Are Backyard Chickens Right For You?
Maybe it’s the daily fresh eggs, free fertilizer, or a chicken’s innate desire to eat bugs (I mean, who wouldn’t want less ticks in their yard?) Either way, there are many other things to consider before adding a flock, even a small one, to your backyard.
First, you don’t want to ruffle any feathers, especially your neighbors. You’ll want to check with your town ordinances on poultry zoning to confirm your town or city allows personal chicken flocks.
If your property is small, make sure your neighbors are as excited as you are (throwing in free eggs can sweeten the deal!) Even with frequent cleanings of their coop you can still count on an odor, and depending on which way the wind blows it might not make for harmonious encounters if your neighbors aren’t expecting it.
Meet my flock of Plymouth Barred Rocks: Kernel Reginald and his 5 lady hens:
My flock is free-range, meaning I let them out of the coop in the morning, and they roam in the yard during the day. I recently learned they started walking through the arbor to visit my neighbors, who love them, but ensuring your neighbors won’t mind if they make guest appearances is important for everyone to get along.
Another thing to consider are the slugs, worms and grubs that live under your grass, which are delicious to chickens. Some chickens may scratch their way to a feast, tearing up your yard. Mine have yet to do this, but certainly something to be aware of if you have a prize-winning manicured lawn. On that note, we have a natural, chemical-free property, (no pesticides or store-bought fertilizers) to ensure what the chickens eat will not poison them or their eggs. They take care of the bugs and provide fertilizer, what more could you ask for? Oh, we have you covered with a natural weed killer recipe:
1 Gallon Vinegar
1 Cup of Salt
8 Drops of Dish Soap
- Stir all ingredients together in a bucket until well combined.
- Transfer to a spray-top container.
- Spray on the weeds 2-3 times in a seven-day period.
If you are not able to let your chickens free-range, you can create an outdoor area for them, enclosing or extended off of the coop so they have access to shade and their nesting boxes. Here are some guidelines:
- Make sure there is enough room for them, at least 10 square feet per chicken is ideal.
- Chicken wire keeps chickens in but will not keep predators out. I would suggest ½” wire mesh fencing. It comes on a roll like chicken wire, is very strong and can be found at any hardware store.
- You will need to install the fencing 12 inches into the ground, to account for the predators that dig. Adding rocks or gravel on either side of the fencing under the ground helps too.
Remember almost all wild animals want to get at your chickens, their eggs, or their food: Snakes, raccoons, skunks, foxes, dogs, fisher cats (abundant here in New England!) chipmunks, mice, and the list goes on. Luckily, most of the carnivorous creatures are most active at night, when your chickens are safe in their coop.
The time commitment is similar to any other animal, in cleaning, and providing food and water. Chickens return the favor and contribute in many ways benefiting your health and well-being.
Eggs from free ranging pastured chickens are nutritionally superior to supermarket eggs. That’s because pastured chickens will eat as varied a diet as we do when it’s offered to them. Along with lots of bugs and worms for protein they help themselves to all of the edible weeds in your yard, and whatever garden plants they deem tasty, and that generates more nutritious and better tasting eggs! Chickens enjoy all kinds of vegetables, fruits and grain products, and will consume fruit and veggie peelings as well as leftover oatmeal. In 2007, Mother Earth News completed an egg testing project and published the results (1). Egg samples from 14 different flocks around the US, were sent to an accredited laboratory in Portland, OR to test for nutrient content, and compare their findings against the Department of Agriculture’s nutrient data for commercial eggs. Test results showed that compared to regular commercial eggs, eggs from hens free ranging on pasture may generally contain:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4-6 times more vitamin D
“High Omega 3” eggs available in supermarkets are produced by the addition of flaxseed or flax oil to chicken feed, and can elevate the Omega 3 content to as much as 225 mg of Omega 3 per egg. Testing has shown that eggs from pastured chickens may contain even higher amounts of Omega 3, up to even double the amount in a commercially produced “high Omega 3” egg. Nutrient content does vary according to what is available for the chickens to forage as well as the type of supplemental food they are offered. But eggs from pastured chickens typically offer a very good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, just one more reason to enjoy eggs from pastured or “backyard” chickens!