Sunday, May 17, 2009
A Month With Chickens...Things I've Learned
When I had ordered my 6 chicks last December I had no idea what I was in for as a chicken owner. All I knew was that as a locavore I wanted to make sure that I was receiving the freshest eggs possible. I also wanted to make sure my eggs came from happy chickens living the way a chicken was meant to live. No battery hen eggs for me! I had read book after book, article after article, but I knew that none of this information would mean anything unless I had actually applied it in real life and, horrors of horrors, made some mistakes!
First: Chickens are very easy to raise! I mean you need to provide adequate shelter to keep them safe from the elements and predators, but other than that, there is very little upkeep. Every morning I let them out of their coop with a cheerful "Good Morning, Girls!" and a bowlful of feed and a dispenser full of fresh water for the day. They will be content all day until they return to their coop for bedtime. I just close and lock the coop and they are fine until morning.
Another thing is that chickens poop. A lot. Everywhere. However, this was one of the reasons I wanted them in the first place. Chicken manure is a vital component for rich garden soil. It must be composted first as it's too "hot" to be put directly on your plants. Anyway, there is no shortage to finding chicken poop, because they do it everywhere...in their own food, in their water bowl,in their sleeping area, on the roof of the coop...it just sort of falls out of them wherever they are. But it's a good thing! When I add the composted manure to my plants it will provide the necessary nutrients of nitrogen, potassium and potash for good plant health as well as organic matter that helps to rebuild the soil...something commercial fertilizers can't do.
Chickens are wonderful natural pest controllers. My lawn in plagued by grubs, hence I have moles and skunks who dig at my lawn (which will one day be replaced with growing vegetables). But, grubs are on the chickens menu of delicacies. When I free-range my chickens they can pick an area free of offending grubs just by their scratching and rooting for those juicy morsels. As the seasons progresses there will be other pests that the chickens will send packing.
Owning chickens has also contributed to building self-esteem in my children. My two boys love to take care of the chickens and when my daughter comes home from college I know she will too. In addition to building responsibility,owning chickens can contribute to one's "cool factor". I have noticed on various occasions the boys bragging about owning chickens and the wonders said ownership provides. They have become the talk of the neighborhood and occasionally I find a schoolmate in the backyard looking in on the chickens in their pen, enthralled with being close to an animal not usually seen in the suburbs.
It's an ongoing process and I am still very new to it, having chickens has proven to be not only easy, but rewarding as well. We are still in our "honeymoon" phase of chicken ownership, and know that there will times that provide challenges or difficult decisions will be made. But that is down the road a bit..right now I'll just say that owning chickens has been one of the smartest things I've ever done in a while!