When we first began our homesteading adventure, we began, like most do, with chickens. In a brooder box in our garage, we raised 18 chickens. Eventually, they went to our barn and thus began the daily treasure hunt for those “boxes without hinges, key or lid, Yet golden treasure inside is hid.”
Raising chickens is a sound practice for land renewal, foraging, egg production and ultimately for meat. It is the most basic and best way to make use of any size land. Chickens need a little shelter, food and water. Isa Browns and Leghorns are amazingly tolerant of cold weather and produce a good egg every day. On a farm, the chickens forage through goat and cow droppings, spreading the goodness found within and fertilizing the ground. Our pastures are layered with cows and goats, then chickens. It’s this combination that makes for better pastures for grass fed meats. The cows and goats eat the grass, the chickens spread their manure, the grass grows richly green, and the cows and goats eat the grass.
Many cities have limits on how many chickens you can raise within city limits, many places with a 3 hen limit. If this is your situation, I strongly encourage you to buy 3 hens. I think every yard should have at least two chickens. I love driving around the country and seeing their fluffy little bodies rummaging through grass and around flower beds. It would be beautiful to see more of that in the city.
Ways I think chickens can be beneficial to a family garden and farm:
Foraging for insects, scratching the surface of the ground keeps the weeds down.
Chickens gobble up kitchen scraps so nothing goes to waste.
Chicken droppings are rich in nitrogen, which helps grass grow a beautiful green.
We raise our meat chickens and turkeys in tractors. We started this around our barn, thinking it would be easier to have all the animals in the same location. But after seeing the richness of the grass that grew following the chicken droppings, we moved them into our garden to clear beds for vegetables and around our fruit trees as a means of fertilizing the area.
Eggs. Delicious eggs every day.
The protein and healthy cholesterol found in eggs, especially from chickens that have access to grass, insects and sunlight, are profoundly more healthy than the store bought eggs. The yolks from our eggs are thick, rich, and higher in healthy fats. I researched the health benefits of eggs for this article and found a broad variety in opinions. Some say that eating eggs will kill you faster than a speeding car, and others say that eating eggs will improve your heart health, vision, and will help you lose weight because they satisfy hunger better. Do your own research and buy local eggs from farmers who allow their chickens to range about the grass. That makes all the difference!
Crushed egg shells make a great addition to compost and can be used around cabbage and kale to keep slugs away.
When the egg shells are cooked in the oven and therefore sterilized, they can be crushed and fed back to the chickens as a calcium supplement…or added to the garden as a calcium supplement.
In the end, a chicken is a great source of meat. While laying hens tend to have tougher meat, they can be cooked for a longer time to tenderize the meat. I’ve also considered using old laying hens as food for our dogs and cats. I haven’t done that yet, so it remains to be seen if that would work.
Potential Drawbacks of Raising Chickens
Chickens do require some sort of shelter. Neighbor dogs, coyotes, and children with a penchant for terrorizing animals can cause trauma or death to your flock. Having a safe space for them, especially at night, is very important in the city. In the country, they will roost in barn rafters or trees.
They need your attention twice a day for food and water.
I don't know if this it true for all chickens, but our birds do not lay eggs in the morning. They are like teenagers, and are not productive until late morning or early afternoon.
If you go on vacation, you will need to hire help.
If you are only allowed 3 hens, you will soon discover that while the eggs are fun to find and eat, you want more. Next comes the search on Zillow for a homestead, and then you become like us.