Chickens on traditional free range poultry farm

How Sustainable Are Chickens?

Chickens are amazing animals: laying an egg almost every day just so I can dip my toast in that deep orange yolk. Chickens are a gateway animal that most people start with on the journey to becoming more sustainable. Chickens are so flexible in the way they are raised and fed. This makes them the perfect starter livestock.

There’s a chicken for every person. With so many breeds to choose from, you can have the bird that fits your needs. If sustainability is your goal, as is mine, then go to the next step: how do you plan to feed and house your chickens?

permaculture student 1

I give my chickens access to 10 square feet for each bird. They live outside and have a large nesting area. In the summer we feed them our weeds and vegetable rejects along with all the slugs and caterpillars I pull off my plants. I supplement with some organic feed pellets but only about ½ cup a day each. In the winter I feed more pellets since I have less vegetation.

In return, the chickens give me some of the best tasting eggs ever; nothing like the pale yellow, watery yolks your grocery store passes off as eggs. The store-bought eggs will be disappointing to anyone that regularly uses farm fresh eggs. I may sound like an egg snob, but I’m sure that some of you know exactly what I mean.

Chickens can be bought with trimmed beaks. Please don’t buy your chickens this way. Trimmed beaks are supposed to waste less feed and cut down on pecking on each other. If you want help on your homestead with tilling and eating pests, let the beaks alone. Chickens that have the full beaks can pick through the ground and peck the smallest of pests off your plants. They will also cut down on the pellets you need because they can peck all the bugs out of your compost when scratching.

Chickens 01

Chickens are tilling machines! I put my compost and trimmings in the chicken pen. The chickens will scratch it all up, mixing with the addition of chicken manure. This is a high nitrogen mix which I pile up for one year every spring. The chicken manure is too high in nitrogen to use fresh; it will burn your plants. So, I turn it every 3-4 weeks. After the year of composting you will have amazing compost to spread through your garden.

When I let my chickens out or they get out they till my garden up really good. This is natural and helps the soil by top tilling. If my top layer stays flattened, it causes a little run off. I use a lot of leaves for mulching and from walking on them and patting them down, they start to form a sort of shingles, like on a roof. Water lands on the leaves and runs into my swales. When the chickens till up the leaves, the rain water penetrates the soil under the leaves. The tilling action also aerates the top layer, making the worms happy.

I love when my chickens help me remove all the beetle larva that have burrowed in the soil. These beetle larvae end up chewing up my plants and causing disease. My Amish neighbors tell me I have to till my soil more, and that will kill them. I know that they will be killed, but so will all my beneficial bugs hidden in the soil. After all the work I have done to improve my soil, the last thing I want to do it break up my soil to damage that cycle. The chickens get enough of the grubs to keep my little ecosystem working.

Think about all the ugly little pests that farmers kill with insecticides. Then you get to eat all those cancer-causing pesticides. Not only is the person spraying getting infected, but so is the picker, packer, produce seller and then the consumer. On my homestead, we have the chickens help us remove most of the pests. No need for the pesticides. Our byproduct of the chickens is farm fresh eggs, tasty and rich in protein, minerals and vitamins!

Chickens 02

Feathers are great for the garden. I first noticed that feathers were great for the garden because of our chicken butchering. When I butcher chickens, I toss the guts and feathers in my compost pile. Some of the feathers get tossed in a separate area, and I had dropped some kale seeds in that area to see what would happen.

To my surprise, the kale came up quicker than any other do in my garden, and the leaves were full and thick. I don’t know how long it takes to break down the feathers, but I have been dropping the feathers in this area for over 2 years now. As far as composting, that is not that long of a time to see an improvement like I am getting. You can find feather meal online to supplement soil, but I’d rather stick to my feathers.

Chicken egg shells are also great for the garden. If you have ever had blossom end rot, it means you either watered your garden so much you washed out your calcium, or you don’t have enough calcium. I save my egg shells and grind them up in my coffee grinder. Then, when I plant my tomatoes, I put a handful of this egg powder in the hole before I plant the tomato plant. I top dress the plant with some more egg shell powder every 30 days and just work it in the soil a bit with my fingers.

I have 2 ultimate chicken breeds that I like because they are so efficient. They are the “Freedom Ranger Broiler” and the “Novogen Egg Layer”. If you want top quality birds bred to produce, these are as good as you can get.

The “Freedom Ranger Broiler” can grow 5-6 lbs. in just 9-11 weeks. These are hybrid colored chickens that are more natural than the big white broilers with exploding hearts and legs that break. This is a more ethical bird to grow for meat in my opinion.

The “Novogen Egg Layer” is bred by the same company and is an egg-laying machine. This bird produces about 395 eggs in 72 weeks. They will lay a nice brown egg with a great feed conversion. It’s also an excellent forager!

You can find many other great chickens that produce well. Chickens are really sustainable and can help make a complete cycle on your farm or backyard. Not only are these fantastic birds efficient, they can bring you such entertainment and enjoyment!

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4 thoughts on “How Sustainable Are Chickens?

  1. Hi Richard,

    “Chickens are amazing animals: laying an egg almost every day just so I can dip my toast in that deep orange yolk.”

    Are you sure that’s what they lay these eggs for?

    Thank you,
    A nice read as always

    1. Yes chickens are amazing and as long as we feed them they don’t care what we do with their eggs. Except for one of my chickens give me on peck every morning when I stick my cold hand under her to steal an egg.

  2. Dear Richard,

    Thanks for your words on chickens and their relevance to permaculture. I find the article a little misleading, and particularly this sentence:

    “The “Novogen Egg Layer” is bred by the same company and is an egg-laying machine.”

    This is no stroke of magic, chickens lay eggs when they have eaten enough food i.e. got enough nutrition to do so. It is therefore my belief that these ‘egg-laying machine’ hybrids are not suited to permaculture, or natural systems. The breeding stock for these commercial hybrids has been bred alongside industrial grains, and very likely GMO, including glyphosate-desiccated grains – minerally-fortified dead feeds. Their daily energy requirements
    are far greater than a natural system can provide. They do not reproduce true, and most often have had their mothering instincts bred out of them. And to get more, you have to buy them from the multi-national corporation who owns the breeding stock.

    What about all of that is sustainable?

    Compare that to a heritage breed like the New Hampshire Red or Barred Plymouth Rock. Raise their own chicks, roosters grow to meat age and hens lay 250-285 eggs/yr. Can survive on soaked sprouted wheat and free range forage (i.e no minerally or meat meal fortified pellets) and live a lot longer. I have a two year old hen who has raised 4 clutches already, replacing herself 24 times over! They have ‘bush smarts’ and sleep far up in the trees.

    1. Hello Nick,
      Thanks for your thoughts on the article. You are right about all your points seeing it as being sustainable. The Novogen Egg Layer bred by the freedom ranger hatchery works really hard to produce hybrids that can live off the land. They are not the typical hybrids that only ever get crumble from bags. Freedom Ranger Hatchery produces amazing birds that produce more eggs on less feed. This makes my acre more sustainable than it could be if I had New Hampshire Red or Barred Plymouth Rock birds. I know this from experience. The heirloom breeds you mentioned are beautiful but need more food per egg. The Novogen Egg Layer has worked great on my homestead eating my scraps and sprouted grass. The money I save on feed makes buying new birds free. Although I do get a laying hen every once and a while that hatches her eggs out.

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