Adding chickens to your backyard farm is the fastest way to a healthy, organic garden, and a delightful way to make your homestead more self-sufficient.
Why Chickens are Invaluable To Self-Reliance
In the thirties, during the Great Depression, horror stories abounded about soup lines and folks facing starvation. But those who owned their own land along with a dozen or more hens and roosters never went hungry. That's because in a bad economy, those who can raise their own food are way ahead of the game. With a dozen or so hens and a rooster you'll have a steady supply of eggs and meat.
Live in the city? You probably won't be able to keep a rooster, but most city ordinances will allow you to have up to six hens. Those lovely birds will supply you with two and a half dozen eggs per week.
Your Organic Garden Will Thank You
The manure from your hens or rooster is one of the most fertile substances in nature. While you should never add the manure directly to your soil - the nitrogen is too strong and can burn your plants - it does marvelous things when added to your compost pile.
Better yet, if you keep goats and some of your hay has gone moldy, add it to your chickens’ roosting box or to the brooder. The chickens won't care, and when they're done with it, that wonderful moldy, manure-laden hay will jump-start your composting.
Great With Children
Save for the occasional ornery rooster, these birds are gentle and safe around children. Your little ones will love holding the baby chicks.
Easy to Raise
Although they do require some special care those first two to three weeks of their life, chickens are - on the whole - easy to care for. All they require is a little shelter, fresh water and food every day. Gallon water feeders are available. Use those and you'll only need to provide water for your birds once a day.
On hot days, be sure to check their water at least twice a day. Chickens need plenty of water and won't drink warm water.
Raise Your Own Eggs, Improve Your Health
A survey done by Mother Earth News revealed that chickens - particularly those who live in chicken tractors moved daily - have up to one third less cholesterol and a fourth less saturated fat than commercially raised eggs. They also have more vitamin A and a lot more omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and beta carotene than their commercial counterparts.
Free range birds eat more of the diet they are supposed to have - lots of leafy greens, bugs and worms. They enjoy their lives; my birds love it when I move their tractor about. Everyday they get a new supply of grass to scratch in! Commercially raised birds, on the other hand, spend their entire lives cramped in the same small, dark, dirty space. They consume a diet of cottonseed, soy and corn with additives thrown in.
This stressful environment can make them sick, so they're also given antibiotics to keep them from dying too soon. You and your family ingest those antibiotics when you eat their eggs. Plus, you're eating eggs from stressed-out, potentially sick birds.
With your own free-range birds, you're providing a kinder environment for your brood and better nutrition for your family.
Fresh, clean meat
Naturally, the same goes for the birds you raise for meat. Less stress and no antibiotics. Plus, the meat will be cleaner. Chickens that are commercially processed and killed are plucked and then thrown into a large vat of hot water until they are ready to be cut up. A lot of fecal matter collects in the vat. The chickens are literally cooking in “fecal soup". The feces soaks into the flesh of the bird and is in the liquid that comes in the packaging. When you butcher your own birds, you eliminate the “fecal soup. " Hence, cleaner meat.
Eggs Are An Easy Income
Everybody loves fresh eggs, so they are easy to sell. Keep a few extra hens to produce more eggs than you and your family can eat. Sell the surplus, and within a year you'll recoup your startup and feed costs. Keep selling your extra eggs, and the following year, you'll have free eggs and earn a little income besides.
Sue Merriam is author of the website, Organic Gardening and Homesteading. http://www.organic-gardening-and-homesteading.com