Why Raise Chickens In Your Backyard? The Many Reasons & Benefits
Backyard chickens provide excellent benefits in not only food production but also external environmental control systems such as insect control and compostable materials. Sometimes, owning a couple chickens is more expensive than buying a dozen eggs at the store. With backyard chickens, in order to have the most cost efficient backyard flock, one must weigh the input factors such as cost of supplies, housing, feed, and the cost and number of chickens purchased versus the food output and environmental benefits. The benefits should outweigh the negatives but it depends on an owner’s willingness to pay more if required for flock ownership.
Chickens lay eggs and provide meat for the table creating the probable benefit of lower food bills and more nutritious eggs. According to a study done by Mother Earth News (2007), eggs from free-range chickens are healthier than store-bought versions. Backyard flocks generally have some foraging capabilities, and are considered free-range in many instances due to the access to edible creepy crawlies.
Housing can be expensive, but if one plans to have chickens for longer than 10 years, the cost savings balance over time for higher priced setups. Building your own can alleviate the cost factor and drop the time needed to make up for the cost. There is no need for fancy housing so there is added benefit of using existing materials lying around the house. As long as the chicken house has a roof and walls, roost bars, and a nest box or two, the chickens will be fine and adapt to those conditions. Of course colder winter areas need insulation and a better building so location also factors in. Sizing the house is necessary based on the number in the flock. Generally, coops need 1 square foot of roosting space per standard chicken or two bantam chickens. If chickens will not be free range, 4 square foot of run or roaming space is required to alleviate crowded conditions. Prefabricated coop kits made especially for chickens can run from $300 to over $2000 depending on flock size. Building a coop from scratch costs much less than pre-fabricated coop kits. Housing choice can be cost effective boosting the benefit of having backyard chickens especially for future flocks.
Feed costs around $16.50 per 50 lb. bag. Depending on how much foraging and the number of chickens you have, the cost of feeding the flock varies. A small flock of six chickens with heavy foraging will go through a bag every two to three months, if that. The same flock with limited to no foraging will go through a bag a month making feed costs higher. If feed costs are higher, the benefits of backyard flocks relies not on cost, but on how willing you are to pay more for healthier home produced eggs versus store-bought versions. Not all chickens are economical eaters so the key for smaller backyard flocks is to purchase breeds of chickens such as sex-links, which are high egg producers, while being economical eaters. If meat is the goal, then heavier breeds such as Australorps or Jersey Giants would provide better meat but they are less economical eaters. Australorps are high egg producers, however, and that may outweigh the feed cost. Breed choice is high on the list for reaping cost benefits of eating homegrown eggs.
Another benefit of backyard chickens is pest control. Chickens love bugs such as roaches, earwigs, earthworms, fleas, ticks, and even snails or slugs. They unfortunately will not eat hard-shelled beetles, ants, or aphids. They will tear up plants to get to insects they love so be aware of that and plant accordingly. Another benefit is that their foraging can keep weeds down, especially dandelions. Keep a bowl of chicken grit available to aid digestion of plants and insects. Chicken grit adds to the costs of owning chickens; however, a large bag will last up to a year depending on flock size.
Organic gardeners love compost. Free compost is even better so having a pile out back is a benefit to yard owners. Chicken manure added to compost piles or compost bins decomposes into high nitrogen fertilizer for garden use. Be sure to add leaves and grass clippings with the manure for a well-balanced mixture. Do not put fresh manure directly onto plants or the manure will burn them. If you use shavings in the coop, be aware that shavings take years to decompose so be prepared to have the same compost pile for three or four years. Alternatively, sifting the manure out of the shavings and tossing the shavings in the trash is an option, or having a separate pile for slower compost that includes shavings. If you till your garden every year, you can add manure directly to the soil in early spring, wait another couple of weeks and till again before planting. In this manner, the manure ages enough not to be harmful to plants. Maureen Gilmer (2013) believes manure to be the cure for overworked, under fed garden and farm soils.
Research breed production and meat capability before adding or creating a backyard flock, otherwise, your costs of upkeep may outweigh the benefits. Excel spreadsheets work really well for making a pro and con list to see if backyard flocks will be beneficial or not for each individual’s specific needs. If setup correctly, a backyard flock can be very cost efficient and chicken owners will reap the benefits.
Meet Real Free Range Eggs. (2007, October/November). Retrieved from http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx#axzz2MJAi0XTm
Gilmer, M. (2013, January). The value of manure as fertilizer. Retrieved from http://siouxcityjournal.com/lifesty...cle_382882a6-1f1a-57e6-abec-e66e6f3da488.html
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