Written by Sharon Kaufman, Contributing Writer
Backyard chickens - we have eight of them, each with her own personality. They're named after some of the female characters from the Andy Griffith show - Helen Crump and Thelma Lou (Black Stars), Elly and Juanita (Golden Laced Wyandottes), Mrs. Mendelbrite (Plymouth Barred Rock), Aunt Bea and Clara Edwards (Rhode Island Reds) and Hilda Mae (Black Australorp). Though they've only been in our backyard for a little over a year, it has been great fun.
Why we decided to keep chickens
We decided to get chickens for several reasons:
1). After considering having chickens for the steady supply of high quality, organic eggs, I called to find out about city ordinances concerning backyard poultry. To my delight I was told there were none. And with no one living on either side of us and the house behind us empty and for sale, we knew there would be no objections from the neighbors.
2). But the catalyst for actually getting chickens came when our fenced garden area became overgrown with field bindweed. Not wanting to use chemical weed killers, we abandoned the area and turned our backyard lawn into vegetable garden instead. Field bindweed is nigh to impossible to get rid of, but we knew that chickens would take care of the problem and give us eggs and fertilizer to boot.
After purchasing two-week old chicks, we situated them in our shed in a lighted cage until they were fully feathered at eight weeks and ready to be turned loose in the old garden area. During their time in the shed, we built a coop for their protection during the winter months and at night.
A chicken salad bar with eggs
Once the chickens were outside, it didn't take long before the field bindweed was mowed down and done away with. Great! But this presented a new challenge - no more salad bar for the chickens. By this time we had harvested our vegetable garden, so we turned the chickens loose to clean up that area. My, but they were happy, scratching out their living amidst this new paradise. They cleared out what remained of the vegetable plants plus weeds, bugs, snails and slugs and fertilized the entire area for the spring planting season in the process. The little troop really lightened our work-load.
Happy as they were, the chickens had not yet begun laying eggs. Now at about five months, we were ready for their golden globe rewards. Finally, two months later, the day after Thanksgiving, we struck gold - one egg. By early December they were all producing.
Still, after cleaning up our vegetable garden area, the chickens were again without forage. About this time the neighbor who watches over the vacant property next to us, noticed our barren backyard and asked about it. Upon hearing that the chickens were responsible, he hatched the idea to let them into the yard next door to dine, and thus do his job of maintaining the area. We asked the owners and they gave permission for us to actually cut out a hinged drop-down door in the fence so we could simply herd the chickens from their coop area into the yard next door.
No More Empty Nest
Having become quite attached to the hens, my husband, Robert, refers to himself as the "chicken-herder" and to me as the "chicken-whisperer". They love being talked to and called by name. If you heard me you'd think I was speaking to my children (who, by the way, have all flown the coop). And shamefully, we do have our favorite - Mrs. Mendelbrite - the Plymouth Barred Rock. She goes where no chicken has gone before. When all the other chickens are panicked and running about (I imagine that they are shouting, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling"), Mrs. Mendelbrite remains calm and collected. On one occasion such pandemonium ensued because of a new food dish. All chickens scattered - all, that is but Mrs. Mendelbrite. She calmly strolled up to the hostile alien dish and singularly helped herself. If she could wear a shirt with a logo, it would say, "NO FEAR! (though I am a chicken)".
The benefits of keeping chickens
Keeping chickens affords many benefits. Some that come to mind are:
- All your eggs in one basket daily - gathering organic eggs from pastured chickens is just one of the many charms of keeping chickens.
- Fertilizer - composted chicken manure makes the best fertilizer - our garden is better than ever.
- Pest patrol - no slugs, snails or other pests with chickens patrolling.
- Weed control - no need for chemical weed killers or lawn mowers with chickens as your gardeners.
- Child-magnet - children love to watch and feed our little backyard flock.
- Educational for children - beside learning all about chickens, caring for and feeding them teaches responsibility.
- Better than a chick-flick - it's great entertainment just to watch the chickens being chickens.
- Plucky pets - chickens make spunky little pets, and if hand-raised will even enjoy sitting on your shoulder or in your lap.
- A little nest egg - where I live, pastured eggs sell anywhere from $6-$8 per dozen. I sell all of our "egg-stra" eggs.
From a birds-eye view, the benefits are:
- We're eight happy chickens living the good life, eating bugs, grass, weeds and the like.
- We're blessed to be absent from the concentration-camp-environment of the factory farm.
Of course all of this helps the environment as well.
Helpful links for keeping chickens
There is so much more to know about keeping backyard chickens. Here are some helpful links: