This one thing is always missing from list articles about why someone should keep chickens: self-sufficiency.
If you’ve been reluctant to fill a coop with hens, you’re still buying supermarket eggs, and you’ve noticed you’re shelling out twice the price you were a few months ago, you can thank the bird-flu epidemic. The good news is there’s never been a better time to start the small flock of your dreams.
Commercial Flock Statistics
Three-quarters the 90 billion eggs the U.S. produces each year make their way to our kitchens in whole-egg form or inside processed foods, but the current deficit of 45 million chickens (10 percent of the factory layer flock) puts the current system behind its market expectations by 30.6 million eggs every day.
While this year’s avian flu can certainly affect backyard flocks, like it did in the Northwest at the beginning of the epidemic, it’s somehow spreading from factory farm to factory farm, but experts have said they don’t know why. While our current system is proving unsustainable, we know that it takes about six months for newly hatched female chicks to begin laying. Even if bird flu ends today, we won’t reach former commercial production rates until next year.
We can avoid this situation by raising our own chickens.
The Backyard Flock
Thanks to open spaces, fresh air, sunshine, clean coops, better nutrition, lower stress and individualized care by their keepers, chickens in backyard flocks have been largely unaffected by this year’s avian flu epidemic. Chicken keepers are well stocked, and even feeding surplus back to the hens. It’s not impossible for a backyard flock of hens to succumb to flu, but it’s far less likely and the loss far less devastating compared to millions.
Illnesses in backyard flocks are usually isolated, so they won’t devastate an entire city of its egg layers. Relying on your own hens is the wave of the future—or, rather, the past. At the very least, it’s a way out of relying on factory-farmed eggs. If you lose a flock of five hens, you can replenish you flock with the help of a neighbor or a farmer nearby.
What if you could meet the majority of your protein needs with hens of your very own?
Produce More at Home
The average American eats 250 eggs per year. That’s as many eggs as the factory hens lay per year. Assuming backyard flocks lay the same amount, although I would argue they lay a bit more, a family of four would need just four hens. With eggs so readily available in the backyard, I would also argue that chicken-keeping families eat many more eggs than the average consumer, usually with enough to spare for friends, family and for freezing for winter shortages. Very few people can keep just four hens. Chickens are just too much fun, and they do more than lay eggs.
The reason I ordered day-old chicks and built a coop in 2010 was to be completely self-sufficient in one part of my family’s diet. My hobby farm aspirations had to begin in my small backyard, and I wouldn’t let my fraction of an acre stop me.
The bird flu outbreak hasn’t affected the flocks any chicken keepers I know, but it is affecting all the commercial egg eaters in my life. Of all the reasons to start a flock of chickens, let self-sufficiency top your list.