By Mary LaFrance
Easter weekend is a test of my self-control every time I go to Tractor Supply or Runnings for chicken supplies. This is because the stores are getting in weekly shipments of chicks, and they are so CUTE! I already have 15 chickens and I get on average about a dozen eggs a day.
I. Do. Not. Need. More. Chickens.
But if you have ever considered adding chickens to your backyard, now is a good time to shop around. Besides being cute as babies, and providing eggs, here are some other good reasons why you should consider raising some chickens.
I wanted to get into raising chickens strictly for the novelty of collecting my own eggs and I like the idea of having more control over where my food was coming from. Once my chickens were laying, I was able to stop buying eggs from the grocery store and always had fresh eggs for breakfast. Since I was no longer buying eggs in cartons, I noticed the accumulation of used eggshells a lot more. So, I started saving them up for use in my garden. Eventually, it got so much that I started questioning what else can I use eggshells for? Turns out, a lot. Egg shells are rich in calcium, calcium that chickens need in their diet to produce a healthy egg. I learned that I could bake the eggshells and crush them up and add them back into my chicken's diet, replacing the need to buy calcium supplements for my hens. These baked shells can also be pulverized into a find powder and used in recipes to add calcium into our own diets as well. Nutrition and calcium are a great reason to raise chickens, but there are plenty more additional reasons.
I live near a forested area and we are always concerned with biting insects and those that can cause disease, like ticks that can carry Lyme disease. Chickens, when allowed to free range, can have a huge impact by acting as a natural pest control. The second year of my garden, I was having an awful time with those yellow and black squash beetles eating the leaves of my squash. I accidentally left the garden door open and a couple of chickens got in. I was so mad I had to chase them all out and I was worried they destroyed my already delicate plants. Upon closer inspection, I found minimal damage to my plants and even more surprising not a single squash beetle! They ate every last one and I have never had a problem again. They are not only great at pest control; they are also great for enriching garden soil.
I mentioned that eggshells are great for gardens, but chickens also make a lot of organic waste that is a vital component of efficient composting. Chicken manure is an excellent nitrogen fertilizer. I use a deep litter method in their coop where their manure can be collected every few weeks and added to the compost pile and then replaced with clean bedding. I also add a lot of food scraps to the compost pile and my chickens love to dig through the pile eating the scraps and any bugs they might find, stirring up the compost as they search, helping to aerate the pile and facilitate the composting process. Chickens are not just economical and free labor; they are also fun.
Chickens come in all shapes, sizes and colors. I have collected many varieties of chicken breeds over the years. I have the basics, the Orpington Buffs and Rhode Island Reds, but I also have Wyondotte, Silver-laced and gold-laced Polish which are the ones that look like Big Bird, I had silkies whose feathers look furry, and at one time I even adopted a stray bantam rooster which is a miniature version of a rooster with feathers on his feet like bell bottoms. The thing that I enjoy most is that each variety has distinct traits, some lay different colored eggs, some are friendlier than others, some are louder, and even individual chickens have their own plucky personality. I also came to find out that chickens are trainable, just like dogs. When my flock were just chicks, I used to whistle every time I fed them and now that they are bigger, I can whistle, and they come running and hop right into the coop. A useful trick when you have to leave and want to close the coop up early.
I may have started raising chickens just for the eggs, but they have proven to be an important asset to my backyard ecosystem. They provide my family with a local source of food, they help my garden grow, they keep insects and biting ticks at bay, they help with composting and provide hours of entertainment.