Backyard chickens are popping up in suburban yards nationwide. People want fresh eggs, they want to know what the chickens are eating, they want to know how the birds were treated. I am one of these people, labeled crazy by my family. Why would I want one more thing to take care of, why would I want to clean manure out of coops, why would I want to trek out to the coops in 12″ of snow? I’ll tell you why – the eggs are beautiful and flavorful, the roosters are delicious (since I am not interested in breeding, I butcher the boys), and the girls provide hours of entertainment for the entire family. However, as my husband kindly points out – getting a setup of coop, feed, heated water bowls, etc., can get pricey – so what are the other benefits?
Chicken manure is almost as good as worm castings in my opinion – black gold. I simply add it to the compost pile.
During the summer I pull weeds from my garden and throw them in the coop for the girls to pick bugs and seeds, this saves on straw/shavings.
My girls LOVE stink bugs. We collect a cupful every day during the summer and the chickens think it’s the best meal ever!
With all the things I love, having chickens is not all birthday cakes and roses. I cried like a baby when my dog ran around with a chicken in his mouth for 20 minutes, parading it around the yard (one chicken lived, one didn’t). When one of my Silkie hens was attacked by a hawk, I buried her before my daughter got home from school.
As I enter into my second year of chicken keeping, my goal is to not only raise food for my family but also my chickens. Alongside the green beans and carrots will be rows of colorful indian corn, not for decoration, but a winter treat for the hens. Extra tomato plants, pumpkins, cantaloupes and watermelons – all summer favorites for my girls. Chickweed will be allowed to flourish in my beds and purslane which is high in protein and omega-3 will be planted. Grain amaranth, loaded with seeds and nutritious leaves will find a home in my garden along with flats of wheat grass, which can be put in the run on days when free ranging is not an option. The goal is to buy less chicken feed and grow more of my own.