Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Chickens are often referred to as the gateway animal to farming or homesteading. And, I have to admit, that was true for our path as well. Our journey began on a small community garden plot, expanded to a larger permanent garden space when we bought our first house, and soon enough our curiosity about chickens got the better of us when we added a flock of fifteen laying hens to the homestead.
We now have a regular rotation of chickens for both eggs and meat, and we recently added two dairy goats to the family. There is not one day I regret having chickens, and here is why:
1. Let’s start with the most obvious - backyard chickens lay delicious eggs. There is nothing better than a fresh egg; it does not compare to anything you will buy at the store. The yolk is a vibrant golden yellow, and the taste is rich.
2. If you live in an area where ticks are a problem, as we do, you might want to consider allowing your chickens to free range. They will forage on ticks and other garden pests, reducing the problems you could encounter from these insects.
3. Chicken manure is an excellent way to fertilize your gardens. Just remember to let the manure compost before incorporating it into the soil of your vegetable garden.
4. Chickens can eat many kitchen scraps. There are some items that are not okay for chickens to eat. Fresh Eggs Daily has a good list. Offering safe vegetable scraps adds extra nutrients to their diet, making for better eggs, and decreases the amount of kitchen waste.
5. Chickens are useful for cleaning up the garden at the end of the growing season in the fall. They will scratch at the soil, turning in the remains of plants and weeds, and will eat the leaves of plants and any unharvested vegetables.
6. When laying hens have reached the end of their prime egg-producing days (between 3-5 years), they can still be utilized as stew chickens. Chicken bones roasted and simmered, make a nutritious bone broth that can be used for homemade soups and other home-cooked meals.
7. When you do get more animals, chickens make great companions for the other animals. Our hens coexist wonderfully with our goats.
8. Chickens provide fun entertainment. It has been said that watching chickens is better than TV, and I would have to agree with that. I will often find myself staring out the window just watching what the ladies are up to. And, to me there is not much else that is better than watching over your backyard homestead, with a cup of tea in hand.
Sarah Plotczyk and her family live on a small hillside homestead town in New Hampshire. She has worked hard to restore the soils, prepare garden beds, and establish pasture on the hillside on which she and her family reside. Sarah currently raises chickens for eggs and meat and recently added dairy goats to the homestead.
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