There’s a wave sweeping the country and it carries a faint chirping sound. The backyard chicken trend is making chicken-raising almost as commonplace as zucchini-growing. Even major cities have passed ordinances allowing chickens, and I’m happy to say my own town of Caldwell Idaho recently passed ordinances allowing up to 10 hens after some lively city council meetings. My family is starting over again with another chicken project after our last batch was visited by a neighbor’s pit pull (grrrr…..). Sure, there aren’t many critters cutter than a baby chick, but is keeping chickens thrifty?
Here are some of the reasons my family loves chickens:
1. They are fun little pets that can be quite tame when you handle them from birth.
2. Their waste is great compost for the garden.
3. They love to eat kitchen leftovers! Chickens need their chicken feed to stay healthy and make eggs with nice hard shells, but ours are heavily supplemented with grass from the yard, wilted lettuce from the fridge, and even the daily scraps from picky kids’ plates. Chickens can eat almost everything (with only a few exceptions) and they seem to love the variety. I have even seen our chickens play the most hilarious football game with a corn dog dropped in the yard. They chased each other, picked up fumbles, and ran all over until the corn dog was gone. Hardly any food goes to waste with chickens. I think it is nothing short of miraculous that yesterday’s leftover oatmeal is recreated as today’s lovely egg.
4. Chickens eat bugs if you keep them free-range, or allow them to wander through the yard in the evenings. Because kids and chicken poop don’t mix well in our small yard, we keep our chickens in a big coop with a fenced run for their exercise. We often let them out to eat bugs and play with the kids.
5. They don’t bark. Most people aren’t bothered by the clucking sounds hens make. (But beware, you may occasionally get a loudmouth chicken with an attitude.) When shopping for most chicken breeds, you will know if you are getting a hen or a louder rooster before you make the purchase.
6. The eggs are nutrient-rich. Because the backyard chicken’s diet is much more diverse than the typical mass produced egg from mega-farm raised chickens, you’ll notice a deeper orange yolk, showing extra vitamins, amino-acids, and carotenoids.
7. They are pets that can be held and played with, while also teaching kids responsibility.
8. Perhaps the best reason I like my chickens are for food safety and self-reliance. When there is a salmonella scare, I have always stopped using store eggs. With our own small flock, we are less scared of contamination. And if there are ever food shortages, I’ll still be able to eat my omelets. (And if worse comes to worse, I guess we could even eat our chickens.)
So, there are lots of good reasons to keep chickens. But are they thrifty? The easy answer is…maybe. If you buy regular old eggs for a dollar a dozen, don’t use them very often, and calculate start-up costs and feed costs, you’d probably save a little bit. But, if you value free-range or organic eggs at three dollars a dozen, you would save a bundle. The eggs you raise in your backyard are so much better for your health and they are as fresh as they come.
But the real thriftiness of chickens comes from choosing a chicken as a family pet. Even a hamster or guinea pig start-up would probably cost more, and rodents don’t give you food back for your trouble. Our start-up costs this time around were $46.00 from Dunlap Hatchery, including a bag of feed, the cedar shavings for bedding, heat light bulb, feeder, waterer, and several chicks. We already had the heat lamp, thermometer, and books on raising chickens. As they get bigger, they need a coup. We built ours from leftover scrap wood from the set of a play and some chicken wire. You can get more information on buying all sorts of different chicks and the supplies they need at www.dunlaphatchery.net. For information on the amazing breeds, coup styles, chicken-raising basics, and testimonials from true chicken-lovers, you can visit my family’s go-to site, www.backyardchickens.com. Spring is the season for starting baby chicks.
This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive study of chicken-raising, but if you are in the market for a family pet plus some tasty home-raised eggs, maybe this post will get you thinking thrifty and thinking chickens.