many of you know that i used to enjoy fresh eggs from my own backyard flock of laying hens. though i ultimately decided to become vegan, i know that's not a decision everyone can make and i'm still very passionate about eating homegrown foods! keeping a small flock of laying hens is a great way to eat fresh organic eggs, grow your own food and live sustainable. today, i want to discuss the basics of why chickens are great to have and how you go about doing it. i know some of you are just dying to eat fresh eggs every morning, right?!
let’s talk about the not-so-fun part first (skip down if you’re not into gruesome details). this is a hard subject to swallow, but one we all need to become much more educated on. unfortunately, industry standards for producing (any kind of) meat aren’t sustainable, nice or fun to learn about. the farming industry is pushed to increase revenue and decrease time so hard that the result is unhealthy, unhappy animals. chickens are generally kept in cages in a factory building with no windows. kept in such close quarters and breathing nothing but fecal dust, the farmer’s are forced to feed them antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. growth hormones are added to their food in order to increase egg production, or in the case of meat birds, increase their breast size. sadly, many of these bird’s breasts get so large that they can’t remain standing, and topple over from the wait instead. egg layers kept in cages stacked on one another get feces dropped on them from the birds above and often times they’re feet actually grown around the wire cage from inadequate room to move. we end up eating the growth hormones and antibiotics that are present in the meat and it in turn effects our health. due to added hormones, girls and boys are hitting puberty earlier than ever and we’re as a population becoming less immune to antibiotics as they are being found in any meat we eat that’s not organic. these hormones and antibiotics have many more ramifications but one of the largest is that it ends up in our breast milk which we feed our newborns. so without going into too much more detail: after learning about the incredibly unhappy animals and destruction to our environment caused from industry farming, the antibiotics and the hormones, i first decided to raise my own chickens (and ultimately later become a vegan). i truly believe we are what we eat, and i don’t want to eat added nasties in my food or consume animals that were never happy or ever saw the light of day. if you’re interested in learning more, my favorite book about it all is called veggie revolution.
now- onto more pleasant subjects!! there’s a lot to learn about keeping hens, but the good news is that after researching lots of hobby farm animals, chickens win for the easiest and most fun animal to keep. so let’s start off with the basics: why would you want chickens? in addition to the above reasons: chickens don’t take up much land, are excellent for your garden and fertilizer, drastically reduce the number of ticks and other icky insects in your yard, are easy keepers, hilarious to watch and give you yummy eggs every day. a recent article from mother earth news shows that eggs raised on the farm have:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
and, if you feed them organic feed, you'll have organic eggs at your disposal all the time!
my chicks the day they arrived (back in 2008).
now that you now the why, we can move onto the how! more and more cities are now allowing you to keep chickens within city limits. check with your city or see chicken laws to see about your town. the good news is, getting and raising chickens is easy! my hands-down favorite place to order chicks from is from my pet chicken. with a minimum order of 3 (count them, 3!) chicks, you can pick and choose which breeds you like. they’re shipped out the day they hatch and arrive within a few days, all healthy and ready to meet ‘mommy’! all you need is a warm place to put them (i used a cardboard box), a waterer and a feeder. they’ll be big enough within about 5 weeks to be moved to a coop and soon they’ll be running around your yard. my pet chicken’s free e-care book has all the information you need about getting and rearing baby chicks, so i’m going to send you there for all the nitty gritties (but it’s easy, i promise!).
what kind of chickens are right for you? there are many different kinds and reasons people want chicks. some are for show, some are just fun to look at. some are colorful egg layers and some are only for meat. i picked mine on temperament (i wanted them to be sweet and not too ‘flighty’) and egg production. between my pet chicken’s breed list and henderson’s handy dandy chicken chart- i had a list of fav’s in no time.
where will you put them? in the first few weeks they’ll need to be somewhere that you can check in on them numerous times a day. keeping them in the kitchen for a few weeks is easy, then you can move them out into a heated barn, garage or extra room. after they’ve gotten big enough (about 5 weeks), you can move them to a coop. i’ve seen just about anything work, from a big walk-in coop to an old broken down car! anything that protects them from the weather and other wildlife (think snakes, cats and wolves) will suffice. you’ll need to be able to securely close them up at night and let them out in the morning. the setup should be very easy- they’ll need a pole to roost on at night, one nesting box per 4 birds to lay their eggs in and a feeder and waterer. if you live in the city or a close knit neighborhood, you’ll want to keep them in a fenced in area, yard or run, and if you live on acreage you can let them roam free!
- chickens smell. they don’t smell at all! as long as you keep a clean, dry coop all you’ll get is a whiff of cedar shavings.
- chickens are loud. sometimes in the morning they’ll squawk as they lay an egg but generally hens are very quite.
- you need a rooster. chickens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs! in fact, no industry egg from the grocery store has ever been fertilized. the only reason you need a rooster is if you want your eggs to hatch. (and roosters are where the noise comes from)!
- different colored eggs taste differently. you can have blue, green, white, beige and dark brown eggs and they all taste the same. egg color is a result of the color of calcium build up they have in their bodies, that’s all!
- chickens are stupid. sorry, chickens are smart. i promise.
- chicken’s and kids don’t mix. they do! hens are sweet, don’t peck and can be great teachers to young kids about where food comes from. i’ve seen many kids gathering eggs and carrying their hens around the yard!
my favorite resources:
- veggie revolution - about industry farming practices
- the femivore movement – my fav article on chicks with chicks
- my pet chicken’s free e-care book- a MUST read if you’re considering buying chicks!
- living with chickens – a beautiful and very informative read on rearing chickens