Raising chickens is a great way to start raising livestock. They are one of the easiest types of livestock to get started with. They don’t require a large initial investment nor do they need a lot of space. And to get started, you don’t need a lot of know-how, yet raising them will be a lifelong learning experience.
Let’s look at a few reasons to raise chickens:
1. The Freshest Eggs Possible
If you want fresh eggs, there’s no better way than to raise your own chickens. The eggs you gather from your own chickens are fresher than any you’ll find at the store, because they spend no unnecessary time on the shelf. The hens lay eggs. You gather them, clean them and eat them. It’s really that simple … and the eggs are that fresh.
2. Known Diet
With your own chickens, you can largely determine their diet. (I say largely because if you let them free range, they’re going to choose what to eat, and they’ll generally choose well).
3. The Best Care
Equally important is that you can care for them the way you want to.
Chickens thrive in a clean environment, with fresh, clean water, good quality feed and access to pasture.
Learning more about chicken health will enable you to look for and recognize signs of mites, disease or other parasites (which will already be less common with a well-cared for flock raised with good hygiene) so that you can provide a remedy and keep them strong and healthy.
Your well-cared-for flock will reward you by producing nutritious eggs, tasty meat and excellent quality manure for your garden.
4. The Best Quality Eggs
Joel Salatin describes eggs that have “extremely dark orange yolks” as the “gold standard” for egg nutrition. He goes on to say that folic acid, “riboflavin, taste and nutrient density all find their nexus in yolk color.”
With plenty of access to forage, unless your chickens are lazy and stay by the feeders all day, eating mostly bagged feed, you’ll be getting eggs with darker orange yolks than any that you’re likely to find at the store. For best results, choose breeds that are active foragers.
5. Table Scraps
Chickens will rapidly convert many of your table scraps to manure, meat and eggs.
There are a few foods to avoid, but for the most part, your chickens are smart enough to eat what they should and avoid what they shouldn’t. Restricting what you feed them is mainly a concern in a confinement operation.
Here are a few quotes on the benefits of poultry manure as a fertilizer:
[Poultry manure] has long been recognized as one of the most desirable manures. Besides fertilizing crops, manures also supply other essential plant nutrients and serve as a soil amendment by adding organic matter, which helps improve the soil’s moisture and nutrient retention. – Source: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa205
For each pound of feed consumed, a chicken will produce approximately 0.5 pound of fresh manure with a moisture content of about 75 percent. – Source: http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1245
Poultry manure fertilizer contains all the essential nutrients required for crop production, and its value as an organic fertilizer and a source of plant nutrients has been recognized for centuries. – Source: http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1245
In addition to being an excellent source of plant nutrients, poultry fertilizer can increase the soil’s water infiltration rates by improving its structure. On a short-term basis, poultry fertilizer can also increase the soil organic matter content. – Source: http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1245
Running chickens in a chicken tractor through your yard and garden is a great way to get manure on those areas to build soil fertility.
If you have a stationary coop, when you clean out the manure, compost it in your compost heap then add it to your garden.
Besides all the tangible benefits of raising chickens, they’re fun to watch.
Their various antics – eating, running, squawking and pecking – even after having raised them for nearly a quarter of a century, I never grow tired of watching them.
And they’re not all the same. To a degree, they each seem to have a unique “personality” – even from the same breed.
8. Teaches Responsibility
Raising chickens and having your children or grandchildren help take care of them is a good way to help them learn to become more responsible.
Since the chickens depend on us for food, good quality water, hygiene and gathering of eggs, having your children help care for them teaches them how living things depend on us for such things. So the children learn how important care and responsibility are, and that helps them learn to better care for people as well.
I don’t know of specific studies about this, but I think that children who care for chickens and other livestock tend to become gentler, more caring people as adults and young adults.
9. Raise Them Naturally
You can raise your chickens the way you want. You set the standards for care, diet and cleanliness.
With most chicken and eggs from the store, you don’t know exactly how the birds were raised. The egg carton may say “farm fresh.” The package may say “free range.” But what does that really mean in terms of care? How clean was their housing? What feed was used? How much access did they have to forage, and how much sunlight and fresh air did they receive?
With your own chickens, you know and control their living conditions and diet (to a degree, since they’ll selectively eat whatever you give them access to). You can raise them to your own standards. Of course with that comes responsibility – cleaning the waterer regularly, cleaning the coop, protecting them against predators, etc. But the rewards are well worth the efforts.
10. Lessons of Life
Raising chickens teaches some important lessons, and it does so in a very hand’s-on way that makes the understanding a part of you rather than just some facts to fill a person’s mind. Such lessons include:
- Every living thing needs care.
- Every living thing needs food and water.
- When you take better care of just about anything, from people to animals to plants to tools, homes and vehicles, it’s better. Any living thing will thrive and be healthier with better care, and things will have a longer useful life.
- Every living thing eventually dies, and it can be very sad when that happens.
I’m sure there are other lessons you think of, too.
11. Insect Control
Chickens like to eat lots of the insects that are your garden’s pests: grasshoppers, slugs, grubs, caterpillars, . . . . If you let your chickens out to forage, they can make a serious dent in the harmful insect population on your property.
Raising chickens is an excellent way to get started with raising livestock, and though they take a little work and commitment, the rewards far outweigh the cost and effort.
Why do you raise chickens?