Six Reasons to Keep Chickens

Six Reasons to Keep Backyard Chickens

Keeping chickens in the backyard is becoming more popular all across the nation. You may even have neighbors that have hens in their backyard. If you do, you may even be so lucky to receive some fresh eggs from time to time!

When I first added chickens to our backyard, my family thought I was crazy – but after raising them, I even penned a guide to keeping backyard chickens! So, why keep chickens? Why on earth would you want big birds flapping around your backyard and pooping on everything? Are the eggs really THAT good? Yes, they are. We will get to that.

Fresh Eggs

This is the #1 reason most people want to have hens. A warm egg fresh from the nest box is one of life’s simple pleasures. That may sound gross to you now) just wait.

Fresh eggs are incredibly rich in flavor, appearance, and texture. The shell (which can be a variety of colors) is kind of hard to crack. The yolk is not only vibrantly orange, but also resilient. You can roll it around in your fingers and it won’t break. The white is thick and gelatinous, never runny. They make the best poached eggs.

You know the saying, You are what you eat? Well, the same goes for chickens. Whatever you feed them goes into their eggs. All your leftover veggies and fruits, the grasses and weeds, the quality of their feed, and even bugs contribute to the nutritional content of their yolk. A well-fed hen will give you an egg that is nutritionally light years ahead of its conventional counterpart. So, it could be said “You are what you eat eats!”

So, how many eggs will you get? Not all of your hens will necessarily be laying eggs at the same time, but when a hen is laying, she lays one egg about every twenty-five hours. I have five hens, and while at times only one of them will lay, currently they all happen to be laying eggs. One day recently I collected six eggs from the nest boxes. Another day I collected five. If this seems like a lot of eggs to you, don’t get six hens. (I dare you to try.) Two to four hens will generally provide plenty of eggs for a small household.

Teaching Your Family Where Food Comes From

The benefits of keeping chickens go beyond the delicious fresh eggs they provide. As my family got more comfortable with their chickens and more interested in Real Food, the hens in my backyard came to be more valuable.

My family is raising our own food. We know what our eggs are made of because we know what we feed our hens.

I believe that children should know where their food comes from. To many children (including most of us when we were little) the food came from the grocery store. Conceptually, I knew that eggs came from hens, of course, but I really didn’t care where those hens were or what they did all day. Having backyard chickens is so cool because your kids will actually see an egg being laid and be able to carry that warm egg into the house. You may see your children kneel down to pet one of the hens and thank them for the egg. What a great lesson about respecting the animals that provide us with food.

Caring for Chickens is Easy

Once your backyard flock is established, daily chicken care is minimal. Just like your other pets, chickens need food, a clean shelter, and exercise. Your biggest time investment will come at the beginning, when you are building your coop and preparing for your flock.

After that, you might only spend 10 minutes a day (if that) making sure your hens have plenty of food and water, throwing out scraps for them to snack on, and checking for eggs. If you have kids will love to check for eggs, too! If you let your hens free range in the backyard, you will only have to clean out their coop every 3 to 4 weeks. But you will have to hose the back patio more frequently.

Chickens Will Eat Your Bugs

One of the reasons we got chickens was to help with scorpion control. We live in a desert and our property is plagued with the nasty little devils. We are sure scorpions serve some good purpose on this earth, but my backyard their only purpose is to be eaten by my hens)and they happily oblige.

Chickens live for bug hunting. It seems to be their favorite thing to do. All day long they forage in the grass and rocks, looking for a tasty treat. Besides scorpions, chickens also enjoy grasshoppers, ticks, termites, caterpillars, worms, slugs, fly eggs and pupae, beetles, weevils, spiders, centipedes, and snails. If you consider it to be a pest, your hen will probably enjoy it for lunch.

Say good-bye to harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in your backyard. The chickens do a darn good job keeping bugs and weeds at bay, and besides, the hens will peck at anything and everything to check it out, so don’t put anything out there for them to eat that you don’t want to eat yourself.

Chicken Poop is Excellent Fertilizer

You heard that right. Chicken poop will make your yard look amazing. To make great compost, you need nitrogen; as luck would have it, chicken poop is full of it! Since I let my chickens free range in my back yard, they poop all over the grass scratch it in with their feet.

Of course, by letting them free range, they also happily poop all over the patio. Many a shoe has needed a rinse because of chicken poop. But in order to keep the patio clean, the hens would have to be locked up, and then the scorpions would return. In my backyard, poopy shoes are preferred over scorpions any day.

Chicken poop can even have benefits you’d never imagine. One day while cleaning up the backyard, I noticed what I thought was a weed popping up in the middle of my rock landscape. When I went to yank it out, I realized that it was a tomato plant! One of the chickens, after enjoying some leftover tomatoes, had pooped out the seeds and planted tomatoes! My husband thought that was just about the funniest thing he had ever seen.

Entertainment

 

You many not believe this, but chickens are totally entertaining. Each one has a different personality and her own quirky behaviors. Plus, they are pretty to look at. There are so many different breeds available; you can find some really cool-looking chickens. Some are quiet and some are chatty. Since all of them will probably associate you with food, they will come sprinting across the yard – a funny sight when they hear the back door open.

Kids love to pet and hold chickens. Once I found a poor chicken up on top of the play structure; the kids thought that was hilarious. But be careful: kids don’t always like it when the chickens peck their toes hoping for a tasty morsel.

Do You Want to Learn More about Raising Chickens?

For more information about raising hens, check out Oh Lardy’s Guide to Keeping Backyard Chickens here.

 

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What people are saying

      • Bob says

        I agree, if you’re talking about store bought eggs. Buy them from a neighbor and eat them for a month. Then go and do all the doctor tests and find out the results for yourself.

      • says

        Eggs are actually very good for you (check with your doctor, or even better, a nutritionist), and as in all things SHOULD be consumed in moderation. They have an amazing array of nutrients that your body desperately needs to stay healthy, and the ones from backyard chickens have even more of those things!

        We got our chickens about 2 years ago. Our family typically eats one egg for breakfast every morning, and we follow a “clean eating” plan for everything else we eat. Hubby and I (both in our mid-40’s), have seen our bad cholesterol drop, our good cholesterol go up, and our weight drop and stay that way. Both of our doctors are happy to attribute these improvements to the ready availability of fresh eggs and the fact that we actually EAT our breakfast every day…as opposed to swallowing a pill or gulping a shake that can best be described as a cascade of chemical crud.

      • CJ says

        I think you’re wrong. You really should be eating more fresh eggs every day. You and your little girl will benifit greatly.

  1. says

    I live at a fire station with about five other people, but we have a big backyard. I’ll have to check and see what the city’s policy is about keeping a few chickens! Do you have any suggestions on protecting them from coyotes…or should I get the book? :P

    • ab says

      Sign up on backyard chickens .com, they’ll answer any questions you have! A secure predator proofed pen and house are key! Once you get that figured out, the rest is easy!

  2. Di says

    I love our chickens. We have 8. We had 9, but after hearing the famous cock a doodle doo–I realized that we also have a ROOSTER- he needs to go-
    FREE ROOSTER!!! LOL
    We live in So Cal, but are blessed enough to have about 2 acres. Because of the vast coyote population we had to build a nice run for them and a designer-worthy hen house- we love our hens..the rooster???Not so much.

  3. terry says

    Have had chickens for several years now. we go out and watch “chicken TV” for entertainment. nothing beats really fresh eggs

  4. says

    Oh, how I would love to have chickens. If only there were the swimming variety, as our entire backyard is a pool and I don’t think my hubby would agree to chickens in our home. Maybe one day … one can dream and live vicariously through you in the meantime! :)

    • Jeanmarie says

      Kelly, you could try ducks instead. They lay amazing eggs and would love to paddle around a pool. They are also easier on a garden than chickens since they don’t scratch the earth so much with their webbed feet, but they will also eat snails, slugs and other bugs for you. Of course, there is the chance they would poop in the pool.

    • Nicky town says

      Keeping chooks is fab, have you thought of finding the lowest area of the yard and turning it into a pond? Another option is to keep the chicken house off the ground with a ranging caged platform

  5. Annemarie says

    This was a great article, and I’ve really been hoping to get some backyard hens. I have one, perhaps lame worry that’s holding me back: chicken poop = tetanus? I mean, everything I read correlates tetanus with animal feces on rusted metal…. My kids aren’t vaccinated, and I always never had to worry about the possibility of tetanus infection because we don’t own any animals, or have feces out in the yard,etc. But if I get chickens, and I let them free range, how valid of a concern is this for me? (please. please tell me this is a ridiculous concern so I can forge ahead and get some homegrown poached eggs at long last!)

    • Katerina says

      We have a 2.5 yr old son and had chickens when he was 6 months old. We also choose not to vaccinate and I was not worried about tetanus until my son was playing in the dirt and cut his toe :) so we did do a vaccination, just one. Tetanus. That was our balance; chickens, dirt, lots of messy time outdoors AND a tetanus shot. It’s all a balance right? I say go for the chickens! If you are worried about tetanus get the vaccination. Easy.

    • Catherine says

      Actually, you can get tetanus from standing on a rusty nail, or playing in the dirt (if you have an open wound. The bacteria that cause tetanus, Clostridium tetani, is found in soil, dust and animal faeces. So don’t allow this to stop you getting chooks, just like your child (I presume) can play in dirt, on pay equipment, in the sand pit etc. Practice good hygiene and don’t live in fear. The benefits outweigh the risks. :-)

    • Jim says

      If your children are not vaccinated against tetanus you are playing Russian Roulette with their lives. You can get tetanus from many sources and it can be prevented, but there is no cure for the disease.

  6. Nora says

    We have truly enjoyed our 12 chickens however after a wonderful spring/ summer of more than enough eggs. Since the chickens started molting late Aug. they have given us, maybe, a dozen eggs and it is now March. I am now contemplating not having chickens as the feed was expensive during our cold and snowy winter. The chickens were kept warm, and watered daily. Any advice. Thanks

      • em says

        Chickens will not lay when the molt if it’s a big one (which is also a compliment, mans you’ve got healthy birds! They also will not last in winter when it’s cold and days are short, that’s normal and you can’t do much except provide full spectrum light.

    • says

      They should start picking back up – between the molt and the shorter daylight hours, laying can drop off in the winter. Some people put a lightbulb in the hen house to stimulate laying, but I don’t really like that – how would YOU like it if someone left your bedroom light on all night?

      Make sure that as you head into spring, the coop is nice and clean and that they have PLENTY of water – egg production relies a great deal on water. Also, be sure to supplement their diet with a calcium source. Oyster shells are good, or (if it doesn’t give you the heebies), we will often scramble extra eggs and mix the crushed shells in to feed the chickens as a treat. The girls love it and it’s a great little source of protein and calcium as a once-in-a-while treat. (NEVER give your chickens a raw egg – they can learn to eat their eggs, and that’s a nearly impossible habit to break!)

    • Viktoria says

      My first year with chickens we had a light on a timer to make sure they always had 15-hour “days”. We had plenty of eggs all winter once the molt was over. You definitely don’t leave the light on all night. Heat lamps in winter are good, too, but they glow red which the birds don’t see so they do not provide light for them.

    • Vicki says

      Chickens need at least 14 hours of daylight to lay eggs. In the winter we have their light on timer so they get the needed light. Also egg production in all modern bred hens declines rapidly after their second year of life. At that time it is time to buy new chicks and to butcher the old hens for soup and pot pie when the chicks become pullets and start laying.

  7. says

    My mom always told us kids stories about the chicken’s her Grandma kept for eggs and we just did the “ewwww” response; however, now I wish I would have learned more about it. Enjoyed your post – gave me some long over due insight.

  8. says

    We’ve had backyard chickens for many years and now are advocates and educations for city chickens and urban edibles. The best part is that we never have to find or pay a house sitter. People ask to come and stay with the hens. We have three – you don’t need to commit to dozens.

  9. Sarah says

    I would strongly, strongly suggest you talk to people in your area — there are chicken groups! — particularly if you are in a city.

    In my city, you have to keep your chickens in pens if you want to keep them safe from the coyotes and other animals. The best methods tend to be a movable pen or a large multi-cell pen in which you rotate chickens and then grow food in the non-chicken cells. If you free range, you need a tall, strong fence; structures/trees that provide shade and protection; and kind neighbors who will return your chickens and/or give you a ring when they inevitably escape. You also need to prepare for some bird injury/loss.

    The link above for feeding chickens compost won’t work in urban lots, so we are stuck with grain supplements in our area. The non-GMO, no-soy grain is more expensive and/or involves some shipping costs. You also want to order breeds that are especially cold or heat hardy if your climate involves extremes.

    If you are relying on these birds for food, you’ll need to consider if you want to do supplemental lighting in the winter months to maintain egg output and how to do such lighting safely outdoors.

    And, finally, *plenty* of people have to hire chicken sitters or have arrangements with other chicken families (or families with pets) to do reciprocal animal sitting.

    Experience varies, so get in touch with your local group, learn the specifics to your area, and then dive in. The eggs are delish. However, with the number of chickens being given away on our local Craigslist and neighborhood internet groups, it’s best for humans and animals to educate yourself on the specifics on your area. If your urban area runs an annual chicken coop tour, I highly recommend attending.

  10. Jerry G says

    Friend of mine has his chicken run/hooch surrounded by his pig sty. Reason, any vermin and I mean any vermin (skunks rats snakes weasel fox coyote the nieghbors cat ) that trys to get to the chickens and/or eggs
    will end up feeding the pigs !

  11. Crystal says

    About 4 yrs ago my 16 yr old daughter asked for chickens. My husband built a coop and 8 chicks moved in. Two years later we purchased a hobby farm and all 32 chickens moved with us. Now daughter has gone off to college and in tears left her 42 precious babies behind. WARNING CHICKENS ARE AN ADDICTION! The only down side is butchering time. Not for everyone but we do keep them for eggs for their first two years (there are a couple extra special ones still strutten around from originals) then butcher for the meat. Free range eggs are awesome but so is free range chicken meat.

    • says

      We decided to try raising meat birds last year. It was…an experience! We got Jumbo Cornish Cross chickens. I’d been warned that this particular breed has been designed to grow very big very fast, and that they needed to be “harvested” by the time they were about 8-10 weeks. Well, we waited to 10 weeks, and honestly by the time we did it I felt like we were doing them a favor. They grew so fast, all they did was EAT – not at all like my delightful and fun laying hens! Think Marlon Brando…the BIG version of Marlon Brando.

      We found a halal butcher through a friend, and took them there (I knew I really didn’t want to do it myself). They did an awesome job, and I felt good about the way it was done – very fast and non-traumatic for the birds.

      In the future, I think we’ll go with the slower growing birds that will mix with our layers. You sacrifice size, but the birds are SO much healthier I think it’s worth it.

      • Tabatha says

        NC Narrator, those cornish-x will do sooo much better if you pasture them from day one and scatter feed them rather than give them a feeder. They tend to lose their instincts (like scratching & eating bugs that move) a lot faster than the egg breeds. Scattering their feed encourages them to scratch. Also, do NOT feed them free choice, they will eat themselves into an early death. The other thing I’ve done is make sure they have healthy guts by feeding some fermented feeds and yogurt, especially in the beginning. I now have 10 remaining cornish-x in my back yard that are 8 months old. The last batch was over a year old when we finished butchering all of them. They waddle when they walk, but they do all the things “meat birds” aren’t supposed to be able to do. Like fly onto my 4′ high roost with the eggers and range far & wide searching for bugs & grasses. I have yet to lose one to health issues once we started pasturing & encouraging their instincts. We’re starting on year 4 this fall! Oh, that’s another thing! Heat will kill them in the “teenage” phase. We start ours in late summer so when they start getting bigger, the weather is cooling off. Good luck with the best chicken you will ever eat!

  12. Sheila H. says

    You are right about a fresh egg and the entertainment provided. We love our chickens and have mourned 3 losses due to stray dogs and hawks on our property. When they weren’t laying for over a week, we upped the amount of protein by giving them lentils and ground beef daily and they began laying again. I make my own organic soy and corn free feed and they are healthy, happy, and spoiled birds.

  13. Cassie says

    I grew up with chickens and am finally going to get my own. However, I believe my mom would feed them some random chicken feed, I’m sure corn &/ soy from the local feed store. What would you suggest feeding them, chicken feed wise?

  14. Jason Schiffner says

    Excellent post! My wife and will be raising our own organic chickens. She has Crohn’s Disease and we are very careful about her diet. You are what your food eats. We made a helpful summary of things to consider if you plan to raise organic chickens. And my wife made many cute chicken illustrations that you are free to use. http://followmeg.com/raising-organic-chickens

  15. Chris Brace says

    What about other animals you may have such as a German Shepherd and three hunting adult cats? This has been my drawback for years.

    • Tabatha says

      Chris, you *may* be able to train the shepherd to not eat your birds. Especially if you use the “mine” command or something similar to keep doggy from messing with things he shouldn’t. The cats, when the chicks are small they may be a problem, but very few cats will attack a full grown chicken. Unless you have really big cats! A flappy winged, cackling alarm will usually disturb the cats & drive them off. My 2 are both serious hunters and bring me at least one small animal a day (like moles & lizards). They don’t bother my chickens! I do however, keep my smaller chicks in a cat proof mobile pen.

  16. says

    I agree with all of your reasons and would like to add, the measure of self-sufficiency they provide and the fact that they are a gateway into the return to farming and gardening for many families.
    We have had egg-laying chickens in our back yard since 2008 and it’s been incredibly rewarding and fun.

  17. jon says

    I have 15 chickens, and let me tell you “poopy shoes” is a good reason to NOT have chickens. Total free range is a nightmare for lots of reasons. Wait till a local dog gets in a tears a few birds apart at 2am: AKA Nightmare! Keeping chickens in a “run” or a movable protected area is the way to go if you want to do chickens long term. This video shows my first design for a mobile coop. http://youtu.be/1Dk2l1QBfCA
    Sidenote: America, home of the free! Local ordinance code: No farm animals within city limits.

    • Denise says

      That depends on where you live. I live in Springfield, Mo and city ordinances let you have up to 6 hens (no roosters). Not totally free I know, but better than nothing… we have 3 hens in a chicken tractor (movable coop) and I wouldn’t trade them for anything :) We haven’t had any trouble with predators although I did see one of the neighborhood cats sitting on top of the cage one day batting at the chickens. The chickens pecked back; I’ve never seen a cat run so fast lol :)

  18. Kimberly says

    Thank you for the great article. We currently have 90 some birds from chickens, ducks, turkeys, pheasants, and Guineas. They are all so comical and loved by us. The eggs are amazing. Though only 6 are laying and the others are young stock.

  19. Lady A/ says

    Great article.
    I’ve always wanted chickens BUT I live in an area with bears. One took down my full grown, healthy, fruit tree a few months ago so it could feast in the fruit. Any suggestions on how to protect them from bears? I already know a penn isn’t going to stop a great big ol black bear.

  20. Pat says

    I desperately want some backyard chickens and a lacto vegetarian. The rest of my family however, are carnivorous and this is the part that I am apprehensive about. The chickens will have to retire and not be consumed regardless LOL I am sure this will cause many debates – I just do not think a person could eat anything that has a name and is so cute!

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