Benefits at a glance
Backyard chickens are known to support and promote
- Food security
- Healthful food production and practices
- Urban permaculture
- Community building
Benefits in detail
- Eggs from well-tended backyard chickens are healthier. Factory farmed chickens live their lives without ever touching the soil or being allowed to hunt and peck for bugs. They are fed an unnatural and unvaried diet. These environmental conditions are designed to produce eggs quickly and cheaply in the factory farm. But the result is an egg that is less nutritious than eggs produced by chickens allowed to exercise, peck for bugs and engage in their natural chicken-y behavior.
In contrast to factory farm eggs, eggs from backyard chickens have 25 percent more vitamin E, a third more vitamin A and 75 percent more beta carotene. They also have significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed eggs.
- Eggs from backyard chickens are tastier. Eggs purchased in the grocery store can be days—even weeks—old. As these eggs age, air seeps into the naturally porous eggshell, degrading not just the nutrition, but also the taste and affecting the consistency of the egg.
Fresh eggs from backyard chickens have firmer whites and bright orange yolks. (That’s the beta carotene). But the real difference is in the taste. Backyard chicken eggs have a more robust taste that is difficult to describe.
- Chickens are natural composters from start to finish. Chickens love to eat table scraps and just about anything you were otherwise going to put in your compost. On the other end of things, chicken droppings are high in nitrogen. Added to the compost bin they add more nitrogen and improve your compost. Chicken manure is a highly regarded additive to soil for most gardeners and is sold in garden centers regularly.
- Chickens provide natural insect and weed control. As they hunt and peck around the yard, chickens gobble up grubs, earwigs and other bugs, treating our garden pests as tasty, nutritious treats. They are also veracious eaters – dandelions being one of their favorites.
- Their scratching for bugs is good for the soil. Chickens are enthusiastic foragers and will scratch around in the leaves and soil searching for the tastiest morsels. As they do, they aerate the soil and break down larger pieces of vegetation with their sharp talons, accelerating the decomposition process.
- Chickens are fun and interesting and can provide human companionship similar to cats or dogs. Every chicken has a personality—and lots of it. They aren’t particularly smart, but when properly socialized, chickens can be very friendly and even do tricks.
- Backyard chickens provide education, lessons on responsibility and where food comes from. Tending chickens is pleasurable and even easier than caring for a dog. There is no walking the chickens or even giving them a bath. But chickens do require daily food and fresh water. The coop must be cleaned and the chickens inspected regularly to ensure they are healthy. Children can participate in all of these chicken-related chores.
Of course, the eggs must also be collected daily. The average laying hen will product about 300 eggs a year, but production depends much on the breed and the environment. The happier the hens, the more they will produce. A child’s favorite chicken-related chore is bound to be collecting eggs.
- The keeping of backyard hens allows hens to live out their lives in humane conditions with caring and attentive owners. The conditions most chickens are forced to exist in, in large commercially run operations, are deplorable as they are housed by the thousands and crammed three or four into a cage. As mentioned, most of these hens are never see natural sunlight or touch the earth in their entire lives.
- The keeping of backyard hens supports food security and fits into environmentally-sustainable living practices such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the 100 Mile Diet, and urban homesteading. It is also extremely cost-effective and requires very little capital to invest in terms of start-up.
- Chickens promote community through sharing of information, resources, supplies, and of course eggs. This is furthered through initiatives that bring Chickens to community gardens as well as chicken co-ops such as those being run in.
(Much of the above was written by Robin Ripley of the Gardening Examiner: http://www.examiner.com/gardening)