Our love affair with chickens started a few years ago, when my husband surprised me with a box of baby chicks. Those little ones all turned out to be males, but no matter – the chicken bug was already there. Ever since, we’ve had a chicken coop wherever we lived.
So what makes chickens such a popular choice for almost everyone? They are kept by big and small farmers, country dwellers and urban homesteaders alike. Here is why I personally like my chickens so much:
1. Eggs – need I say more? Fresh homegrown eggs are about the best source of high-quality animal protein out there. They are full of essential nutrients and their taste is far superior to the bland egg factory product. In winter, when our hens went off laying and we had to buy eggs from the grocery store, we were actually shocked at the contrast in taste after getting used to our superior home-grown eggs.
2. Pest and weed control – chickens love to eat all sorts of insects, bugs, worms and weeds in their young green stage. All this goes into the eggs and makes them healthier and better-tasting – and helps with yard maintenance. Of course, chickens will also go for many garden plants, so you have two choices: either keep a fence around your vegetable patch, or learn which plants you can grow without competing with your chickens. Generally we find that herbs (such as mint, sage, rosemary), certain vegetables (onions, garlic, potatoes) and fruit trees are safe with chickens.
3. Entertainment – just sit back and watch your chickens for endless hours of fun. Observe how they interact with each other and with you. I can entertained a 1-year-old for up to half an hour by making a rooster jump and snatch tricks out of the air. Keeping chickens is one of the best fun and educational experiences we’ve ever done.
4. Easy maintenance – once you get into the routine of chicken-keeping, it’s incredibly easy. Basically what chickens need is access to food, water and a sturdy sheltered coop that provides protection from the rain and wind and can be locked at night against predators. Depending on the climate in your area and the breed of your chickens, you might have to provide a source of heat during the winter. We usually don’t need to do this as we keep sturdy breeds and temperatures here don’t often fall below freezing.
You can greatly reduce the cost of chicken feed by giving your chickens your kitchen leftovers (old bread, rice, pasta, cores and peels, etc) and by allowing them to free-range and find their own food.