Backyard Chickens: The Ultimate Helpers For Nutritious Food, Easier Composting, And Greater Sustainability

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Backyard chickens are easy to keep and make the best eggs. But did you know they also control pests, turn your compost, and regenerate the soil?

Everyone loves farm-fresh eggs. Some people even love them enough to keep their own chickens. But keeping chickens brings a host of other benefits as well, especially to your garden. Unfortunately, many people have no idea what goes into keeping chickens, whether for meat, eggs or as (wonderful) pets. This article outlines what chickens need to thrive in a backyard setup and what benefits they bring beyond a tasty breakfast.   

Chickens Need Ample Food And Safe Housing

Chickens eat fruits, vegetables, grains, and insects. You should feed them a meal that balances protein, vitamins, and minerals according to whether they are egg or meat hens. Each week, a 6-pound hen will consume around 3 pounds of feed. They enjoy bread and leftover fruits and vegetables from the kitchen and garden. 

To raise chickens in your backyard, you need an excellent coop to provide shelter and protection from other animals. You should get one nest box for every four to five layers if you want to keep egg hens. In addition, coops need proper ventilation, and incandescent bulbs or heat lamps are standard, especially in colder climates.

There are countless coop design options, and prices vary. Choose a design that fits your needs and allows for easy access. The best way to find an appropriate coop is to get in touch with someone who successfully keeps the number of chickens you would like. Moreover, many websites offer pre made and custom chicken coops.

Backyard chickens

They Are Easy to Keep Healthy, But Vulnerable to Predators

Daily ample food and freshwater are the most important factors for raising healthy chickens. Generally, you should take them out of the coop every morning and return them at sunset. If you keep egg hens, remember to collect the eggs twice daily. Weekly cleaning of the coop and pen is necessary to maintain hygienic conditions and odor management.

Chickens are easy prey for owls, hawks, cats, coyotes, and raccoons. So to keep them well-protected at night, allow no tiny gaps in the coop where predators can squeeze in. 

Healthy chickens will be active and attentive, with alert eyes. They will roam around, pecking, scratching, and dusting, except on hot days when they prefer shade. Healthy, lively chickens will also chatter and cluck all day long. Chickens grown in backyard environments tend to be healthy and resistant to sickness. Consider contacting a veterinarian when you notice any of your birds acting uncharacteristically lethargic or disinterested.

The fact that chickens are easy to keep and provide an excellent source of nutritious food to their owners is enough to recommend them to many people.

Just a Few Hens Yield a Lot of Eggs

Chickens start laying when they are about six months old. They can continue for five to ten years, with the first two years seeing the highest output. Each week, they will lay about six eggs. As chickens molt (replace their feathers) every fall, egg output declines. Egg hens need about 12 hours of light every day to maintain production. Fortunately, you can provide this with a regular lightbulb.

Backyard chickens

The Chicken Coop Is a Great Source of Compost

Composting requires brown, carbon-rich, and green, nitrogen-rich matter. A chicken coop can provide both! Brown matter, like shavings, straw, hay, pine needles, or dry leaves, comprises the bed of a coop. Of course, the chickens supply all the green matter you could want in the form of manure. All winter long, let the manure and bedding in the coop build up and break down. Then, in the spring, simply take everything out, and you'll have lovely compost for your garden.

Remember to wait at least three months before spreading fresh chicken manure in your garden. It contains too much nitrogen for delicate seedlings and new root structures. Furthermore, unaged chicken manure contains E. coli and salmonella. Allowing it to age for several months releases some nitrogen and prevents pathogens from entering your garden.

Chickens Will Spread Your Compost Pile While You Relax

There are few things chickens love more than scratching and leveling the dirt. They cannot tolerate seeing anything stacked. Therefore, they make the best compost spreaders money can buy. Leave them in charge of your compost pile whenever it needs turning. In addition, chickens work the earth with their feet, looking for seeds, bugs, and other edibles while producing a shocking amount of nitrogen-rich droppings.

Your Birds Will Help Fallow Plots Recover Nutrients

If you practice rotation with your crops, consider allowing chickens to inhabit your fallow. They are excellent natural pest control and (as mentioned above) introduce a great deal of nitrogen into the soil.

Instead of adding your kitchen and garden scraps to a compost pile to slowly degrade, let your hens handle the kitchen waste processing right in the field. Feed your birds whatever suitable scraps you have; they will digest the food, convert it to manure, and then scatter it across the garden. 

You will give them a more nutritious and varied diet for taking care of your plot as it lies fallow. Just remember to wait three months after rotating your hens off the garden before planting your veggies.

Chickens Are Excellent Providers of Food, Nutrients, and Labor

The fact that chickens are easy to keep and provide an excellent source of nutritious food to their owners is enough to recommend them to many people. However, they will also happily consume pests and vegetable food waste, turning it into nitrogen-rich manure. 

In return for this healthy and varied diet, they volunteer to produce, turn, and spread compost for your garden or field. It's a win-win that makes chickens welcome additions to any homestead looking to become more eco-friendly. 

Key Takeaways

  • Know the Rules – Every town and city makes its own rules about keeping poultry. Some require permits, others forbid them altogether, and some have no regulations. So make sure you are in compliance!
  • Know the Birds – In the old days, people would raise egg hens until they were old and then slaughter them for meat. Today, egg and meat hens consume different diets, and certain species are preferred for one or the other job. Figure out what you want and do some research to figure out which breed best fits your plans.
  • Know the Benefits – Healthy eggs, richer soil, and greater sustainability are all wonderful. However, chickens bring less tangible (but no less meaningful) benefits. Time spent outdoors caring for chickens can lead to a sense of purpose and well-being – two things in short supply in a crazy world! 

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