Being raised on a farm, chicken keeping is a natural thing for me, but when someone asked me about my personal reasons for keeping them, I had to stop and think. Is it because we “always have”, or are there more personal beliefs and reasons?
The answer is both. My grandmother had chickens so caring for them and helping to butcher them was part of my upbringing.
There were always Rhode Island Reds, “Domineckers”, Black Australorps, and the usual “mutts” running around everywhere. Not to mention ducks, geese, guineas, and turkeys. She taught me most everything I know about chicken keeping from feeding them to eating them to breaking roosters...I just can’t list it all.
We are sustenance farmers so they are not a hobby, they are not pets, they are contributors to our livelihood by their meat, their eggs, and the many other benefits to having them on a farm. Granny instilled the love of chickens in me and I’ve stayed in love with these feathered friends for 30+ years of keeping them myself.
There are, for me, 5 main reasons I keep chickens.
Fresh Yard Eggs:
I guess this is the first reason most every chicken keeper has for keeping chickens.
Eggs that come fresh from your coop to your kitchen are immeasurably better tasting and healthier than any commercial egg you can buy. Their yolks are brilliant in color and texture. Of course, the degree to which this is true depends largely on what you feed your chickens. Our birds are mostly they free ranged so they get free choice of food and it’s mostly protein in the form of bugs, rodents, and worms. We supplement their diet with garden produce; kitchen scraps like dairy, (most) fruits, and grains; and organic, non-GMO prepared feed, (learn more about GMOs) when we don’t have feed we produce ourselves available. Learn about feeding your chickens.
Hens begin to lay between 5-7 months of age depending on the breed and its general well-being. It takes a hen about 24 hours to lay an egg and they lay at different times of the day. I have one that lays before I get out to do chores and one that lays just before evening chores. Everyone else is in between.
Granny always had me toss a little grain at night because a “warm, well-fed hen is a happy hen and a happy hen lays happy eggs.” I love her sayings. Learn more about egg laying and abnormalities.
My Black Australorps and Speckled Sussex are champion layers. I don’t bother to keep laying records unless I have a slacker and I’m trying to determine who the slacker is. A couple of years ago I had to cull some older girls and so to decide who needed to go, we went through the long process of recording the laying patterns of the hens. Out of the 120 days of recording them, these two breeds lay an average of 115 eggs, each! The Rhode Island Reds aren’t too far behind them. Learn about egg storing and washing.
Being sustenance farmers the breeds we choose are dual-purpose birds. They provide eggs and meat for us (Top 3 Dual Purpose Breeds For Your Homestead). The breeds we chose dress out between 5-9 pounds, depending on the breed and whether it’s a hen or a rooster.
The peace of mind that comes with knowing how the animal I’m eating was treated, and what it was fed so in turn what I’m eating, and how it was butchered and processed is important to us.
While chickens won’t eat the same number of bugs as a guinea, they still eat plenty of nasty guys. They are known for eating:
Mice – Yes, the first time I saw it, one of the hens was running from the others with something in her mouth. I went to investigate and it was a mouse…she ate it all!
Spiders – I had a friend tell me she got chickens the first time to help with a black widow problem she had. They fixed it for her.
Termites – They see them flying and start jumping in the air to catch them and if they can reach it, will dig out where they’re hatching from;
Worms – We vermicompost so I don’t let them into my compost area, but they have their own spots. In the fall we turn them loose in the garden to bat fall cleanup.
Not to mention grubs, beetles (they love these guys), ticks,…you get the idea.
Virtually Free Fertilizer:
I say virtually because of the cost of any feed you provide them. Let’s face it, there’s really nothing free – it all costs someone, somewhere, something. To us, our time and energy are just as valuable as money.
It’s not good to put fresh chicken manure on your plants because its raw nitrogen content can burn plant roots quickly. We put the coop manure in our compost pile and in the back of the chicken yard. They like to scratch through it in their yard and in a year there’ll be a nice top layer of rich “chicken yard dirt” for my potting soil mix.
If you just mix it in your compost pile and let it be, it will be 6 months to a year before it’s ready. You can shorten this time to 4-6 months by turning your compost regularly.
There’s also manure tea. Your garden and flowers will love it. Just be careful not to pour it on the leaves.
Manure tea is easy to make. Put the manure in a burlap sack and place that into a large container and cover it with water. The size of the container you use depends on how much manure you have.
We have over 30 laying birds and I use a thirty-gallon trash can for this. Let it sit for a couple of days and it’s ready. I don’t do this often, only once a year, because of the other ways I use the manure.
My favorite way to use it is to spread it on the garden in the fall and let the girls scratch it in as they clean up the garden. By spring, the soil is enriched and ready to go!
That’s right. If you’ve never sat and watched a flock of birds, especially free-ranged birds, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you have chickens, then you’re smiling right now because you’re thinking about the comical flock you own. There’s such a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes which adds a variety of colors, personalities, and interest to a flock.
I find some breeds are friendlier than others. The Rhode Island Reds and Speckled Sussex are the friendliest out of the ones I’ve owned over the years. My Black Australorp hens are friendlier after they’ve been in the breeding yards and hatched out. I think it’s because they form a bond with me as I’m in their personal space every day and bring their babies’ feed.
Chickens are pretty basic creatures, but there’s always some who stand out in the flock. They have quirky personalities, some like to “talk” more than others, some like to be held and petted, some just like to be stroked, and some just like to cause trouble.
Those are my top five reasons for keeping chickens. What about you? Why do you keep chickens? Are you thinking about chicken keeping?
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