I’ve never worked on a farm. My yard isn’t all that big. I was never in 4-H and my childhood pet was a hamster. But step into the backyard of my suburban Raleigh, N.C., home and you’ll find a happy little brood of chickens, scratching in the dirt for worms, pecking at bugs in a tree stump and providing some of the best “farm fresh” eggs one is likely to find.
Until about five years ago, starting a backyard flock would have been unthinkable to me. Then someone needed to cull a couple of “troublemakers” from his crowded chicken coop and jokingly offered to drop them off in my yard. I took him up on it. An unexpected hobby was born. Since then my flock has grown to eight chickens and I expect to add a few more this spring. Easier to care for than a dog, cheaper to feed and you don’t have to walk them. Not to mention that dog hasn’t laid an egg in months.
Over the last few years, chicken coops have become much more common inside city limits and in suburban settings, and range from the simple to the ornate. Here in Raleigh, the phenomena has grown to such proportions there is a yearly event known as the Tour D’Coop, which draws thousands to explore some of the many backyard poultry palaces found “inside the belt line.” So, why are so many people raising chickens?
- Eggs: They don’t get any fresher than these. Eggs found in a grocery store may take weeks to finally reach your cart and even with a shelf life of 30-60 days, they begin to lose flavor quickly. Additionally, the well-tended home chicken enjoys a healthier diet, and will produce a more nutritional and protein-rich egg.
- Pest Control: Bugs are a favorite snack of chickens and they can do a great job keeping your pest population down.Good for the Garden: In addition to the aforementioned ability to reduce your bug problem, chickens also love to eat weeds (keep an eye on that herb garden, though). Once they’ve done all that eating, they finish the process by producing an excellent fertilizer, rich in nitrogen and other nutrients. Be sure to compost first.
- Good for the Environment: Not only are they helping you rock your own mini-ecosystem in the yard, they will also help out by taking care of those table scraps that might otherwise end up in the garbage disposal. And considering all it takes to deliver commercial eggs to your local market, that chicken is looking mighty green.
- Chickens are Fun: You’ll quickly discover that every bird has its own personality and many breeds make great pets. Handle the chicks regularly as they grow and they will maintain surprisingly social dispositions into adulthood. If you have kids in the house, chickens are a great family hobby and collecting eggs from the nests is a chore even the little ones will enjoy.
If you still aren’t sure, find a neighbor who has taken the plunge and invite yourself to breakfast. If they can’t convince you, the omelet will.