A Quick Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens
Photo: Kippen House coops are handmade and feature living roof gardens. They’re available in the Seattle area.
Have you ever considered raising backyard chickens? Whether you live in a rural area, a suburb or a city, raising chickens might be a great way for you to get affordable, nutritious eggs and free garden fertilizer. Less than a century ago, when more people raised their own food, keeping a few chickens in the city was common, and many city ordinances still allow the practice. And there are plenty of great reasons for raising backyard birds:
1) They provide low-cost and nutritionally superior eggs. Testing conducted by Mother Earth News in 2007 and 2008 comparing eggs from pasture-raised chickens with commercial eggs found that pasture-raised eggs contained 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, twice the omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta carotene , and 4 to 6 times more vitamin D.
2) They provide fertilizer for the lawn and garden, and eat pests and biodegradable kitchen waste. Fewer flies and mosquitoes, free quickly made compost and less than half the kitchen waste? Sign me up!
3) They make fun pets.
Author of Creating Your Backyard Farm Nicki Trench (pictured above) says she loves watching her Buff Orpington chickens running and wobbling from one end of her garden to the other. “They make me smile each day,” she says. “Chickens are definitely great mood enhancers.”
When choosing chicken breeds, keep in mind the traits of each breed (breeds have different qualities and laying schedules) and your surroundings (consider less-vocal breeds if you have nearby neighbors). Mother Earth News magazine offers a “Pickin’ Chicken” app that can help you select the breed that’s right for you. Don’t get a rooster. They’re sure to bother neighbors and you only need them if you want to breed chickens.
To help preserve the diversity of American chickens, consider raising heritage breeds, many of which are endangered because of industrial farming’s tendency to pare down breeds. You can visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website for in-depth information on a variety of breeds. Here are the basics on some backyard-friendly breeds (photos courtesy American Livestock Breeds Convervancy):
Attributes: Lays 120 to 180 large brown eggs a year; calm, gentle and personable; developed to withstand harsh winter climates
Appearance: White or partridge colored with yellow flesh and legs; almost no wattle
History: The only breed ever developed in Canada
Attributes: Lays 230 to 275 medium brown eggs a year; easy keeping nature; natural foraging abilities
Appearance: Medium-sized with black and white barred coloring; tightly arranged plumage
History: The first chicken breed developed in the United States
Attributes: Lays up to 150 dark brown eggs a year; calm, sociable, seldom aggressive
Appearance: Three varieties: black, mottled and white; known for its rectangular body and long, sloping back
History: Considered the second-oldest breed of chicken developed in the United States
Rhode Island Red
Attributes: Lays 200 to 300 brown eggs a year; docile and friendly; known for vigor and ability to produce eggs under marginal conditions
Appearance: Rich, deep-red distinctive plumage
History: Named the Rhode Island official state bird in 1954