Pecking Order

There is currently a huge movement in the U.S.  More and more urbanites are becoming backyard chicken farmers (see http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2011/June/Backyard-Chickens-All-the-Rage-in-the-Big-Apple/).  Whether it is a fad, economics, healthy eating or an animal hobby, there are more and more people adding chickens to their list of necessities.  I had been wanting to own a small flock for a long time and finally got the chance when I purchased my 1/3 acre home replete with lawns, garden space, patio, sheds and a variety of fruit and nut trees.

Our 90 year old home had recently been remodeled, but the yard had been fallow for over five years.  After the guys raked up the two foot deep debris littering the entire yard and mowed the knee high grass and weeds, we discovered that whole entire armies of every kind of bug you can think of had made our yard its habitat.  And without the protective cover, they went on the move.  There wasn’t enough bug spray in Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware or Walmart combined to kill all the bugs – and some of them were beneficials which we would need when we got the gardens going.  Time for organic methods.

My sister brought over her old 5′ x 6′ coop and after building a shaky chicken wire run, we bought two bantams, Archie and Edith.  Bantams are the best bug eaters in the world next to anteaters.  They started gobbling up the bugs and within a couple of weeks, the ground in our yard was no longer “moving”.  Chickens are so entertaining to watch, that we decided we needed more and bought a banty hen named Big Mama, and her three daughters.  We soon learned that there is an unkind pecking order with chickens and even though Big Mama and the girls were the newest, they were also the biggest and eldest.  They picked on poor Edith.  The neighbors picked on Archie when he started crowing (all day and all night – worse than a barking dog) and animal control informed me of the city ordinances.  I could have up to five registered hens, but no roosters.  Archie got relocated and Edith died of a broken heart.  After that experience, we were more careful about housing the chickens together too soon.  Now we have a 10′ x 10′ coop with a 10′ x 10′ dog kennel chicken yard and currently have 7 regular laying hens (Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds) and one pretty little bantam, Winnie, who all provide us (and friends and neighbors) with two and half dozen eggs weekly.

Benefits of owning a personal flock of chickens:

  • No waste.  After recycling the approved items with the city, and feeding all food scraps to the chickens, we only have one bag of trash to dispose of each week.
  • Compost.  If you are a gardener or landscaper, you can fully appreciate the advantage of owning chickens.  The chicken yard is the compost bin.  We throw in all food scraps, weeds, grass, soiled straw from the coop and rabbit pen, windblown fruits and vegetables and the chickens eat it, scratch it, and add fresh manure which is dug out twice a year, “cooked” for another year and put on all plants and trees.
  • Insect, weed, and vermin eradication.  Chickens will eat most all bugs, spiders, centipedes, scorpions and small vermin like mice and voles.  They also eat huge quantities of weeds and if contained in a “tractor” will completely clear a spot of ground in hours.
  • Food.  Home grown eggs are not less expensive than store bought, but are more safe and nutritional (see http://handcraftedcoops.com/home-raised-eggs-offer-superior-nutrition ).  At least I know what my chickens are eating and that they are happy and healthy.  Also, if you’re not squeamish and your chickens aren’t pets, you will have a source of organic poultry for your freezer.  However, most city ordinances prohibit any kind of animal butchering.  You may have to seek out a local butcher or farmer to do the dirty deed.

Other eggcellent reasons can be found on this site, http://www.goodfoodworld.com/2011/05/a-dozen-reasons-to-have-urban-chickens/.

What will happen to my chickens if I lose my home?  No problem.  The coop is portable and they will either go with me or find a new home at my sister’s homestead or my son’s horse farm.  I can visit them any time.  Think you might want to venture forth into the backyard poultry craze?  Try http://www.backyardchickens.com/ for more information.