Before we start discussing chickens, I want to let you know that I don’t have any chickens. I’ve never had any chickens, backyard or otherwise. My husband and I were determined to get a few girls last year but our resident raccoon population deterred us. That and the fact that our backyard is uneven…we couldn’t figure out how to keep the backyard chickens safe from predators. We didn’t want them in a coop…we wanted them on fresh green grass in a tractor.
A tractor? For those who aren’t familar with chicken tractors, they’re essentially a movable pen that has a run for them to access fresh ground each day and a coop where they can be safe at night. Here’s a visual for you:
Chicken tractors can be simple or complex…cheaply made or extravagant. It’s up to you…the chickens won’t mind either way.
What are the benefits of backyard chickens?
- Backyard chickens are composting machines. Throw in your kitchen scraps and you get manure and eggs. Seems like a good trade off to me.
- They can help with insect control. We have all sorts of little creatures crawling around in our backyard. Chickens can help with ticks, beetles, spiders, caterpillars, grubs…you name the insect and they’ll pretty much eat it.
- They can improve your soil. As they’re busy ingesting all of the yummies that you give them and the goodies they find on their own, they’re producing manure for you. Chicken manure has to be composted before it can added to your garden but if you move them daily, the fertilizer they leave behind on your lawn will be just fine.
- Backyard chickens can clean up your garden for you. If your girls are in a tractor, move your tractor to your garden a few weeks before you’re ready to plant. They’ll go after any insects that are hanging out waiting for your veggies to be planted, they’ll weed the garden (to a point…they are chickens after all) and they’ll fertilize. When you’re finished with the garden in the fall, let them back into the garden to clean up insects that are left behind. They’ll scratch your weeds into the soil and fertilize again.
- Eggs! Unless you’re a vegan, eggs are enjoyed by most people in one form or another. You may not want scrambled eggs every morning (I do!) but chances are you bake a cake once in a while. Studies have shown that eggs from backyard chickens and those raised on pasture have the perfect ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Eggs that you purchase from the grocery store are more than likely from chickens raised in confinement housing and their fatty acid ratios are completely out of whack. Here’s a picture I took of eggs from my local producer, Cardinal Hill Farms, and those from the grocery store. The eggs from the grocer are touted as cage free, certified organic and vegetarian fed. Besides the fact that chickens are omnivores, let’s see what the picture reveals.
The locally produced egg’s yolk is deep orange and sits up nice and proud whereas the cage free, “certified organic” egg’s yolk is pale yellow and flat. I’ll take my non-certified organic, locally produced egg any day.
The last thing I want to discuss regarding backyard chickens is meat. Also known as broilers, meat birds are raised for well, ummmm, meat. It may seem cruel to you to butcher your own birds but I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s not. I volunteered at Avery’s Branch Farm in Amelia, VA on Tuesday to help them process chickens. I don’t have any pictures to share but here is a video from Polyface Farms showing their operation. It’s worth watching!
I was hesistant about the whole process at first but I felt like it was important to know how chicken processing works on a family farm. It’s not nearly as horrible as people think it is. The chickens are put in killing cones where two cuts are made on each side of the neck. The chickens bleed out quickly, in usually less than a minute. They are then placed in scalding water to help loosen the feathers and then they are plucked in a plucker. The heads are removed, then the feet and the oil gland are removed and then they are eviscerated. I worked at the evisceration station for most of the process and it’s actually a pretty cool process. You learn the anatomy of the chicken and it truly makes you realize how impossible it is to pay 99 cents per pound for a chicken that is actually healthy for you to eat. We processed 300 chickens that day. Three hundred chickens that will be sold to support a family farm.
So, do you have backyard chickens? Are they in a coop or tractor or free range? Do you have layers or broilers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!