For many people who have grown interested in gaining a certain sense of autonomy through taking responsibility for growing a part of their own food, a simple backyard garden or even a container garden on your window will is considered a good place to start. Making the leap from growing tomatoes and peppers to raising a small flock of chickens, however, is a step that not everyone is ready to take.
For some reason, raising chickens (or other small farm animals) is considered to be something that farmers do, even though almost all of our grandparents kept a small flock wandering around the house, no matter where they lived. Whether you live on a 100-acre farm on in a crowded suburban neighborhood, raising chickens brings a number of important benefits.
Chickens should belong on every farm, every backyard, and every urban rooftop. Instead of caging chickens in pestilent CAFO housing where they´re pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics if every family would keep just a couple chickens, they would receive more than enough eggs and meat every year.
Chickens are a descendant of a jungle fowl that humans domesticated thousands of years ago. They are omnivores and traditionally survived by scratching the soil in search of insects, seeds, and other small animals. They also feed on the leaves and roots of certain plants. Chickens, when given the right conditions, can feed themselves on the land where they live.
While commercial chicken feed is made from grain that farmers dedicate millions of acres to growing, if every suburban family simply fenced in their backyards, they could raise a large flock of chicken without any sort of outside inputs. The current “organic” movement specializes in free-range chickens meaning chickens that instead of being caged are allowed to freely roam to gather a lot of their own nutrients. Free range chickens and eggs are not only much more nutritious since they gather a wider array of nutrients from their natural surrounding and consumer much more protein from the bugs and other small animals that they find, but also a more ethical way to raise chickens.
There are thousands of different breeds of chickens. While some are more bred for their egg laying capacity, others are prioritized for their meat. Some free-range chickens also can be raised for dual purposes, both offering quality egg-laying capacity and quality meat.
One of the best, sustainable strategies for keeping chickens is with the aid of a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is designed to make the most of the natural habits of chickens while minimizing dependence on outside inputs. There are many different models and designs for different chicken habits, but basically, it is a floorless structure built on wheels that allows you to move your flock of chickens around your land.
A chicken tractor thus provides shelter and safety for your chickens while also allowing for them to scratch on the ground for bugs, insects, seeds, and other edibles. They act as a mini-plow in a sense and you can decide how long you want to leave them on a certain patch of land. If you want to clear a small patch of land for a garden bed, leaving the chickens for several days will result in a piece of land cleared of almost all vegetation and well fertilized with chicken manure.
If, however, you want to maintain the pasture or vegetation, you can move your chickens more frequently whenever signs of abuse to the vegetation begin to become apparent. If you plan to leave your chickens permanently in the chicken tractor, it is important to design a small coop and nests for eggs. If, however, you plan to take them into a barn or separate coop every night, the chicken tractor can be as simple as a wire net cage built over a 2×4 frame with wheels attached.
Chickens are also extremely useful to help you get rid of excess, leftover plant material after your garden harvest ends. Simply enclosing a part of your land with some sort of moveable fencing and setting your chickens loose will allow you to feed your chickens and receive free eggs and or meat while all the while fertilizing and preparing your garden beds for the next harvest.
If you live in an area with harsh winters, your chicken flock will need to be protected in a barn or other protected area. You´ll also need to provide them with some sort of winter feed. Instead of purchasing commercial feed which is often made with GMO corn, wheat, and soy, planting a small patch of sorghum and/or soy will give you enough feed to maintain your small flock throughout the winter. Sorghum is an all-around healthy grain with an extremely high protein content (great for egg-laying chickens especially) and can be grown relatively easy. Soybeans are also high in protein though it can be hard to find non-GMO soy seed sometimes. 1/8th of an acre of soy, sorghum, or a mixture of both will be all you need for your winter feed.
Chickens also need a supplement of certain vitamins and minerals. While you can buy commercial vitamin supplements, an easy way to provide an enormous amount of calcium is to simply save your leftover eggshells, dry them in the sun and then grind them up. This eggshell powder is pure calcium and will help to keep your flock healthy and resilient.
With a little bit of ingenuity, any living environment or human habitat can be turned into a place where a small flock of chickens can thrive and offer you meat, eggs, free “plowing duty”, fertilizer, and endless entertainment.