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.
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.
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.
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 latest film + book here.
This article was originally published on November 12, 2017.
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!