The fall harvest is in, you’ve planted your winter cover, and your spring bulbs are in the ground. You are ready to relax over the off season, contentedly perusing the latest seed catalogs and idly making plans for what tasty vegetables you’ll grow next year. During such comfortable moments, with the stresses of the season’s gardening set aside, new ideas wriggle to the front of your brain. One frequent notion that crops up for the backyard or small-scale farmer is “Should I get chickens?” Maybe you’ve asked this question, and maybe you’ve put it off looking into it for another year.
But now is the perfect time to consider starting your own microflock. Spring is months away, giving you plenty of time to consider breeds, coop designs and other aspects of poultry rearing. Unlike in spring, when you might be swayed by baby chicks at the farm-supply store on impulse and have to rush considering the longer-term aspects of chicken-keeping, now you have time to prepare.
Still not convinced? Then consider these six reasons why a backyard flock could be right for you.
The predominant reason people keep chickens is for the farm-fresh eggs. The rich flavor of a “homegrown” egg, with its dark orange yolk, surpasses anything produced for a supermarket. It’s also fun to be able to take a short stroll from your kitchen, collect eggs straight from the nestbox and have them ready to eat moments later.
Chickens love bugs. Their pest-munching abilities might not be outright obvious, but you’ll definitely notice the absence of insects on that first summer night you work outside past sunset. Tomato hornworms, lawn grubs, termites and potato beetles: Your flock will happily forage for these tasty treats, and your yard and garden will be better for it.
As your birds range, they scratch and dig with their talons and beaks, breaking up compacted soil. This allows for increased airflow and for improved absorption of water and nutrients, which will greatly enhance the look of your lawn. Never rent an aerator again! In addition, chickens also help themselves to the clover, crabgrass, dandelions and other weeds that might plague your property.
If you love to cook—or if you enjoy cooking but your family’s not too keen on your cuisine—you’ll never again feel guilty about getting rid of food. Your chickens are more than happy to serve as your dinner guests, your leftover liquidators, your compost crock and your garbage disposal all in one. Chickens are omnivores and devour any scrap you toss their way, including those overripe bananas on the counter and that pasta you brought home from the restaurant last week. Be aware, however, that there are foods that, while safe for humans, are toxic to chickens, including avocados and chocolate. Keep this comprehensive list on hand to ensure your flock feeds only on the good stuff.
One of the biggest events in our chickens’ lives happens every September: We open the garden gates and invite our flock in for the day. It’s amusing to watch the older birds’ reaction when they see us swinging open those massive wooden gates: They stampede through the yard, racing to be the first ones in, while the year’s pullets and cockerels look and wonder what on Earth got into their elders. These birds get whatever vegetables are left, unwanted, on the vines and on the ground of our garden. Frostburned tomatoes, imperfect melons, sunflower seed heads, bolted salad greens, crow-damaged corn—our flock loves them all. Letting the birds glean through our post-harvest garden saves us days of work and makes for happy chickens.
Nothing quite says rural living like a beautifully feathered rooster, welcoming the rising sun. Perhaps you’re not a fan of that early-morning crowing, but it does add a touch of authentic country charm to your homestead. Hens leading a posse of peeping chicks around the yard is always a favorite, and your chickens’ often-comedic antics will keep you chuckling and glad that you finally decided to start your own backyard flock.