Backyard chickens are a wonderful addition to your low waste lifestyle. They compost kitchen waste and garden trimmings and they create delicious and nutritious food package and transportation-free. I'll start with a few Benefits of Owning Chickens and then offer you a Quick Start Guide to Backyard Birds.
Food waste is a big problem, and backyard composting or composting through a service is a great way to turn your food scraps into compost to renew your garden soil and grow new food. But you can skip the middle man! Chickens are as excited to get a lettuce gone to seed as they are to get watermelon rinds and all those good kitchen and garden waste will become fresh, organic eggs for your family.
You don't know comedy until you have watched a group of chickens for an hour on a lazy afternoon. They are hilarious. I cannot do justice to describing their antics, but suffice it to say, you will not be disappointed. And watching the kids or my husband attempt to wrangle our flock back into the tractor at the end of their outdoor "recess" is the perfect encore performance.
While they are turning food waste into eggs, our chickens are also making natural fertilizer. What's not to love? Their poop is great for the soil, and they do an excellent job working it into the ground as they scratch for bugs. And all that scratching is great for aerating the soil and helping us reseed our lawn with clover, which is part of my Green the Yard Project. Thanks to a portable chicken tractor, we can move our little lawn maintenance crew around so they can do their magic wherever we need it.
Opening up the coop to find warm, fresh, colorful eggs is one of my happiest moments each day. It's like a little gift each time. We have five laying hens for a family of five and, since the hens started laying in October, we have only bought one carton of eggs from the store. The hens each lay one a day throughout the laying season (March to November), and our two Scandinavian hens lay all year round. We don't have enough to give away in the winter, but during the summer, it is wonderful to be able to gift fresh eggs to friends and family.
Chickens come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The employees at Osborne's Agway in Concord were very knowledgeable and helpful when we ordered our chicks. They helped us choose breeds that fit our family's needs and wants. We chose three practical Australorpes - big, hearty, Scandinavian chickens that lay eggs all year long - and three fanciful Easter Eggers - varied, smaller chickens that lay multi-colored eggs. Both breeds are child-friendly and can handle New Hampshire winters.
Plenty of places sell chicken coops, but you can also make one from scrap wood, as we did, for a fraction of the cost. Coops don't need to be very big because chickens spend most of their time outdoors except in bad weather. In fact, chickens stay warmer in the winter if their coops aren't too roomy. You will need to provide them a few laying boxes and some wood shavings, hay, or sand to keep them warm and cosy.
Our hens eat Green Mountain Feeds Layer Pellets, which we give them in a stainless steel feeder. We also provide them with lots of food scraps from the kitchen and garden. They love the variety of food we have to offer, but especially leftover oatmeal, rice, and beans. And, at the end of the year, when I clear out the garden, they are very excited by all the donations. Added bonus: they really love lawn grubs.
Our hens drink from a a stainless steel waterer, which we place on a water heater in the winter. This is the only electricity we use for the chickens. We plug it in in the morning and unplug it at night. We keep the water in the house overnight so it doesn't freeze.
SPACE TO ROAM
As a kid, my chickens were free range and I personally prefer this method. The chickens never stray far, stay in a group, and often return to the coop at night on their own without prompting. We aren't allowed to have free-ranging chickens where we live, so my husband built them a chicken tractor, which is basically a way to move them from place to place in the yard most of the year while still keeping them contained and protected from predators. In the winter, we connect the chicken tractor to the coop so they can go in and out without stepping on the snow. We try to give them "recess" at least once a day, letting them out into the yard to forage. It's not as natural as free ranging them, but we do our best.