We have been raising animals on our farm for over 10 years—sheep, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, ponies, donkeys, and a pig.
We love keeping chickens. It was really tragic after a skunk teamed up with a raccoon one year and killed them all. Not only did we miss watching them run around, but it also reminded us all of all the great things about chickens. Poultry are an important part of our farm ecosystem, and chickens also provide immense benefits as urban pets.
1. Feeding the Garden
Chicken poop is high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and it does wonders for the garden. We brood our chicks on pine shavings, and we add the bedding directly into the flowerbed when the birds move out of the brooder house. Wood shavings can take a long time to break down in the soil, but adding this small quantity every year or two really improves the soil’s vitality and tilth.
Our hen house, on the other hand, produces a large quantity of manure-infused straw bedding every year. This goes straight into the compost bins and produces magnificent fertilizer when added to the vegetable garden.
The downside is I hate the smell of chicken poop… especially that black sticky stuff that doesn’t wash off.
For being so small, chickens are able to make a significant impact with their feet. Our chicken run is also one of our winter sheep pens, and we pile all the sheep bedding and manure into a heap after the sheep move out. The chickens scratch through the pile looking for seeds and insects and slowly turn this mound of unpleasantries into a pile of sweet-smelling humus.
3. Bug Control
We never fully grasped how many bugs a chicken eats until we didn’t have chickens for a year, and I am really glad that we built the coup right beside our house. Old farmhouses like ours are a magnet for flies, but our brood next door keeps the flies at a manageable level. In wet years, the mosquitos will be so thick in the fields they will turn your clothes black, but there are always noticeably fewer bloodsuckers at the house.
Our area is also particularly bad for ticks, but we have never seen one, and I think our chickens are to thank.
4. Managing Waste
Besides eating all the bugs, chickens definitely like consuming a variety of things. As well as wintering sheep, our chicken run is also a temporary pen for maternal foster dogs and their puppies.
Momma dogs and puppies (especially puppies) produce a lot of poop, but there is not a scrap to be found after the chickens have been through. Gross, but effective.
I love waking to the sounds of a rooster crowing and listening to the hens clucking throughout the day. Is this a pro or a con? I guess that is a personal opinion.
6. No More Wasted Table Scraps
Pretty much everything off our plates ends up in the chicken house (and toddlers sure produce a lot of gummed up uneaten food). I am so glad that this "waste" goes to good use. Not only does it save on chicken feed costs, but everything they won't eat gets scratched into the bedding and ends up in the garden.
8. Mowing the Lawn
Our poultry have always done a nice job trimming and scratching in the grass around their house and keeping it neat. Chickens will peck and nibble at tender grass shoots, and keep the lawn nicely manicured. However, too many chickens in a small area will turn "nicely manicured" into “dead and brown”.
Chickens need dust baths to protect themselves from parasites. If chickens roam free all year long, they will find, or create, a patch of dirt to bathe in. This might not be a problem on a farm or acreage (unless they discover your flower garden), but it can be quite messy in a smaller yard. If you have limited space, rotating your chickens with a chicken tractor is a great way to evenly distribute scratching and fertilizing.
9. Small and Compact
Chickens don’t take up much space, and housing them is quite simple. In warmer climates, you can keep them in a light shelter all year long that protects them from the elements. Our Canadian winters require an insulated house with lots of bedding, that we keep nice and warm with heat lamps. If you get a hardier breed, they will still go outside on warmer days to enjoy the snow.
We like providing about 6 to 7 square feet per chicken inside the coup. Then our chickens are never crowded, even if we have to leave them shut inside for extended periods. There is nothing worse than having your crowded chickens start killing and eating each other while they are confined as a winter storm howls outside.
10. Clucking Like a Hen
Chickens are very social animals, and it is extremely entertaining to watch their flock dynamics. They truly have a “pecking order,” and they gossip in groups like your great-aunts at a family reunion. And who hasn’t seen a man strutting around like a rooster with his feathers ruffled?
Chickens will also bond with other animals. Our chickens happily share meals with our pig, our turkey bosses them around, and they have been known to go for rides on our sheep’s backs. They will also bond with you, and some breeds can be quite affectionate.
11. What About Those Eggs?
Being vegan, we don't see this as a perk. But our dogs, neighbors, and family definitely appreciate farm fresh eggs. And it can help with the feed costs, too.
© 2021 Bellwether Farming
Bellwether Farming (author) from Alberta, Canada on February 07, 2021:
Chickens are fun to have around for sure!
DW Davis from Eastern NC on February 06, 2021:
If we weren't so often away from home on weekends and during the summer, we would probably keep chickens. My sister and her daughter both do and enjoy them very much.
Bellwether Farming (author) from Alberta, Canada on February 06, 2021:
My grandmother had a broomstick ready for her rooster that attacked my uncle on a regular basis! Quite funny that no matter where you are chickens and people interact alike. We choose docile roosters for our flock for exactly that reason. Don't you just love chickens.
DW Davis from Eastern NC on February 06, 2021:
Your Hub brought back fond memories and one hilarious anecdote about chickens from the summers I spent with my grandparents in the tiny town of Rhems, NC outside New Bern. The fond memories are of collecting the eggs for breakfast with my grandma. The anecdote was scary at the time - the rooster decided to try and run me off. My grandmother swung the broom she always carried into the chicken yard and sent the rooster flying. Until that moment, I never understood why she carried the broom. After that, the rooster never came near me again.