterpillar. I used to cringe as I threw away food, but now I smile as I toss it to the chickens, knowing that it will soon become eggs! My chickens eat anything and everything- bread, rice, vegetables, meat, yogurt, oatmeal, scraps that I throw in the compost pile- you name it! We have gotten into the habit of scraping our plates into a bowl to set out for the chickens, and they love it. Never waste food again!


9. Chickens can also be a source of home grown meat. I understand that it is a big step to go from having laying hens to raising meat chickens, but once you get started, you may find it easier that you think. We stumbled upon this stage of backyard farming on accident when we ended up with five roosters in what was supposed to be a flock of hens. We obviously couldn't keep roosters in the city so we figured out how to turn them into gumbo. We were not disappointed :) Besides, organic chicken meat in the grocery store is expensive!

Did you say MEAT?!


10. Chickens are a stress reliever. I'm not sure how to explain it, but there is something so calming and pastoral about sitting on the swing in the backyard watching the chickens peck around in the grass after a long day at work. Computer screens, emails, board meetings, and to do lists melt away as you reconnect with something REAL, something tangible. It lets your mind go back to something simple- life creating food that sustains life. Every now and then it helps to put the technology down and remember how the world works.



4 Reasons NOT to Get Backyard Chickens

1. They ruin gardens. They like to dig, fling dirt and mulch everywhere, and uproot plants for fun. For people who love to garden like me, chickens and gardening do not mix. I finally solved this problem by fencing in the area of my yard that was for me (the gardens and patio) and the area that was for the chickens. Every now and then a chicken will get into the people part of the yard and trample down all of my tulips and I have to threaten to have chicken for dinner, but it works out well for the most part.



2. They can be loud. There are lots of variables here- certain varieties are louder than others, some chickens simply have a loud personality, and sometimes chickens are loud in certain circumstances, such as when they are hungry, bored, annoyed at the neighbor's cat, etc. Also, they like to sing the egg song every time they lay an egg, or anytime any of them lay an egg. But you know, as long as it means eggs, I let it slide.

3. Chickens die, and that is very sad. We have lost many chickens to neighbor's dogs, chicken hawks, and gape worm. You will become attached to certain chickens, and when you lose one of your favorites, it is very hard. The atmosphere of the whole flock can change. Be prepared to lose a few.

This was one of our favorites, Oreo, keeping my husband company while he had the flu. Our neighbor's dog got into our yard a few weeks later, and we lost her.

4. You have to find someone to feed them if you go on vacation. Like most animals, they need someone to check in on them. While most people will dog sit, which is a pretty big responsibility, they feel a little strange about chicken sitting, even though it only requires filling up a feeder once a day and gathering the eggs.


Needless to say, for us the pros far outweigh the cons, and we love having chickens. I can't imagine our yard without them! Do you have any other reasons to add?