Green Living

The Benefits of Backyard Chickens

I grew up on an avocado farm and we had chickens. Some of my earliest memories are going to get eggs in the morning with my Dad. I so wish we could have chickens in our backyard. Our yard is big enough, but we have a pit bull and I am sure he wouldn’t actually kill them, but he would probably make them so nervous, they would never lay an egg! – Stephanie 

Meet Feven, Daughter, and Gas Can, our three hens creatively named by my three-year-old son.

The Benefits of Backyard Chickens

Why do we allow our front yard to look like a bizarre farm animal menagerie and neighborhood magnet for midnight raccoon raidings? Allow me to explain.

For us, it’s really the only way we can afford fresh, local, pastured eggs. Eating local is very important to us. Obviously for ethical reasons, if you eat animal products it’s important to know where your eggs come from and how the chickens are treated, but it’s also important for health reasons and it’s very difficult to find out unless you have visited the farm where the eggs you eat were produced.

The labels on egg cartons can be very misleading. For example, just because a carton says “cage-free” doesn’t guarantee ethical treatment. It really only distinguishes that the chickens aren’t in actual cages (but they’re probably cramped inside a disgusting, poop-filled warehouse). And “free-range” only means they technically have access to the outside. More than likely, that’s just a tiny caged-in yard. Having the freedom to move and eat a diet of grass and bugs (the unofficial definition of “pastured”) is really crucial for chickens to lay superior eggs with these qualities:

Less cholesterol

More vitamin A, D, and E

More Beta Carotene

More Omega 3 fatty acid

You can tell the difference between pastured eggs and “conventional” eggs because the yolk of the pastured egg is a bold, bright orange (due to the extra beta carotene) as opposed to a weak yellow. And you can tell a fresh egg from an old one because it will have a tall, firm yolk that doesn’t break easily when you crack it.

We have a great health food store that features local produce in our town so local, fresh, organic eggs are available; however, they are way out of our price range. Keeping chickens is really our only option for obtaining fresh, healthy, local eggs. And keeping chickens provides other perks as well:

Chicken manure is a great fertilizer and perfect for an urban vegetable garden. They also do a great job of preparing the soil for planting. They pull up weeds, fertilize the ground, and aerate.

We love the fantastic educational opportunities for our kids to learn about animals, reproductive systems, fertilizers, and even death (we lost FIVE chickens to the stealthy, vile raccoons last year). Not to mention the joy of running out to the chicken coop to collect beautiful eggs every day!

 The Benefits of Backyard Chickens

Although our yard receives occasional odd looks, most of our neighbors compliment us on our garden and the chickens seem to be a magnet for fascinated neighborhood kids to watch and enjoy. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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  • Mrs. L
    September 4, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    love it haley! i want some so bad how do i find out if it’s allowed in my neighborhood? Also I don’t do death well (does anybody really) is it possible to keep out the predators? what if i had this…http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/briar-extended-chicken-coop/?pkey=cagrarian-garden-chicken-coops. great post! now lets a do a series about Mrs. L getting something other than tears from her garden 😉

    • Haley
      September 4, 2012 at 4:58 PM

      Well, you’ll have to do a little research to find out if they’re allowed where you live. I know they’re legal as far as the city is concerned (although you can’t keep more than one rooster, we don’t even keep one, just hens) but your homeowners association or neighborhood association may or may not allow keeping any sort of livestock so you’ll have to check with them. And if they don’t allow it then you should totally petition to get the rules changed! There are ways to raccoon/predator-proof your coop (we built ours and had to do some tweaking before it was really secured.) The one you linked to looks very secure but those critters are pesky. And it costs an arm and a leg but it is breathtakingly gorgeous!

  • Lisa Waszkiewicz / Franny Bolsa
    September 4, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    I heart chickens! Hope to have my coop built next year. For the last 10 years I haven’t eaten egg from a chicken that I didn’t know personally. All of our eggs come from boyfriend’s chickens. I pretty much don’t eat eggs unless they are home grown. My friends call me an egg snob. Once you go fresh, you’ll never go back.

    • Haley
      September 5, 2012 at 1:18 AM

      They are soooo much tastier. You must post pictures of your coop when you build it! I’m a little obsessed with chicken coops 🙂

  • Linda
    September 6, 2012 at 8:13 PM

    Totally love the hen names! lol I tried to get my daughter to let me name them after chicken dishes: Kiev, Cordon Blue, Fricasse, etc. but she was appalled! We have four hens (Prim, Franny, Gertrude & Edith) and a rescued pit bull (Clyde) who was a stray. I am sure he ate whatever he could find since he readily ate four baby bunnies he found in the yard. He did lick his lips a lot when we first got the hens, but we used his obedience training and he knows to ‘leave it’. Now we can let him out with the hens and he lays down as close to them as they will let him. He also enjoys running through them to make them fly when they are all gathered. It can be done. And having fresh eggs is the best!

    • Stephanie
      September 6, 2012 at 10:35 PM

      Wow, that is impressive!! If we weren’t moving soon, I might finally have the courage to get chickens with my pit bull still around. He is 10 years old, so my time for chickens is coming soonish, I’m sure.

  • Cass Beck
    September 14, 2012 at 12:10 AM

    How many chickens do you need to produce enough eggs for your family?

    • Haley
      September 14, 2012 at 12:22 AM

      Great question! It depends on several factors including what kind of hens you have, how many people are in your family, and how many eggs you eat. We get 2-3 eggs a day from our 3 chickens. (Chickens usually lay one egg every 1-2 days.) This has been enough for our family’s needs (two adults, a toddler, and a baby). If we want to cook something with lots of eggs, a large quiche for instance, we will save the eggs for that recipe a couple of days in advance. But usually we just eat eggs for breakfast most mornings and use the extra eggs in baking. Now that the baby is ready for eggs, though, we will probably need more hens. We plan on adding to our flock this spring. Hope that helps!