You don’t have to live on a 50 acre farm with a red barn to have your own chicken flock –people in both the city and country are raising chickens! Not only are chickens an awesome source of food (both eggs and meat), they’re incredible pets and they produce great fertilizer for your garden. I’d say that’s worth cleaning up a coop once a month!
Each hen in your flock will lay an average of about 5 eggs per week (depending on the breed). Different breeds lay different colored eggs, and all eggs are a fantastic source of vitamin D and protein. Farm fresh eggs have been shown to have less cholesterol, less saturated fats, and more vitamin A, E, D and omega-3 fatty acids than factory farm eggs. Farm fresh eggs tend to have ‘stiffer’ egg whites, which makes them easier to cook with. So boil, poach, scramble, or sunny side up those eggs and enjoy that fantastic source of flavor and vitamins!
There are many breeds of chickens, some of which are better for laying eggs and some are better as a meat source. In general, meat chickens don’t lay as many eggs, so you’ll have to decide which is more important to you and your family. “Meat chickens” grow faster and the texture of the meat is different than the egg layers. The most common breed people raise for meat is Cornish Rock chickens. Keep in mind – free range hens have darker, firmer meat than chickens raised indoors, so let those birds strut their stuff and everyone will be happier! Egg laying chickens need about 5 months to produce their first eggs, whereas meat chickens can be on the table in less than two months.
Each chicken in your flock will produce about 1 cubic foot of manure every 6 months, and even though it’s a dirty job, scooping that poop and composting it will make your garden plants go wild! Chicken manure is one of the best fertilizers you can use in your garden because of the rich nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium content. If used raw, chicken manure can “burn” your plants, so it’s very important to compost it first. Scoop up the manure and add it to your compost pile or compost bin – the magic recipe is 30-50% chicken manure/bedding from the coop and 50-70% leaves/grass clippings/weeds. Adding this combination also increases water holding capacity and beneficial biota in the soil.
Chickens as pets:
Personally, I find the greatest joy in raising chickens is having them as pets. Every chicken has its own personality traits and behaviors. Some chickens are so dog-like, they’ll follow you around the yard or come running when your car pulls in the driveway. Holding a chicken causes your body to produce the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin – the same chemical your body makes when you eat chocolate! They’re wonderful pets to raise if you have children in your family, and even are used as therapy pets for people with dementia, depression, autism, anxiety, etc. If you raise a chick and handle them often, they’ll usually grow up to be friendly and social.
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