Whether you live in a city, suburb, or small town, it's possible you've been surprised by the presence of chickens in neighbors backyards. The practice isn't as strange as it seems--these birds can be a great asset to health and eco-conscious families. And the internet makes it easy to look up tutorials, care sheets, and almost everything else needed to take care of chickens at home, from building a coop and fencing to choosing the correct feed. Entire blogs and forums exist just for urban farmers and chicken keepers to discuss their best practices with one another.
The first thing to consider, if you're thinking of keeping your own flock, is to check whether backyard chickens are legal in your area. Many places require certification (usually a $35-$60 fee which expires each year) in order to keep chickens, along with regular property inspections. But you may find that it's worth jumping through these hoops, in order to enjoy the benefits of these remarkable birds. Here are five benefits of keeping backyard chickens.
The most obvious benefit of backyard chickens is easy access to fresh eggs. Most hens have a laying period of about two years, during which time she will produce around 530 eggs total (around 265 eggs per year). That's a lot of omelettes! And it has the potential to save a health-conscious family a lot of money, as well.
Fresh eggs from backyard chickens still come with a cost, due to the expense of upkeep for the chickens themselves. If you usually buy the cheapest eggs available at the grocery store, then you likely won't save money on eggs by keeping backyard chickens. But if your family is buying organic eggs (usually between $4-$7 a carton) then you'll likely make a bigger dent in your grocery budget.
Composting is an eco-friendly way to give your soil more nutrition, and a common practice among gardeners. Food waste and even animal byproducts can be added to a compost heap, which is where backyard chickens can be a big help. A family keeping a small brood of three to four chickens is likely to have some eggs that they simply don't get around to eating. Eggs make a great addition to compost heaps--even the shells can break down to add nutrients to your soil. Healthy soil grows healthy vegetables, which means that backyard chickens can help you produce more than just animal products.
When a hen stops producing eggs after about two years, you may choose to use her for meat. There are differences between the meat of different chicken breeds, with some being produced solely for their meat, but most breeds are dual-purpose, and can be used for both. Regulations for chicken slaughtering and meat processing vary from state to state, so be sure to check your local laws before deciding whether you'd like to keep chickens for meat. You'll need to consider whether you'd like to process your birds yourself (assuming your local laws allow it) or whether you'd like to send your chickens to a local processor.
Instead of using harmful chemicals and pesticides to manage your yard, you can use chickens instead as a sustainable alternative. They make a wonderful organic exterminator and are known to reduce populations of grasshoppers, fleas, slugs, and termites. Some of their favorite things to eat include protein-rich insects and ticks that are regularly wandering around. Just make sure to use chicken wire to protect the bed of a newly planted garden, as their foraging can often destroy them if they don't have boundaries on where they can range.
Dogs aren't the only ones used as therapy animals. More and more people of all ages are turning to chickens to help reduce stress and ease of psychological and mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and memory loss. While many may think of chickens as solely a source of food, they're actually more intelligent than we give them credit for.
A study from 2013 found that chickens can outperform human toddlers in certain intelligence tests. They also have unique personalities and researchers have found they experience complex emotions and are capable of problem solving, reasoning, and demonstrating self control. Even if you aren't interested in using backyard chickens to source your own eggs and meat, they can give the same companionship and emotional benefits that owning other pets often provides.