The Cluck on Chickens
by Emily Myron -- February 12th, 2013
For several months now I have been waking up to a strange sound. A sound that the city-dwellers never experience, and a sound that farmers probably take for granted – chickens clucking. No, I do not live on a farm; I live in the suburbs, in a house with a backyard just big enough for a few chickens.
Keeping backyard chickens has been growing in popularity in recent years, and I have definitely become a believer. Meet our chickens: a Buff Orphington named Honey, a Jersey Giant named Jersey, and a Dominique named Pi. These little ladies are sweet, curious, and egg-laying machines. In the summer months, each produces an egg a day.
Chickens are surprisingly easy to maintain. According to my housemate, they are “equivalent to a cat, but without the litterbox.” They are low maintenance animals, and they even allow your yard to be lower maintenance – chickens will eat weeds and bugs so that you can keep a pesticide and herbicide free yard (but fence off your veggies or they will be eaten, too). Then, after they eat all your garden pests, they spread all natural fertilizer for you!
The main cost is upfront – the coop – but even that can be simple. Coops can range from being home-made scrap wood cages to beautiful chicken mansions. Coop building can definitely be a do-it-at-home project, and there are always useful materials for the home-coop-builder on Craigslist. The chicks themselves are cheap, but, because they are shipped live, the shipping can be a bit costly.
Once you have your chickens, the benefits just keep coming. First (the no brainer), you get fresh eggs every day. I know taste is subjective, but the eggs from our little ladies are the best eggs I have ever eaten. The yolk is yellower, it stands up (something you have probably never seen a store bought egg do), it is more flavorful, and it is fresher. It is also like Easter every day – each breed of chicken produces a different colored egg. In fact, there are about as many different breeds of chickens as there are breeds of dog!! There is a color, size, egg production and maintenance level for everyone.
Secondly, chickens are like mini composters. Most of our food scraps can be fed to the chickens, providing them with a much more varied and well-rounded diet than chickens fed entirely on corn and feed. There seems to be an ongoing debate as to whether free range chicken eggs are healthier than commercial eggs, but some studies suggest that free range chicken eggs contain less cholesterol and fat, and more vitamins A and E, omega 3s, and beta carotene than commercial eggs (Read more from Mother Earth News). Other studies show no significant difference. Regardless of whether there is a real nutritional difference, I like knowing what has gone into the eggs that I eat, and I am satisfied knowing that I produce a little less waste each day by feeding food scraps to the chickens.
Finally, I think it is important to keep in perspective where our food comes from. The backyard chicken movement and home/community garden movement both have this important benefit. Food just tastes better when you know where it is from and how much energy went into making it.
**Remember, check with your county zoning, HOA, or landlord before buying chickens. Don’t get discouraged if it’s not legal yet – take a stand and lobby to get the zoning laws changed (like here in Annapolis, MD).