chicken underground

Why chickens?

Discussing our new chicks on Twitter, I was asked the same question over and over. “Why? Why chickens?” Some had chickens and were curious about how our family got started, some were sort of kind of entertaining the idea, some seemed to think I (and everyone going on about chickens) were a little unhinged and one wanted to bring her husband around. So, in answer to this one great question, I give you

The Roscommon Acres Definitive Guide for Why You, Too, Should Consider Chickens

Why Chickens

Chickens are educational.

From breed selection through their first precious eggs and beyond, you will amazed at how much there is to learn about and from chickens.  As a homeschooling family, our primary interest was the lessons to be learned.  We learned a little about meat birds, though layers were our focus, and discovered the wonderful world of dual purpose breeds.  Then heritage breeds. Then this whole issue of industrial agriculture and what it means for the genetic diversity of the simple chicken as they are continually selectively bred for larger breasts or greater egg production.  Right now, we are comparing the development of a Cornish Cross, the standard in meat production, to the Plymouth Rock, a heritage breed that can be used both as a meat bird and a layer.  Stay tuned for periodic updates on their comparative development, dressing weights and flavor as we blog their little lives all the way to the dinner table.

Without chickens, there can be no eggs.

Yes, of course you can get those watery things from the grocery store.  But once you find that first, beautiful egg in the nest box, you know that eggs from backyard chickens are happier, healthier and better looking.  The yolk is a deeper color, the whites stiffer, the shells harder.  And then there is just the sense of accomplishment. Of raising something yourself and reaping the benefits of your labor. You may find yourself peeking in the refrigerator, just to look at the eggs, and then you will know there is something special about these eggs beyond any proposed health benefits.

Chicken poo is the black gold of gardening.

Simply put, if you garden, you have a use for chickens. Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potash, as well as organic matter that will build soil while nourishing your plants. Trust me. Your plants will thank you. Just remember that chicken poo is HOT. If not composted prior to applying, you risk burning your plants. As an added bonus (if you have enough chickens, anyway), you can use the manure in a hotbed, and use that hot composting action to warm seedlings outside the normal growing season.

Chickens are good insect control.

Chickens are omnivores, but you haven’t seen a chicken live until you’ve watched it chase bugs. My chickens will spot an earthworm on my shovel from across the yard and come racing, necks outstretched and wings flapping to get to it before I finish turning the soil. They provide excellent control for ticks, flies, mosquitoes, ants, slugs, snails and just about anything else they can catch.

Chickens are good tillers.

At the end of the growing season, turn your chickens loose on your garden. They will finish off the green stuff you leave standing, scratch and turn the soil in the continual hunt for insects and dust baths, decrease the number of hibernating and pupating pests and leave a nice layer of fertilizer to get you started for next year.

Chickens make great garbage disposals.

Think of them as pigs with feathers. Carrot peelings, left over oatmeal, bits of spaghetti…garbage to you and treats to a chicken.  Feeding chickens your kitchen scraps puts your garbage to good use while lowering your feed cost.  There’s very little they won’t eat, but I’ve read that you shouldn’t feed them potato peelings, avocado, dry beans or eggplant.

Chickens are good therapy.

Everyone I talk to who owns chickens spends time just watching their flock. Sure, it is good practice to spend a lot of time watching any animal in your care. Especially in chickens, where their signals that something is wrong are slight. But that isn’t why we do it. We do it because it feels good. Because in that moment, things are still and quiet and you can let your mind wander. Because there’s nothing quite like a freshly laid egg to warm your hands on a brisk morning. Because touching and frying and tasting the products of your labor brings meaning to breakfast that can never come from a styrofoam carton at WalMart.

Chickens are political.

While there are cities across the nation that are quite friendly to chickens (would you believe that even New York City allows an unlimited number of hens?!), there are others which just don’t quite seem to get it. If your area doesn’t allow chickens, ask around. You might be surprised to stumble upon a vast underground chicken movement.  Citizens nationwide are banding together and working to change legislation to allow small backyard flocks. Their arguments and tactics are actually very similar to that of the homeschool movement, and you may be surprised to find liberals and conservatives working together to change the same laws for some of the very same reasons. Kinda like us homeschoolers.

Chickens build community.

They are an oddity, especially if you live in an urban or suburban area. A few fresh eggs delivered here or there normally quells any initial worry about the smell or the noise people seem to glean from stereotypes, and you just might find your neighbor looking over the fence at your flock busy with some weeding or insect control. Our old place backed up against a baseball field, and one afternoon, a woman came and asked if she could photograph our chickens who were running free about the backyard. She was delighted at how such a simple little animal made the connection between town and country seem closer.  Neighbors stopped to look in the coop, children asked to pet them and strangers spontaneously began talking about their chickens, or their grandmother’s flock they remembered growing up. One of our neighbors even helped us with the construction of the roost.

Convinced?  Check out my entry on getting started with chickens.  Still looking for more information? Ask away! I may not know the answer, but I’ll do my best to help you find it!

Do you have chickens? Tell us all about them!