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.
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.
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.