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Why Getting Chickens is a Great Idea for Your Homestead
Every spring, many new homesteaders take the plunge of getting chickens. This is the year you should too!
I’ve been raising chickens since 2009. We started off with 10 pullet chicks. Of course, once we had a chicken coop, it was only a matter of time before we added goats, sheep, turkeys, ducks, geese, etc to the homestead.
Chickens and goats were why we got involved in 4-H and FFA as kids. Some people even joke that chickens are a “homesteading gateway drug”- and most of the time it isn’t really a joke.
Whether you’re a long-time homesteader or just starting out, getting chickens is probably a great idea for you.
10 Reasons You Need to be Getting Chickens this Spring:
Eggs are the most obvious reason to add chickens to your homestead. Everyone loves eggs. Plus they’re an ingredient that can be used for just about anything- from baking to breakfast to a high-protein snack. Producing eggs in your own backyard means you can stop worrying about buying them from the grocery store. You can even preserve eggs in the spring (when your hens are probably producing more than you can eat!) for the slower, colder months.
The best part about eggs from your own hens isn’t the grocery savings or convenience though. The best part about homegrown eggs is their unbeatable quality. If you’ve never eaten a rich, bright orange-yolked, laid by a free-ranging hen that-very-morning egg- then you’ve never really had an egg. Once you go homegrown, you can’t go back!
2. High-quality compost
You probably weren’t expecting compost to be such a high item on this list, but its a deserved spot.
Compost is THE key to a productive garden year after year. Which means it is also the key to homegrown veggies on your table and in your pantry. A sizeable, productive compost pile needs both plenty of browns (think straw, fallen leaves, wood shavings, paper, etc.) and lots of greens (think manures, veggie scraps, egg shells, etc.).
The cleanings from your chicken coop just so happen to be both greens and browns. Poop and wood chips. Droppings and straw. Whatever you scoop from your coop- it’s the perfect addition to your homestead’s compost pile. And, ultimately, the secret ingredient to the best homegrown veggies.
3. Homegrown chicken
You’re probably getting into chickens with the intention to have a few laying hens, and maybe a rooster, just to get away from store-bought eggs. But raising your own meat chickens is easier than you might think. And the results? Delicious!
Whether you decide to go all in with a big batch of Cornish Rock Cross Broilers- or just process a few roosters-that-we-swore-were-pullets- homegrown chicken can’t be beat. You have complete control over the entire process. You’ll know exactly what the chickens were fed and how they were raised. You can ensure that they lead the best possible lives and have the most humane deaths possible.
The kind of quality assurance and connection that you get with homegrown meat can’t be bought for any price.
4. Improving your lawns/pasture
This is one area of chicken keeping that we’ve only begun to really dive into recently. It turns out that, with careful management, chickens can help to improve your lawn (or pasture).
Chickens are scratching machines with voracious appetites. This can mean total destruction of any and all vegetation- if they aren’t kept in line. But with some care, chickens can help vegetation thrive. The best example of chickens contributing to pasture health that I know of is at Polyface Farms. Their broilers and laying hens are integral parts of their rotational grazing system. While I don’t have hundreds of acres of grass and a herd of cows, I can take the concept and apply it on a smaller scale. Allowing the chickens to rotate through different parts of the yard (by way of tractors, temporary fencing, or just limiting how often they free-range) means that there is an even application of manure, and an even aeration (scratching) of the soil surface.
5. Putting an End to Food Waste
Believe it or not, there have been actual studies done to determine how backyard chickens could reduce food waste, shrink your carbon footprint, and save cities money. And, probably unsurprisingly to the homesteaders in the room, these studies found that chickens really could have a meaningful impact.
For example, this study, looked at the benefits of backyard chickens in Austin, Texas. They found that 24 chickens (or 8 households with 3 chickens each) would consume 1 TON (2,000lbs!) of food waste per year. They also produced only half the greenhouse gas that would been produced if the food had decomposed at the dump instead. They concluded, “For all three methods of analysis, the results indicate that backyard chickens are a highly desirable, cost effective, and environmentally positive way to address food waste.”
If eggs, meat, and compost weren’t enough- maybe helping the environment is enough of a motivation to put a coop up in the backyard?
6. Tilling up your garden
This benefit to chicken keeping isn’t without some risk. Chickens are -very- efficient at tearing up a garden. Letting them in during the height of summer would be a recipe for disaster. But during the off seasons? That’s a whole different story.
Letting the birds come in to the garden and poke around in the spring is a good way to prep for planting. They can scratch the surface of the beds and eat up any bugs or newly-germinated weeds. In the fall, after the last of your harvest has been gathered, they can pick through whatever you’ve left behind and gently till it into the soil. Free food for them, and less digging for you- win-win.
7. Chicks- for getting even more chickens.
After any length of time with backyard hens, you’ll inevitably want a few more. If you have some mature hens and a rooster, chicks can easily be part of your future.
Some breeds of chicken, such as Buff Orpingtons and Silkies, are prone to going broody regularly. (Going broody means the hens will stay in the nest box day and night, firmly sitting on their eggs to keep them warm.) With these hens, you can give them space to hatch eggs and they’ll take care of everything themselves. If none of your birds go broody, or you want chicks hatched on a particular timeline, incubators are an inexpensive (and fun) investment. In just 3 weeks you can go from fresh egg to new chicks.
8. Bug & vermin control
You may be surprised to learn that chickens are actually pretty viscous. If our hens find a mouse or a small snake, they will chase it down without hesitation. Once the whole flock has caught up, a fight inevitably breaks out over such a delicious treat. I’m glad I’m not a chicken, but I’m grateful for their indiscriminate tastes.
If your chickens can free range, at least every so often, they’ll no doubt put a dent in your vermin population too. Anything from snakes to mice, potato bugs to earthworms, scorpions to spiders- if it moves within sight of a hen, she’s going to devour it.
Chicken watching can be extremely entertaining. They have personalities, and those personalities can lead to little spats and clashes over the course of the day. Add some treats to the mix, and whether you intended to or not, you’ll lose track of time watching their antics. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my husband and I were spending weekends chicken-watching when we first started dating. It’s a fun time- don’t knock it until you try it.
10. Chores for children.
I’ve been keeping chickens since I was 11 years old. So I was the kid that had “chicken chores” growing up (along with my 6 younger siblings of course). Now that I’m a mom, I can see the benefits of chickens and chicken chores from a different perspective.
Chickens are small, generally docile, and easy to work with. All traits that make them a great chore for kids. Whether you just dictate collecting eggs or everything related to the birds, chicken chores are a great way to give the youngest farmers around some responsibility. Chores that they can handle themselves will give them buy-in and a sense of pride about the work that they do. It will also help develop routines that will serve them as they grow.
Bonus! 11. They WILL pave the way for new ventures
I’ve never met someone who started with some chickens and stuck to only chickens. Whether you add ducks, rabbit, or go all in with the milk cow and the acreage- chickens will inevitably lead to homestead expansion. It may start out innocently- a few extra garden beds to use up the extra compost for instance- but it’s going to lead to growth. Let it. Embrace it. See where a handful of hens can take you.
If you’ve been considering adding chickens to your homestead, I hope that this post will be the inspiration that you’ve needed to take the plunge. They are hilarious little critters that bring so much to the table. From eggs to antics, compost to tillage, chicks to chores- chickens are a great way to get started down the homesteading path.
Thanks for reading and happy homesteading!
Wondering how easy it is to keep chickens? It all starts with the coop. Read more here! Limited on space or constrained by an HOA? Maybe a small flock of quail can work for you. You can read all about keeping Coturnix quail at a small scale here.
Wondering what it looks like to have chickens on the homestead from season to season? Check out this post that details how everything changes throughout the year, from chores to egg production.