Why I want backyard chickens

baby with hens
© K Martinko

From the freshest possible eggs to rich compost to pets with personality, keeping backyard chickens would be a fun and educational foray in urban agriculture.

I have wanted to get backyard chickens for years. It seems like the logical next step toward getting as close as possible to the source of my family’s food, and it would satisfy my children’s longing for a real, live pet. The only problem is convincing the local town council that urban chickens are a good idea; but now the time has come. Council will vote on the matter soon, and I’ve been asked to share a few thoughts on why this is important.

Eggs

You can’t beat eggs straight from the coop. These are as fresh as they get, sometimes still warm when you collect them. They have not lingered on a refrigerated shelf, which means they pack a nutritional punch that puts factory-farmed eggs to shame. There’s an estimated 2/3 more vitamin A, double the omega-3s, 3x more vitamin E, 4x more vitamin D, and 7x more beta-carotene (via Toronto Chickens).

Waste

Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen and is an excellent fertilizer. It can be stored in a compost bin, layered with leftover leaves, and will break down into wonderful compost to feed a vegetable garden and lawn. The egg shells can be composted or added to the garden or the chickens’ diet as a source of calcium and a pest deterrent. With a recommended limit of 5 chickens per yard, the amount of waste would be entirely manageable.

Noise & Space

Chickens are quiet, apart from the occasional squawk of delight they let out upon laying an egg. Without a rooster, a small flock of hens emits soft clucking throughout the day, but goes to sleep as soon as it gets dark, meaning there’s no nighttime noise. They require minimal space and can be contained within a pen for grazing.

Pest & Scrap Control

Chickens are great for keeping pests under control. They will eat slugs, beetles, ticks, spiders, and grasshoppers. They can function as a 'chicken tractor', preparing the soil in the most natural way possible, pecking at weeds, eating pests, and preparing it for planting.

In addition, chickens would eat a substantial portion of household food scraps, converting it into another food source for my family and minimizing the amount of waste that I compost or put out for curbside pickup.

Heritage Breeds

Not all chicken breeds are the same. Different breeds have different personalities; some are quieter than others, and some will do better in Ontario’s cold winter climate. It is an opportunity to preserve genetic diversity by choosing unusual, rare birds that are not typically used in mass egg production. Another possibility is to adopt rescued birds that have been removed from battery cages because of falling egg production.

Good for Kids

Chickens are considered therapeutic and calming for kids with autism and elderly people with dementia and other psychiatric disorders. My own children would benefit from the responsibility of caring for living animals. Chickens will respond positively, too. From Natural Living Ideas:

“Did you know chickens have a great memory and can differentiate between over 100 human or animal faces? They love to play, they dream, they mourn for each other and they feel pain and distress. They also make great mothers – they talk to their chicks while still in the egg, and turn the eggs about 50 times a day.”

Something that surprised me when my family kept chickens years ago was how attached the hens became to their keepers, such as my brothers, who fed them and let them out daily, and my father, whom they ran to greet whenever he came home from work. These quirky little birds are surprisingly intelligent and friendly.

Tags: Agriculture | Animals | Animal Welfare | Canada | Farming | Fertilizer | Permaculture

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