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The Magic of Chickens

The Magic of Chickens

If Harvey Ussery were stranded on a desert island and could bring only one thing, he would bring a flock of chickens.

“They would feed themselves by foraging over the island, keep me supplied with eggs, one of the most perfect foods,” says the Virginia homesteader and author of The Small-Scale Poultry Flock. “In the process, they would continually improve my island’s soil by working in plant covers and their droppings, increasing its productivity for whatever food crops I was able to grow. Hens who went broody would hatch out chicks to renew the flock each year.”

Harvey Ussery makes his chickens partners in food production.

Photo courtesy of Harvey and Ellen Ussery/Mother Earth News

Harvey, a Mother Earth News writer who produces much of his own food on 3 acres, manages chickens holistically, enlisting them as partners for soil improvement, making compost, insect control and more. He’s been raising a mixed poultry flock, which he considers a key to greater food independence, for almost 30 years. “I am constantly reaching for new ways to integrate the flock with the work of food production, to make them happy and content, and to provide them more live, natural foods right on the homestead,” he says.

Harvey’s been experimenting for years to find new ways to convert organic “wastes” (chicken poop) into resources for greater soil fertility. “To truly imitate nature, we must banish all notion of ‘waste,’ remembering that in natural systems one critter’s waste is another’s priceless resource,” he says.

He’ll talk about this alchemy during his workshop, “Trash to Treasure: Bioconversion of Waste to Resources” at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, on September 24. Harvey says he looks forward to “sharing ideas with people who are passionate about finding saner, more sustainable ways to produce our food.”

Harvey’s chickens are housed in a comfortable roost with room to roam.

Photo courtesy of Harvey and Ellen Ussery/Mother Earth News

I was at the Fair last year, and I wholeheartedly agree with Harvey–there’s nothing quite like this opportunity to swap ideas and learn from masters. I can’t make it this year, but Iím having fun reading about the passionate, sane voices that will be heard there at the Mother Earth News Fair blog. Check it out to join the conversation–and possibly win free tickets if you live near Seven Springs. There’s just nothing quite like connecting with likeminded others in a beautiful mountain setting (and checking out chickens and livestock while you’re at it).

Read more: Conservation, Lawns & Gardens, Natural Pest Control, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Pets, , , , , , ,

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Robyn Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence is editor-in-chief of Organic Spa Magazine, an eco-lifestyle magazine that bridges spa wisdom with green living. Through print, online and phone apps, Organic Spa Magazine offers expert advice and inspiration on sustainable health and wellness, beauty and skin care, fashion and travel. 


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10:34PM PDT on Jul 8, 2012

Thank you I really enjoyed the article. I love on the farm raised chicken eggs, especially the brown,green and blue colored shell ones...hmmmm rich and so delicious. We need, as a country to demand humane compassionate treatment of all animals in our care..It's the right thing to do.....

3:07PM PDT on Sep 27, 2011

Great creatures. The more we listen to and watch nature, the wiser we become.

6:13PM PDT on Sep 26, 2011

Big fan of your own backyard chooks, I have a small backyard so have been looking at getting a few bantam hens, eggs 2/3 the size and about 1/2 the size of a full size chook. Sourcing them has been a bit of a problem....

1:46PM PDT on Sep 25, 2011

Excellent article, TY, Robyn! Forwarded via Facebook to my daughter who has a small urban backyard mixed breed chicken flock & belongs to a local group of like-minded individuals. She FWD-ed to other group members.

8:33PM PDT on Sep 24, 2011


12:43AM PDT on Sep 24, 2011

Thanks, a good read.

10:20PM PDT on Sep 23, 2011

ALL ANIMALS have their own magic. this is why we must be kind to all animals, especially to those who provide us with food, sometimes with their dead. We should always respect all life and be respectful on our treatment to all life and especially to those who give their lives for us.

8:58AM PDT on Sep 23, 2011

a long time ago they did studies on how the egg is bad for you. but I read they injected the rats with the cholesterol, not fed them eggs.

8:05AM PDT on Sep 23, 2011

I love chickens, i can spend hours just looking At them, especially when they run

6:48PM PDT on Sep 22, 2011

Chickens are great pets, they have their own personalities and funny antics and love to be affectionate, especially if you have had them as babies.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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