The chicken came first. Eight years ago when our dream to own a small farm looked like it just might become a reality our family started planning what farm animals we would raise. At the top of the list was chickens. Our “dream farm” was, to be honest, an out dated project house with 1.5 acres of neglected property but we had a vision.
Even though we were under a great deal of financial strain trying to make this dream materialize, and weeks and weeks of remodeling had to be done before moving in, we had chickens on the brain from day one. I spent nights online searching breeds and hatchery websites and when the time finally came to move to the farm, I timed the first shipment of chicks to arrive that same week we moved in. It was chaotic and probably not the best timing but we have never looked back and have been raising chickens ever since. Below are 5 reasons every family should raise chickens.
1. For the kids. It has been so rewarding to watch our kids learn responsibility by raising animals. Chickens are very kid friendly and a great way to introduce them to not only animal care, but where their food comes from. Through raising livestock they have learned to respect life and how to cope with loss and death of animals. They have also been blessed to witness and experience the miracle and excitement of new life.
We have an average of 30 laying hens at all times and each year we incubate and hatch at least that many chicks in a cabinet incubator I inherited from my Grandfather. The excitement of hatch day never gets old; you have not lived until you have watched a child watch a baby chick peep and then crack and then hatch from its shell. We built our first coop out of lumber left from the remodel and even before we had fencing up and it was a family affair. If only the kids were still this eager to work in the yard!
2. Food Source. Because our chickens are pasture raised and we control what they eat we have a constant supply of home grown, free range eggs. Eggs are one of the most amazing food sources and a healthy hen can lay over 300 eggs a year for up to 3 years. Chickens that are past their prime can be processed; but on our farm older laying hens are sold, and we use the money for feed. As much a we love chickens-there are no freeloaders allowed.
This year my 15 year old son has also taken on an additional 60 meat chickens. He is raising them in a chicken tractor in the pasture. He will sell off a portion of the birds when they are full grown in a few weeks and we will process the rest, also a great experience for youth, and fill our freezer with home grown whole organic chickens.
3. Pest control. Chickens are fantastic at pest control and depending on how far you let your girls forage, they can have a noticeable impact on insect populations. They will eat anything that moves and can do a great job clearing any area they have access to of bugs and even mice. We keep a piece of plywood laying flat near the chickens roost. Every couple weeks I tip it over giving these modern day dinosaurs access to a feast of crickets, grubs and other bugs that have made a home there.
4. Composting. Of course the by product of chickens is their poop. Chicken manure can be a very valuable asset to your farm or yard. As I mentioned our property had been neglected when we moved here. Our soil was hard and we brought in a lot of fill dirt that contained little or no organic material. I can tell you after eight years of including chicken manure in the compost pile and distributing it throughout the yard to trees and garden beds our soil has totally changed. Chicken manure is too hot to be put directly in the garden and should always be composted before putting on plants or trees but the finished product is ideal for adding abundant nutrients to the soil and retaining moisture.
5. Entertainment. Chickens truly are just fun to have around and when you throw a couple kids in the backyard with them it can mean hours of entertainment. Whether they are establishing a pecking order, working the compost pile or just taking a dust bath, they are fun to watch. We learned early on that they truly each have their own unique personalities. We do not name all our chickens on the farm but we do name some of the most memorable birds whose antics have made them stand out for one reason or another. Names like Roxy, Pearl, Monte, Rusty and Jefferson bring fond memories even as I write this. I know there are plenty of self proclaimed crazy chicken people out there and maybe I am one because after all, when a farm became a reality for us, the chicken came first.