Even before the so-called free-range or organic eggs in the grocery store hit $4 a dozen, thousands of people around the country were discovering the benefits of raising their own backyard chickens.
Besides the obvious benefit of a regular supply of eggs, here are eight benefits of starting your own backyard flock.
Eggs from well-tended backyard chickens are healthier. Factory farmed chickens live their lives without ever touching the soil or being allowed to hunt and peck for bugs. They are fed an unnatural and unvaried diet. These environmental conditions are designed to produce eggs quickly and cheaply in the factory farm. But the result is an egg that is less nutritious than eggs produced by chickens allowed to exercise, peck for bugs and engage in their natural chicken-y behavior.
In contrast to factory farm eggs, eggs from backyard chickens have 25 percent more vitamin E, a third more vitamin A and 75 percent more beta carotene. They also have significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed eggs.
Eggs from backyard chickens are tastier. Eggs purchased in the grocery store can be days—even weeks—old. As these eggs age, air seeps into the naturally porous eggshell, degrading not just the nutrition, but also the taste and affecting the consistency of the egg.
Fresh eggs from backyard chickens have firmer whites and bright orange yolks. (That’s the beta carotene). But the real difference is in the taste. Backyard chicken eggs have a more robust taste that is difficult to describe.
Chicken droppings enrich your compost. Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen. Added to the compost bin they add more nitrogen and improve your compost.
Chickens provide natural insect control. As they hunt and peck around the yard, chickens gobble up slugs, grubs, earwigs and other bugs, treating our garden pests as tasty, nutritious treats.
Their scratching for bugs is good for the soil. Chickens are enthusiastic foragers and will scratch around in the leaves and soil searching for the tastiest morsels. As they do, they aerate the soil and break down larger pieces of vegetation with their sharp talons, accelerating the decomposition process.
Chickens are a great way to meet people and start conversations. People are naturally curious about folks who raise chickens. From brief conversations with the grocery store clerk curious about why I am buying a case of generic corn to fancy dress ball affairs when I describe my hobbies, chicken-talk is fun. People ask genuinely interested questions. (Most frequent question: Do you have to have roosters to get eggs? Answer: No.)
In addition, an amazing number of people I have met enthusiastically exclaim “I have always wanted to have chickens!” I’m not sure just what primordial urge is calling all of us to gather little feathered flock, but I suspect a yearning for a simpler time when we were more connected with nature and our food is part of it.
My chickens will come running from the other side of our property when they hear me call “Where are my chickens?” My hens will jump on my lap and let me pet them. The roosters engage in crowing contests. They all make me smile whenever I see them.
Backyard chickens provide lessons for children about responsibility and where food comes from. Tending chickens is pleasurable and even easier than caring for a dog. There is no walking the chickens or even giving them a bath. But chickens do require daily food and fresh water. The coop must be cleaned and the chickens inspected regularly to ensure they are healthy. Children can
participate in all of these chicken-related chores.
Of course, the eggs must also be collected daily. The average laying hen will product about 300 eggs a year, but production depends much on the breed and the environment. The happier the hens, the more they will produce. A child’s favorite chicken-related chore is bound to be collecting eggs.