Get back to the land with these 10 Great Reasons to Keep Backyard Chickens
Have you hugged a chicken lately?
If you’ve ever talked to someone who owns backyard chickens then you know just how excited they are to talk about their flock of egg-laying ‘ladies’. Owning backyard chickens has become all the rage lately – and for good reason! From healthy, nutritious eggs to teaching kids about the food supply the reasons to start a backyard flock of your own are numerous.
As many of you may know, I’m one of those passionate chicken owners myself so today I’m sharing 10 great reasons to keep backyard chickens of your own.
#1 Fresh Eggs
This reason alone may be enough to convince many of the benefits of starting a small backyard flock. Eggs from chickens allowed to graze on grass and insects are significantly more nutritious than their store-bought counterparts from hens raised in battery cages.
Free-range eggs compared to conventional eggs contain:
- 7 times more beta carotene (you can see it in their dark yellow to orange colored yolks!)
- Twice as much omega 3 fatty acids essential for heart and brain health
- An important source of choline which is necessary for methylation (think DNA synthesis and detoxification here), cellular membrane structure and production of neurotransmitters
- 3 times more vitamin E
- A good source of selenium, folate, B vitamins, protein and healthy, satisfying fats
As an added bonus, harvesting eggs from your backyard means no driving and you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas if you don’t want to.
#2 You get ‘Organic’, ‘Non-GMO’ and ‘Free-range’ without the tricky food labels
You have total control over what goes into your chicken and how they are raised so you never have to question if the label on the carton really means what you think it means (for example, the term ‘cage-free’ means the hens weren’t kept in cages but it doesn’t say anything else about their living conditions – including access to pasture, room to move, amount of daylight received or even what they ate!)
All of our chickens are free-range and allowed to roam the back acre as they please all day long. This means they’re spending much of their day eating grass, weeds, clover, worms and insects. In addition to this daily foraging we provide a 100% certified organic, non-GMO and soy-free feed for them to eat as they please. Obviously, living in Colorado means they do significantly less grazing in the winter so in addition to their feed we offer plenty of leafy greens, flax seeds and kitchen scraps to keep their diet varied and well-rounded.
Keeping backyard chickens lets you skip the labels and decide for yourself what your chickens will eat and how they’ll spend their days.
#3 Know where your food comes from
Keeping backyard chickens is a great way to connect with the food you eat. Again, if you put quality food and humane treatment into your chickens, you’re going to get quality food from your chickens.
It’s also a great way to learn about agriculture, get in touch with nature and teach your kids how to responsibly care for a living creature. My children began to help tend our flock from very young ages (ages 5 and 2) – learning to carefully hold the birds, collects eggs, provide fresh water daily and check for signs of stress or illness.
Knowing where your food comes from is a powerful thing – especially in a time when there are more and more food borne illness outbreaks and recalls every year involving food that’s mass-produced and shipped long distances to store around the country.
#4 Decrease your carbon footprint
This goes right along with knowing where your food comes from. By raising your own egg layers and reaping the delicious rewards of fresh eggs you’re able to eat closer to home which means relying on fewer trips to the store and less dependence on store-bought eggs shipped from several states away.
Planting a garden in conjunction with keeping backyard chickens is a great way to become more self-sufficient. In September 2013 we experienced a major flood that essentially cut us off from the rest of the world for 6 days. Having an ample amount of vegetables in the garden, shelves of home-canned goods and fresh chicken eggs meant we didn’t have to rely on the outside world to get us through this difficult time – and we ate like kings which helped us keep up our energy to fight the flood waters and kept our spirits lifted.
#5 Less food waste
This probably won’t come as surprise to you but Americans waste a lot of food (more than 200 millions tons per year¹). One survey from the American Chemistry Council in 2015 estimated that this equates to roughly $640 of uneaten or unused organic food waste for every American household². Not only is this money wasted but there’s also a significant environmental impact from throwing out food. Wasted food makes up roughly 20% of landfills and is responsible for a significant amount of methane gas which contributes to global warming.
By sending your uneaten bits and nibbles out to the chickens you can reduce your food waste and give your ladies tasty, nutritious treats they’ll love. For a list of what not to feed your backyard chickens, click here.
By adding a compost pile to your property you can further reduce your kitchen waste. We have both and very little, besides citrus peels and bones, gets tossed in the garbage which means we can reduce our carbon footprint even further and save on trash collection costs each month.
#6 Free fertilizer
Have you ever found yourself at your local home improvement center shelling out five or six bucks for a small bag of composted chicken manure for the garden? When you keep your own backyard chickens you have plenty of free chicken manure for fertilizing and mulching so you’ll never have to buy those bags again.
#7 Natural pest control
Chickens love bugs and worms and all those wiggly things in your backyard – and it’s a natural part of their diet. Eggs with labels that read “100% vegetarian diets” are from chickens that aren’t on pasture foraging for the creepy crawlies they were designed to eat.
Chickens eat a wide variety of bugs including flies, grubs, pill bugs, earwigs, green cabbage worms, earthworms, spiders and more. Chickens have long been used on farms to ‘clean up’ undigested grain from the manure of horses, cows and sheep which means fewer rats and mice who are also interested in these grains.
Our Buckeye’s (a cold-hardy, heat-tolerant, mild-tempered heritage breed of chickens) are great mousers and are often seen stalking and catching mice at the feeds and water founts in the coop. Bonus: free entertainment
#8 DIY Weed control
Organic lawn maintenance often means pulling weeds by hand – a job your chickens can easily help out with! There are several weeds that chickens will happily eat so you can either toss a few handfuls into their run (a fenced enclosure attached to the coop), allow them to pick their own in the yard or turn them loose in the garden after the harvest has been brought it. We let our chickens into the garden frequently during the winter so they can forage for weeds or seeds in raised beds or pathways as a way to supplement their daily feed rations.
#9 Save money
Aside from the initial start-up costs associated with chicks, building a coop, waterers and feeders, fencing and feed keeping your own backyard chickens is a great way to save money. In our area free-range, organic chicken eggs run $8-10 per dozen at the farmers markets and in local natural food stores.
In addition to cheaper eggs you’ll also be saving money on fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides and you’ll be wasting less food each year. Buying your feed in bulk and sharing the cost with other backyard chicken enthusiasts is also a great way to cut your costs especially when feeding organic feed to your fine feathered friends.
#10 Fun for the whole family
Best of all, keeping backyard chickens is fun! These quirky little creatures can put a smile on your face so fast you won’t know what hit you. There’s just something endearing about those fluffy chicken butts and they way the waddle back and forth when they see you come to the fence with a bucket of kitchen scraps or scratch (a mixture of cracked corn, grains and seeds meant to be a ‘treat’ for chickens).
And like I said earlier – chicken owners can’t not talk about their chickens which makes us pretty social beings and often filled with random and fascinating facts about poultry.
There you have it. My top 10 Great Reasons for Keeping Backyard Chickens
Whether you’re looking to save money, become more self-sufficient, eat better or just connect with nature and laugh more, backyard chickens are sure to deliver.