Being raised on a farm, owning chickens is a natural thing for me, but when someone asked me about my personal reasons for owning chickens, I had to stop and think. Is it because we always have, or are there more personal beliefs and reasons? The answer is both. My grandmother had chickens so caring for them, and helping to butcher them was part of my upbringing.
My grandmother had Rhode Island Reds, “Domineckers,” Black Australorps, and the usual mutts running around everywhere. She taught me most everything I know about owning chickens from feeding them to eating them – I just can’t list it all. We’re sustenance farmers so they’re not a hobby and don’t keep our chickens as pets. They’re contributors to our livelihood by their meat, eggs, and their many other benefits. She instilled the love of chickens in me and I’ve stayed in love with these feathered friends for 30-plus years of owning chickens myself.
There are, for me, five reasons why I love owning chickens:
Everyone loves raising chickens for eggs! Eggs fresh from your coop are immeasurably better tasting and healthier than any commercial egg you can buy. The degree to which this is true depends largely on what you feed your chickens. Our chickens free range so they choose their food; it’s mostly protein in the form of bugs, rodents, and worms. We supplement with garden produce; kitchen scraps like dairy, (most) fruits; and organic, non-GMO prepared feed when we don’t have any homemade feed available.
Hens begin to lay between 5 to 7 months of age depending on the breed and its general well-being. It takes a hen about 24 hours to lay an egg and they lay at different times of the day. I have one that lays before I get out to do chores and one that lays just before evening chores. Everyone else is in between. More about egg laying. Granny had me toss a little grain at night because a “warm, well-fed hen is a happy hen and a happy hen lays happy eggs.”
My Black Australorps and Speckled Sussex are champion layers. I had to cull some older girls and so to decide who needed to go, we went through the process of recording laying patterns. Out of the 120 days of recording, these two breeds lay an average of 115 eggs each! The Rhode Island Reds weren’t too far behind them.
Being sustenance farmers, we choose dual-purpose chicken breeds. They provide eggs and meat for us. Our birds dress out between 5 to 9 pounds, depending on the breed and whether it’s a hen or a rooster.
The peace of mind that comes with knowing how the animal I’m eating was treated, what it was fed, so in turn, what I’m eating, and how it was butchered and processed is important to us. We’re not alone — many people raising meat chickens do it just for these same reasons.
While chickens won’t eat the same amount of bugs as a guinea will, they still eat plenty of nasty guys. They are known for eating:
Mice: Yes, the first time I saw it, one of the hens was running from the others with something in her mouth. I went to investigate and it was a mouse…she ate it all!
Spiders: I had a friend tell me she got chickens the first time to help with a black widow problem she had, they fixed it for her.
Worms: We vermipost so I don’t let them into my compost area, but they have their own spots and in the fall we turn them loose in the garden.
Not to mention grubs, beetles (they love these guys), ticks – you get the idea.
Virtually Free Fertilizer
I say virtually because of the cost of any feed you provide them. Let’s face it, there’s really nothing free; it all cost someone, somewhere, something.
It’s not good to put fresh chicken manure on your plants because the nitrogen content can burn plants quickly. We put their manure in our compost pile and in the back of the chicken yard. They’ll scratch through it in their yard and in a year there will be a layer of rich chicken yard dirt for my potting soil mix
If you just mix it in your compost pile and let it be, it will be 6 months to a year before it’s ready. Turning your compost regularly shortens this time to 4 to 6 months. Also, there’s manure tea. Your garden and flowers will love it.
Be careful not to pour it on the leaves. It’s easily made by putting manure in a burlap sack, placing it in a large container, and covering it with water. The size of the container depends on how much manure you have. We have more than 30 laying birds and I use a 30-gallon trash can for this. Let it sit a couple of days and it’s ready.
My favorite way to use it is to spread it on the garden in the fall and let the girls scratch it in as they clean up the garden. By spring, the soil’s enriched and ready to go!
That’s right. If you’ve never sat and watched a flock of birds, especially free-range chickens, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you have chickens, then you’re smiling right now because you’re thinking about the comical flock you own. There’s such a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes that add variety, personality, and interest to a flock.
I find some breeds are more friendly than others. It seems chickens are pretty basic creatures, but there’s always some who stand out in the flock. They have quirky personalities, some like to “talk” more than others, some like to be held and petted, some just like to be stroked, some just like to cause trouble.
What about you? Why do you love owning chickens? Are you thinking about starting chicken keeping? Be sure to share with us by commenting below.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.