...because you do.
Trust me on this. There's nothing like walking into your own backyard and being greeted by the sounds of chortling hens filling your nesting boxes with fresh eggs and the sight of your very own colorful flock scratching for yummy treats under the summer sun. One of my favorite ways to waste away a summer day is sitting in the pasture watching the chickens. There's a misconception that because they have small brains that they are an unintelligent creature. This couldn't be farther from the truth! Each hen and rooster has their own distinct personality, little quirks, funny sounding crow, or silly hop when they run. The girls run from coop to coop with wicker baskets collecting eggs and for them it's like a treasure hunt every day. The nesting boxes are filled with eggs in vibrant blues, olive greens, chocolate browns, bright white and soft cream. We display these gems proudly on our kitchen counter until they become a healthy and well-balanced breakfast made right in our own backyard. You're sold, right? I don't blame you.
Next step: Get the whole family on board! There was a time when I was hesitant to add chickens to our daily routine. It's a shocking revelation, I know, but many years ago when we started on this homesteading journey we couldn't walk into the local Tractor Supply without Sam going gaga over the little fluffy chicks running to and fro in the galvanized stock tanks. He was ready to take all of them home, I on the other hand was worried about all the extra work it was going to create for me. After a few persuasive arguments on his side we brought six little Australorp chicks home and became chicken keepers! Chicken tenders? Either way I was quickly sold on having a flock of my very own feathered dinosaurs! I'm going to help you with the leg work here and give you my top reasons why EVERYONE should keep a few chickens!
1. The fresh eggs!
I mean, duh, right! The health benefits from consuming your own fresh eggs are endless. A single egg contains 6 grams of high-quality protein and all 9 essential amino acids. Fun Fact: the protein quality in eggs is so high that scientists often use eggs as the gold standard for measuring the protein quality of other foods. They can lower your risk of developing cataracts and are great for the eyes. Consuming eggs on a regular basis can lower your risk for stroke, blood clots and heart attacks. One egg yolk has about 300 micrograms of choline. Choline is an important nutrient that helps regulate the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system. Choline is an essential nutrient your body needs for cells to function normally and research is providing more details about why it is important for proper liver, brain and nerve function, as well as for memory and for transporting nutrients through the body. Unfortunately, studies have shown that most Americans are not getting enough choline in their diet, so eating more eggs will put you ahead of the rest of the population. Contrary to further belief, eggs do not have a negative impact on cholesterol. One large egg has less than 5 total grams of fat. About 3 grams of that amount comes from healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help protect your heart by keeping your cholesterol levels within a normal range. These fats may also help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by helping to regulate insulin levels, which stabilizes your blood sugar. Eggs are one of the only foods containing natural reoccurring Vitamin D and can also help promote healthier nails and hair. Is your brain about to explode with egg facts? Good!
2. Connecting with your food.
Society has become progressively disconnected from their food sources. As our lives have become busier with longer working days and more working parents we have opted for convenience over quality. It's far easier to pop into the grocery store for some pre-packaged meat than it is to spend months cultivating the bird that meat comes from and mindfully harvesting the meat. Becoming connected to the source of our food once again changes the way we think about what we are eating and can lead to improved health. Our country has been in a health crisis for some time with the cause rooted in diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes and obesity. Some of this stems from a lack of access to healthy resources and the beauty of chicken keeping is that a few chickens take up very little space! Eating homegrown food can break down that barrier to a lack of access to healthy food because of financial constraints. Through the spirit of reconnecting with our food we are building healthier food systems for our family and our communities. Tending to the flock on a daily basis and collecting eggs from the coop gives us that connection and appreciation for where our food comes from and how the animals providing those food sources are raised.
3. Zero waste...seriously!
Did you know that chickens are omnivores? Well, they are! Which is why they appreciate a varied diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, kitchen scraps, and whatever they can find pecking around in the grass. Chickens will eat just about anything they can get their beaks on and require a diet that consists of both proteins and plants. Have you ever scraped your plate off into the garbage after dinner and thought to yourself how wasteful that seems? With just a few of your own chickens you can decrease that waste exponentially. We keep a bowl on the counter in our kitchen that collects leftovers from our meals, scraps from meal prep, stale bread or snacks, and even take out! There have been plenty of odd looks from our waitresses when we opt to take a strange array of leftovers home from a restaurant proclaiming them for our chickens! We have committed to drastically reducing our own foot print and the chickens help us achieve that by turning our waste into well rounded snacks that supplement their regular diet keeping our hens happy and laying tons of eggs!
4. Gardening Helpers
Wait, what?? Yes, the chickies can even help you with your garden! Zero waste also applies to chicken manure. Cleaning the coop isn't always the favorite homestead chore, but under the roost lies a gold mine of nitrogen rich fertilizer that can be put to use in the garden. Chicken manure can be used to make compost teas or aged in a compost pile with their bedding to add rich depth to your garden soil enabling you to produce a greater harvest. The composted bedding can even be used as mulch in the winter to protect your garden beds. We use the chickens outside of the growing season to dig up the weeds and turn the soil for us. They love to scratch for bugs and make dust bathes for themselves, which helps to till, fertilize and aerate the soil. When chickens are given access to the garden in the off-season they can eat harmful bugs and larvae in the soil protecting your future seedlings and plants. Once the growing season begins the garden is closed!
5. Pest Control
Speaking of pesky bugs, chickens would love to help you with your pest problem! When chickens are afforded the opportunity to forage they can assist you with controlling the populations of pests like ticks, beetles, grasshoppers, slugs, spiders, snails, termites, flies and all manner of other insects. As your chickens become confident foragers don't be surprised if you see them fighting over frogs, mice and other rodents. Remember, omnivores!
6. Flock Life
One of the major and unexpected benefits of keeping chickens is the calming effect they can have on you and your mood. Chickens can offer significant therapeutic benefits to people struggling with mental health issues from anxiety and depression to loneliness and dementia. This is a result of the sensory benefits linked to touch, smell, sound and sight. The hens can also be a great option for those seeking an allergen free companion. If you want to unwind and destress just spend a few minutes with the chickens listening to their chatter. They create a peaceful environment that has a calming effect. Caring for the flock together can even reignite your bond as a family and give you a common interest to share.
7. Little Maintenance
Are you surprised by this one? Once your needy little chicks have transformed into robust hens they will need very little of your time to keep them happy and actively laying. You can easily accomplish daily chicken care in about 20 minutes add a few extra minutes for cleaning the coop out periodically and you are one successful chicken keeper! This is not a time intensive hobby and can be a great way for the busy family to find a connection with their food and with nature. Get those kiddos out from behind the screens and into the backyard every day with this simple addition to your family.
Honestly, I could go on all day about the wonderful benefits of keeping a small flock of chickens so I'm going to have to rein myself in! We fell so in love with chicken keeping that our small flock of 6 grew to nearly 100 one summer! Once you dive into the world of chicken keeping you will come to see that there are so many ways to cultivate other activities with your family from hatching chicks, to growing an herb garden for your hens. What may start as a hair-brained idea to raise a micro-flock will blossom into a deep connection with your food and a growing love for the antics of your feathered friends.
If you are looking for some reading material to get you started with keeping chickens checkout this book from fellow homesteader Amy Fewell who is also the founder of Homesteaders of America.
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