By: Alyssa Murphree, March 1, 2017
My mother and I dove headfirst into the world of chicken husbandry about four years ago. Our family had briefly owned chickens when I was a toddler, but after being attacked by the two surprise roosters we ended up hatching, it was in our best interest to rehome them, and I was reluctant to see the good in chickens for many years after.
My mom however, being the crazy bird lady she is, ooh-ed and ahh-ed in the poultry barns at every county fair we attended and after fifteen years of breeding and raising Gouldian finches, parakeets, and cockatiels, decided it was time to throw some literal, modern dinosaurs into the mix.
She selected four Rhode Island Red pullets (young hens) and allowed me to pick a couple chicks out for myself. I figured if we were going to have them anyway I may as well get some fun, and another 4-H project, out of it. I selected two bantams (a way of classifying smaller breeds of chickens) of my own and we got down to business.
Over the past few years, I’ve ended up acquiring more chickens than my mom, even though she’s the one who wanted them in the first place. I’ve had an Old English Game Bantam, a Wyandotte, Polish, and my favorites, Sebrights. I became an active member of my county’s 4-H poultry club, have shown my chickens and eggs at fairs, and have competed in showmanship and on my club’s poultry and egg judging team.
The backyard chicken hobby has boomed in popularity in recent years. Many feed stores, pet stores, and even chain hardware stores are offering coops and other chicken care supplies to keep up with the demand for people who desire their own flocks. As somebody who has personally witnessed the benefits of doing so, I am now an outspoken advocate for backyard chicken keeping, and it is my pleasure to share those benefits here.
As with any other pet or companion animal, chickens are fun to have around, whether egg or meat production is your priority or not. They are very sweet and comical creatures no matter if you are holding one in your lap and stroking its feathers as they doze off or watching them sunbathe and roll around in the dirt. If you let them outside of their coop or enclosure however, be sure to keep an eye on them, as they may become a target for birds of prey or decide to test out their wings and zip away.
Another aspect of chicken keeping is the potential to show. Now, not every single chicken is show quality of course, so if you are interested in doing so, purchase birds from a breeder instead of the feed store. The poultry showing community is very welcoming and have created, in my own personal experience, the most friendly animal competition environment I’ve been exposed to. At my first poultry show, I only brought one chicken along, as opposed to more experience competitors who typically pack up close to thirty for multiple shows throughout the year. So many people were willing to answer my questions, offer advice, and I have even met breeders who regularly give young competitors show quality chickens for free to encourage and ensure their success in the hobby.
Free range chickens can also benefit your yard as well. As chickens peck around and scratch in the dirt, they are also eating insects that you may consider to be pests. Having chickens instead of pesticides is less harmful to your other plants and pets. Have a compost pile? Letting your flock dig around in it can help it break down much faster. Chicken manure is also a great fertilizer for gardens.
Last but not least, what would a post about backyard chicken keeping be without talking about the wonders of fresh eggs? Something I truly miss as an on campus resident are some high quality eggs. Compared to store bought eggs, fresh backyard ones are proven to have less cholesterol and fat and more vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and beta carotene.
Chickens aren’t the easiest animals to keep, since they do require outdoor housing and extensive preventative measures against disease, but they are worth it. No other pet can provide you with food and fun quite like chickens can.