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Thinking of raising chickens in your own backyard but not sure if they’re right for you? Well, I can tell you firsthand that there is nothing better than eating scrambled eggs that were laid that morning. The freshness just can’t be beaten when all you have to do is walk out to your backyard and collect them.
Beyond that, having a source of eggs right in your backyard ensures you’ll know what is going into the eggs on your plate, have a free source of fertilizer, fewer bugs in the yard, a more sustainable way of using kitchen scraps, and a tiller that doesn’t require gasoline!
Chickens are ideal for a garden of any size and are fairly easy to maintain. Even an urban dweller with only a patch of green space can reap the benefits of keeping laying chickens at home.
1. Constant Fresh Eggs
Perhaps one of the most satisfying benefits of raising laying chickens is being able to walk out to your backyard, collect eggs that were laid early that morning, and put them directly into the frying pan. You can’t get any fresher than eggs that were produced at your own home. And once you try it, I think you’ll agree.
Based on USDA regulations, the eggs that you purchase in the grocery store could be 30 days or older by the time you purchase them! Compare that to an egg that was laid 30 minutes before being cracked into your frying pan and I think you’ll see it is an easy choice.
Without producing it yourself, it can be hard to know exactly what goes into the food you’re consuming. When you have your own laying hens, however, you are intimately aware of what your hens are eating. You can have eggs from hens that are no corn, no soy, antibiotic free, organic, whatever you decide. You can always be confident in the feed type that goes into your eggs because you feed the hens yourself.
3. Turn Kitchen Scraps Into Eggs
Chickens thrive on a variable diet that includes greens and vegetables. This makes them perfect for disposing those kitchen scraps leftover from chopping vegetables the night before. Not only will your hens be healthier, but you’ll also keep organic material out of the landfill and reduce your feed bill. Chickens will eat most foods, but try to avoid feeding them citrus, avocado rinds and pits, chocolate, dry beans (cooked are just fine), and extremely moldy or rotten food.
4. Reduce Backyard Pests
In addition to kitchen scraps, chickens love to eat the bugs that live in your yard. It’s a great source of protein for your chickens and can reduce the number of harmful insects that live in your yard. Chickens will rid your backyard of ticks, flies, scorpions, harmful spiders, grasshoppers, centipedes and even the occasional small snake. Free range your chickens daily to maximize the pest control effect and give them plenty of places to hunt for critters.
5. Free Fertilizer
If you free range your chickens in your backyard during the day, you’ll get a great source of free nitrogen that will have your backyard looking green in no time. But even if you keep your chickens in a coop with a run attached, you can gather the manure they produce to get a great source of fertilizer for your garden.
Chicken manure is extremely high in nitrogen and also contains phosphorous and potassium. This is what makes it so valuable as fertilizer. However, because of its high nitrogen content, chicken manure is considered “hot” and can burn your garden plants if applied directly to them. For this reason, it is best to compost your chicken manure before you apply it directly onto your vegetable plot. Composting the manure gives time for the nutrients within it to break down and become more usable for your plants.
To compost your own manure, simply gather the bedding with chicken manure from the floor of your coop and add it to your compost pile. Be sure to water the pile thoroughly and turn it every couple of weeks. It generally takes 6 to 9 months for chicken manure to compost thoroughly, although this time can differ depending on the conditions of your pile.
6. Gasoline-Free Tiller
Chickens are master tillers. Their powerful legs scratch along the ground looking for tasty morsels and turning over the ground as they do so. If you have compost or soil amendments to work into your soil, spread it over the top layer of your garden, turn the chickens loose into the area and watch them go to work! If you have hard sod that needs to be busted up, your chickens can do that too. One chicken can till 50 square feet of sod in four to six weeks. Add more chickens to make the work go even faster.
Chickens are indiscriminate tillers, however, so make sure you fence them out of areas you don’t want to be disturbed, or use a chicken tractor to better control their area of access. Chickens can also help you spread out a leaf or mulch pile and turn a compost bed. Save your back and use chickens instead!
If don’t want to spray harmful herbicides on your garden and are tired of spending hours on your knees pulling unwanted weeds, try putting your chickens to the task. Before you plant your garden in the spring, turn your chickens loose on the garden beds and watch them pick out harmful insects and destroy the tiny weeds starting to come up. You’ll be left with a clean and fertilized garden bed ready for vegetables.
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