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).


devon leonard
Devon Leonard5 years ago

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.....

norma s.
norma s6 years ago

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

Rob S.
Rob S6 years ago

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....

Carole K.
Carole K6 years ago

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.

Serena Alonzi
6 years ago


Caitlin Fowler
Caitlin F6 years ago

Thanks, a good read.

Gianna Macias
Gianna Macias6 years ago

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.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

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.

mariana c.
mariana c6 years ago

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

Melinda K.
Past Member 6 years ago

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.