Homegrown Eggs In Your Own Backyard
For those of us who live an organic lifestyle (or try really hard to), it's knowing where our food comes from that matters to us most. What confirmed my conversion was learning my son's developmental delays were due to a dysfunctional digestive system and vitamin deficiency. Since his system can't efficiently remove toxins, I have to minimize his exposure. My sister's organic choices are based on healthy eating and being environmentally conscious. Both of us have chicken coops in the backyard because homegrown organic eggs are an important way we can contribute to our family's health and be environmentally "green".
Many supermarkets today do a terrific job carrying organic products, but that still requires us to trust a label. The term "certified organic" can be really confusing because of differing state regulations and industries. Raising your own backyard hens in a chicken-tractor has some distinct advantages over the carton of organic eggs purchased in a store. It can be achieved in even very small backyards. Here are some of the advantages:
No egg is more rewarding than eating the one you just collected that morning from your own chickens.
You know exactly what you are eating because you feed the chickens - grass, scraps, organic feed, soy-free feed, etc... Grass-fed or pastured chickens have the highest levels of Omega 3, beta carotene, and vitamin E in their eggs compared to store bought.
Unless you buy local organic eggs, there is the carbon footprint from shipping and transportation (may even be out-of-state).
If you have children, chickens are perfect way to communicate the values of responsibility and informed food choices. Kids these days are disconnected to the origins of food. Many have never seen a live farm animal, much less tended one.
Proper use of a chicken-tractor fertilizes the yard with no use of chemicals. It's green living.
Chickens are fun and beautiful animals. They can provide hours of entertainment (running, pecking, exploring) and many become beloved household pets.
Home raised chickens are happy chickens. They don't live in tiny cages or have their beaks cut off. They aren't stuffed with medication or forced to molt. They can live a carefree lifestyle envious of anyone.
Chicken owners are like a special community. You'll connect with people who have a fascinating view on life, just like you.
Even with these terrific reasons for raising backyard chickens, many still hesitate. There are the questions of time, money, convenience, city regulations, and all that chicken poop. For you doubters, here are some answers:
Tending chickens, like any other pet, does take time. Some make it an extensive hobby but it doesn't have to be. A lot of it depends on how the tending is arranged. Getting the right coop makes a huge difference. Make sure the family is on board in their participation, and get connected with other chicken owners. There is a vast online community happy to help. Owning chickens 20 years ago and owning them now are worlds apart (kind of like raising kids).
Chickens are a long-term investment and require upfront capital to get started, but keep in mind the returns are more than saving a few bucks at the grocery store (reference the list above). A hen can lay eggs for many years. A good coop can also last many years. In any case, certified organic eggs are the most expensive eggs to purchase so breaking even in the long run is not impossible.
Modern society is all about convenience. We want it all with little effort on our part. Well chicken coop manufacturers have caught on and the options appear endless (like that helps). I recommend a chicken-tractor for backyard poultry owners because of its size and benefits. These can be tricky to build so getting a reliable, prefab one will save a lot of heartache. Believe me, there is a whole science to building a quality coop. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand. You get what you pay for. Here are some quick shopping tips for making a selection:
Make sure the coop is durable against weather and predators. In suburban areas dogs are the biggest problem. Many coops come with a sunroom or run which are good for chickens but can be an area of weakness for predators if not built well.
Use accessories like nipple waterers and feeders with a storage bin. This keeps you from having to feed the chickens twice a day (unless you want to).
The coop should have nests and a way to collect the eggs externally. You don't want to climb into a coop and search for eggs. The coop also needs a roost so the hens can sleep comfortably.
A chicken-tractor coop helps keep chicken poop under control. Regular coops require the poop to be removed (that's a thankless job). A mobile coop moved every day or so spreads the manure as fertilizer. The coop should still be periodically cleaned (sprayed down) a couple times a year. Access doors make this easier. Read here for a comparison between a traditional coop and a mobile coop.
If looks are important, there are many cute coops on the market. Just don't fall victim to only aesthetic charm. Function will matter more to you than form in terms of convenience.
Most cities have a regulation regarding poultry or livestock in your backyard. Many cities allow for chickens in small numbers and without roosters. If you aren't sure and don't want to risk a fine, check it out in advance. If they aren't legal you can bet there are citizens already petitioning for a change. Help them out. Chickens are becoming very urban.
Besides eating healthy, backyard chickens are a great family project or personal hobby. If you have computer savvy kids, get them to research chicken breeds, coops, and social networks for support. Set aside a family day to build or assemble the coop. Pick chicken names. Argue over who gets to collect the fresh eggs. Wow friends and extended family with a tasty, fortifying quiche (spinach from the garden, right?).