What was once considered a necessary part of life on the farm has now turned into a hobby for the masses. It doesn’t matter where you live – be it in the middle of town or way out in the country, you too can have chickens. It is possible to reap the benefits of keeping chickens for yourself wherever you call home.
Ease of Keeping Chickens
Keeping chickens can be as easy and carefree or as complicated and involved as you choose. Chickens don’t require a lot of space nor a lot of equipment which is something that adds to their appeal. Their needs are fairly simple.
Food and Water
Just like humans or any other creature, the first and most vital need for a chicken is water. There are many types of waterers and vessels to use, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that the water must be clean and fresh. Temperature is another consideration. In the heat of the summer, be sure the water stays shaded and cool enough to drink. For the winter, ensuring that the water isn’t frozen and that the birds can access it at all times is a top priority. Fresh, nutritious feed is the other requirement for keeping happy, healthy chickens. One of the key words here is “fresh”. Don’t feed your birds anything with bugs or mold in or on it. Feed can go bad fast so inspect your feedbags and bins on a regular basis. Also be sure to keep your feeders clean at all times. Birds are messy so this is an ongoing task. It is imperative that the food you provide is appropriate for the age and type of bird you are raising. There are many products commercially available that make it easy to always feed the right food at the right time for every stage of your chicken’s life. For example, you will feed chick starter for growing birds, layer mash for laying hens, and so on.
The main goal of any chicken shelter is to keep the chooks comfortable. A chicken coop doesn’t have to be elaborate or fancy as long as your chickens can get out of inclement weather. Depending on your area and climate, you may only require a simple lean-to versus an enclosed building or hut. Whichever you decide to provide, keep in mind the changes in the seasons and plan accordingly. Make sure your shelter has a nesting box and a roost or somewhere for the birds to perch at night, even a tree branch will suffice.
One of the most often given reasons for keeping chickens is “self-sufficiency”. Just like with the produce from their garden, people love to be able to enjoy as well as show off the eggs they’ve gathered from their very own hens. Aside from the obvious financial benefits, there is a comfort knowing where at least part of your food is coming from. The knowledge of what your birds are being fed and thus using to create the eggs you’re eating and meat you’re consuming is invaluable. It gives you a small measure of control to be able to decide what is going into your chickens’ diet and ultimately yours.
Help in the Garden
Keeping chickens and gardening seem to go hand-in-hand for most people. It is quite common to find a few hens roaming around the late-summer garden. There are many reasons gardeners make use of these handy helpers: Bug Control – Chickens are notorious for chasing anything that moves. When your garden is full of bugs, this is a lovely trait to take advantage of. The birds help keep the bug population in check for you, while also providing themselves with a nutritious, protein-filled snack. Compost – Chicken manure and feathers are a helpful additive to the compost pile or bin. They break down and provide a mega-dose of organic material to your compost. (Just be sure that the chicken manure is aged as it can burn your plants if applied when fresh.) Tillage – Turning over the soil is yet another way the chickens can help you in the garden. When you allow the birds into the garden after harvest, they dig in and aerate the soil while leaving behind droppings for future fertilizer. (Be sure you protect any tender plants or those that you want to keep for next year as your hens can get quite forceful in their scratching.)
A growing number of poultry hobbyists have found that they are raising chickens for the sheer joy of having the birds in their lives. People are finding that chickens have a lot more personality than previously thought. They can be friendly and affectionate, quite entertaining, and even provide companionship. Chickens are also being given a lot more credit for being smarter than their reputation allows. The term “bird brains” has some basis in fact, but people are observing a larger range of their behaviour as they spend more quality time with their chickens. They are definitely an animal that relies on instinct first, but they can be trained to follow a routine as well as perform tasks and tricks.
While raising chickens isn’t necessarily an expensive venture, it is still nice to be able to recoup some of the money being shelled out. For most backyard keepers, the simple idea of the birds paying for their own food is a great start. Here are a few ways your chickens can help with the bills:
- Egg Sales – both eating and fertilized hatching eggs
- Meat Sales – you can offer processing services as well as meat birds ( subject to your local Council rules and regulations)
- Live Bird Sales – chicks, juveniles, and adults
- Compost – aged chicken manure is a favorite with gardeners worldwide
- Feathers – crafters and fishing fly tiers crave special feathers for their work
- Custom hatching/incubation – hatching eggs for yourself and others makes money
- Raising/showing rare breeds – specialize in unusual and rare breeds
Having poultry is a great learning opportunity for yourself as well as a teaching opportunity for children and others. There are many aspects of taking care of a few hens or an entire flock that will carry over into everyday life:
- Where Food Comes From – It is a shame that in these modern times, many children (and even some adults) are unaware of where their food comes from. They have no idea what it takes for those eggs and chicken breasts to show up at the market and then appear on their plate at home.
- The Circle of Life – The life cycle of a chicken is a fairly simple and easily taught topic that can help illustrate the complete circle of life. It can also help young children understand the concepts of life and death. They are witness to the entire process from a hatching egg to the end of a bird’s life.
- Responsibility and Care – Taking care of a living, breathing creature is something that most humans will undertake at some point in their life. Because caring for chickens is usually a pretty easy job, it helps teach young children how to be responsible.
- Becoming an Entrepreneur – It seems lemonade stands or newspaper routes are the most popular first jobs. Chicken keeping can offer a great alternative for the enterprising youngster. Many young farmers got their start by selling eggs from their backyard flocks.
Exhibition / Showing
One of the rewards of raising your own chickens is being able to share your joy in them with others. Many chicken keepers will find themselves yearning to show their neighbors how wonderful their birds are. This can lead to the exciting world of show birds. Similar to the realm of cat, dog, and livestock exhibition, chickens and other poultry have their own place in the show ring and the spotlight. These poultry shows are not only for junior exhibitors or the professional breeders. Anyone with a bird or group of birds they are proud of can participate. Your local poultry fancier association can help you get started.
The Time is Now
This article showcases just a handful of the many benefits that can be derived from keeping chickens. Each person and family will have their own reasons for jumping into this enjoyable and sometimes profitable hobby. There are no other pets or companion animals that can provide you with breakfast, company, gardening help, money on the side, and an excellent learning opportunity. So what are you waiting for?