From garden helpers to waste reducers to entertainers, versatile backyard chickens offer high value at a relatively low cost.
5 Excellent Reasons To Keep Backyard Chickens
Ah, those versatile backyard chickens!
All of us who aim to grow our own food and medicine could use a little help sometimes, right?
Maybe someone to aerate, till, and weed the garden, and remove some of the peskier bugs.
It’d be great if they could make our kitchen chores easier by reducing waste and providing healthy food for our families.
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They need to be affordable.
And if they can also offer peace of mind and maybe even some entertainment—all the better!
If all that sounds like a skill set you could get behind, then you already know where to look …
… those friendly backyard chickens!
Read on to learn more about the benefits of keeping these fabulous home and garden helpers!
Benefit #1: Eggs, Meat, Manure, and More!
Eggs, meat, manure, pest control, and the joy of keeping them are some of the biggest reasons folks raise backyard chickens.
For instance, did you know that your average dual-purpose backyard hen can produce more than 180 eggs a year—and about 1 cubic foot of highly prized manure every 6 months?
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If you’re looking to put meat on the table, you’ll be glad to know that same chicken can achieve a slaughter weight of up to 8 pounds in as few as 6 weeks.
You can also use every part of the chicken—not just its meat. Its bones make nutritious stock; you can use its feathers for composting or craft materials; and the rest can provide nourishment for other carnivorous animals, such as dogs.
Backyard Chickens 101 teaches you everything you need to know to successfully raise backyard chickens for eggs, meat, and fun! Learn more here.
As omnivores with a strong preference for live insects and sometimes small critters, chickens can help with overpopulations of grasshoppers, wireworms, cutworms, Japanese beetles, brown marmorated stink bugs, small mice, and more.
They are also fascinating creatures to watch and can provide endless entertainment.
Benefit #2: Eliminating Waste
But how about recycling?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 31 percent (or 133 billion pounds!) of our available food supply is wasted by retailers and consumers annually.
Most of this waste occurs because consumers—that’s us—just don’t want to eat it. Maybe the fruit was bruised, the leftovers were unloved, or the baking became a debacle.
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Whatever the reason, perfectly safe foods end up in landfills at alarming rates.
Since chickens have no concern for the aesthetics of food and have fewer taste buds than your average human, they make great “recyclers” of unwanted, but still safe, edibles.
If every household or community had backyard chickens, we could potentially eliminate 21 percent of the post-recycling waste overwhelming our landfills.
(Note that feeding chickens kitchen scraps is illegal in the United Kingdom unless you are vegan, so this benefit may not apply equally in all circumstances.)
Benefit #3: Garden Helpers
Backyard chickens are also great workers if managed in a manner that respects their inherent behaviors.
- For example, with their powerful scratching abilities, backyard chickens can be used to help break down a compost pile.
- Using electric netting or runs, they make great Weed Eaters along hard-to-mow fence lines.
- In winter, backyard chickens can help prepare your garden beds for spring. As they scavenge through mulch and organic debris looking for overwintering pests, they will essentially be doing light tilling. And, of course, they’ll be fertilizing your soil along the way!
Benefit #4: Healthy Chickens Means Healthy Meat and Eggs
If these great reasons to keep backyard chickens haven’t totally convinced you, then how about peace of mind?
We all know factory-farmed broiler chickens and egg layers are not raised using ideal methods when it comes to chicken well-being. But these conditions also contribute to potentially problematic effects related to human well-being.
For example, from 1944 until 2015, arsenic was an FDA-approved feed additive used frequently for speeding chicken growth, enhancing skin pigmentation, and preventing parasite infestations.
It was believed that the arsenic ingested by chickens would remain organic and be excreted prior to processing, therefore posing no risks to humans.
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However, new scientific testing proved that inorganic arsenic—the kind that causes lung, bladder, and skin cancers and contributes to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive deficits, and adverse pregnancy outcomes—did build up at greater levels in chickens fed arsenic and was likely transmitted to humans during this period.
Although arsenic does occur in nature and there are certain times when it might be useful (e.g., as rat poison), intentionally feeding it to chickens on a regular basis to make them fatter has proven not to be the safest idea.
Benefit #5: You’re in Control
When you raise your own backyard chickens, you get to choose what they eat, how they live, and how they are treated if processed for meat.
You also control the cleanliness of your chicken coop and can play a direct role in ensuring your chickens’ health as a means of contributing to your own good health.
Getting Started With Backyard Chickens
Raising backyard chickens is not difficult, but it does require commitment and certain skills.
People all over the world have done it successfully for thousands of years without all the technology we have today. However, as a result of modern food conveniences like grocery stores and fast food, many of us have lost our connection to food-raising traditions and need a little help reconnecting with our heritage.
To learn more about raising backyard chickens for eggs, meat, and fun, be sure to check out our film + book here.
This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on November 12, 2017. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!
The Grow Network is a global network of people who produce their own food and medicine. We’re the coolest bunch of backyard researchers on Earth! We’re constantly sharing, discovering, and working together to test new paths for sustainable living—while reconnecting with the “old ways” that are slipping away in our modern world. We value soil, water, sunlight, simplicity, sustainability, usefulness, and freedom. We strive to produce, prepare, and preserve our own food and medicine, and we hope you do, too!
@Jack – Lighten up and share the air. Marjory is trying to help you but also needs to cover her expenses. What is $19 to anyone? Even my 86 year old Mother-in-law has $20 to go out to eat. After a $800 house payment there is not much left of her $1400 SS check. There is enough free stuff out there but most fail to actually give you everything you need to raise chickens and hardly any instruct you on all the benefits the chickens bring to growing you own food. I am sure you will agree with me that you can’t trust any government agency to protect us from the consequences of the practices of the corporations they protect from us.
@Marjory – I did not see the meat chicken raising video either. Maybe you should get it on the web page right away. If Jack and I both missed it, then make the link more obvious. I appreciate what your doing to give us the chance to eat healthy.
chickens eat wood ticks,they said new tick is a killer,want to live in country? soon better,what chicken best bud no fence needed,wont run off? info Jeff
Even if they don’t run off I think something would come eat them without good fence?
Love your article about chickens. We have a modest flock of six for plenty of eggs with enough for the two of us with some to give as gifts. I have checked with the produce department in our chain grocery stores and they tell me that by law, they cannot give away, or sell the produce that is going to go into the dump. My girls would love some of that waste.
How fantastic to hear about your flock, LaDeane. Keep up the great work on your homestead. 🙂
Having just watched the 2010 vegan-propaganda film, “Vegucated,” your post gives me renewed hope. We’re not to the point of adding chickens to our homesteading repertoire just yet (truth be told, we’ve only gotten our backyard container garden up and running this spring), but it’s excellent information to have… and education is never wasted.
Good luck with your garden this year, Rita! Thank you for writing in. 🙂
Keep an eye out for an update to the link this weekend. I appreciate your feedback, Susan. 🙂
Hello! We have 14 chickens – it’s springtime now – May 13 and they should be producing more eggs than they are: 2 some days, 6 another. We have no idea why this is happening. They are extremely happy – eat only organic feed and we supplement their food with tons of organic fruit and veggies. Any ideas?
If you don’t have any ideas, let me clue you in that we have backed way off on the fruits and veggies because we want them to work the land for springtime planting. Could this be the reason why they’re not producing?
Good question, Jackiei. If this just started when you backed off the food, this could definitely be a reason. There are a number of things that can create this type of behavior. Lack of protein is a typical cause of this, as well. Give them a few days to begin working the yard and acclimating to their new diet. Be sure to look around the yard…they may have changed their laying spot too! Good luck. 🙂
I recently decided to start my own little homestead after learning about all of the toxins in our foods. I already had an organic garden bed started. This year I’ve added 2 more garden beds and an organic potato box. I wanted to get chicks this spring, so one Sunday at church I mentioned that I was interested in getting started. One sweet elderly lady said she would hatch some for me. I was so excited! Well, she called me a couple days later because sadly her rooster was killed by a bobcat and her hens would not go broody. She offered me the eggs in case I wanted to incubate them. This was not an option in my mind at the time BUT I just couldn’t stop thinking about it so I looked into getting an incubator. The one I liked on Amazon wouldn’t be delivered in time so I decided God was telling me now was not the time. I looked locally and found one at Tractor Supply for under $50 so I decided why not. It was the best decision of my life! At first my husband was not too keen on the idea, but I just had to try! We set 10 eggs and 4 of them hatched. Sadly one didn’t make it, but we have 3 healthy chicks now! My whole family has thoroughly enjoyed the experience and we now have 18 more eggs set to hatch!! I want to thank you and Justin Rhodes for all of the excellent education and FREE resources. I don’t think I would have had such a great experience without your awesome knowledge!
This is wonderful, Lori!! So happy you are having fun. Thank you for sharing your experience and have fun with those chicks. 🙂
Great points. And, they are so fun and funny! Think you mentioned that. ?
besides the other reasons already listed, when you have chickens it forces you out of the house to take care of your birds. A tendency in winter is to want to stay indoors, but with birds you do need to make sure they have water, that their heat lamp is still on– they tend to unplug it or knock the bulb loose etc. Forces us out into the fresh air
Your responsibilities for your pet or livestock is a proven health benefit. And while you need to regularly verify that nothing is amiss, you can lessen the burden of lugging water for your birds during temperate times by using an automatic fountain. I would not be without my Little Giant Automatic Fountain and its’ companion Plaza 88 fountain stand. Hookup is really simple and its’ versatility makes it a whole lot easier to maintain chickens. The next biggest item is predators. Protect you flock by taking steps BEFORE the first predator arrives. A SECURE coop and quality traps are mandatory. Now, as angelica suggested enjoy your chickens and the fresh air.
I raise chickens and ducks. The ducks are more for entertainment and they are great “conversationalists”. Both chickens and ducks are awesome exterminators. Bug infestations are declining. Yay! Having those lovely eggs is a welcome extra. The only downside has been having hawks “shopping” my chickens in the daytime, and occasionally an owl at night will take off with a duck. (The barn owl is HUGE!)
Chickens are the best Organic pest control for Scorpions.
I would like add no. 6 to the list. Chicken TV. They are simply entertaining. I can watch them all day. In fact, I’m going out right now to check on them. It’s almost dinner time for them. I can hear them scratching outside the kitchen. ??
I couldn’t agree more. Good entertainment for the stresses of modern life. BTY, what time does chicken tv come on?☺
Hey Marjory,my wife and I have been married for over 50 years.Some years ago I decided I would get some chickens again.So I went to the internet to begin a search for some chickens.I typed in (chics) because I wanted some young chickens.Well no surprise I got a lot of info that I was not looking for.My wife and our children had a big laugh about that and I still get a little teasing from time to time.Further and back to the point I maintain a flock of chickens and greatly enjoy and appreciate them.I have a dual door coop which I alternate opening annually to allow my chickens access to last years garden and me having access to last years chicken yard for my current garden.
I have been considering keeping chickens for a number of years now. What is holding me back is trying to figure out how to give them adequate space to roam and do their thing, while keeping them safe from predators. I live in a wooded area, and I never know what will come around looking for a free meal. Foxes, raccoons, weasels, fisher cats, coyotes, hawks, owls, bears. You name it, I’ve got them, and they don’t always come out only at night. The bears are the worst challenge, because I have yet to find a barrier strong enough to deter them.
According to Joel Salatin and Harvey Ussery, two authors who have 30 or more years of experience with regenerative homesteading experience, mammal predators lead with their noses making electric net fencing the best option. I have also read that it works well for beekeepers who have bear issues, too. I have not started my bees and chickens yet, but hope to get started this spring.
Thanks for the suggestion. I really know very little about electric fencing, but I find it hard to believe that a net would provide enough of a jolt, even to its nose or tongue, to send a bear running. I will have to do some more research. If I were to raise chickens, my goal would be to give them as much freedom to roam as possible, while still protecting them from predators. The bears here are not afraid of people and have no aversion to coming out in the middle of the day. I think my best bet may be to first set up a “dummy” chicken yard, surrounding food that attracts bears, but no chickens, protect it as well as I can, and wait to see what happens. If they haven’t gotten in after several months, I will then consider adding live chickens. I lost bees to bears a few times, the last time being at about 1:00 in the afternoon, while I was in the yard checking on them with the fence turned off and turned around to see the bear heading straight for the open gate.
I love my chickens everybody should have at least 2!