My former hometown is considering creating an ordinance allowing residents to keep backyard chickens – up to 5 hens per residence. Folks across the city, which has about 60,000 residents, want to have the ability to raise a small flock of chickens for fresh eggs. And some folks are losing their minds over this.
“They are too noisy!”
“They’re dirty! And dangerous!”
“There will be chickens running loose in the city!”
The way some of these people are squawking, you’d think the city is considering an ordinance to allow backyard Bubonic plaque. They are chickens, folks, not harpie eagles with a penchant for eating the faces off of young children.
Backyard chickens provide much healthier eggs for consumers. Numerous studies done have proved that eggs from chickens allowed out of their cages to walk in the dirt, peck at bugs and generally just be a chicken, are much more nutritious than those from their cage-raised, commercially grown counterparts. You only have to crack open a home-grown egg to see the difference in its rich yellow-orange yolk. A study conducted in Europe also revealed that salmonella was more prevalent in caged flocks than in organic, barn and cage-free flocks of chickens. Plus, you control what your chickens eat, what medications they receive and how eggs are handled and stored.
Hens are usually calm, quiet and well-mannered. Roosters can be noisy with their morning crowing, but hens go about their business quietly clucking and cooing, if making any noise at all. They eat bugs, making them a great organic pest control tool. They will eat table scraps like fruit and vegetable skins. Think of them as feathery little garbage men, er, women, that recycle much of your kitchen waste, saving space in city landfills for actual garbage. One study I read said that a single hen can “biorecycle” about seven pounds of food residuals in a month. So if 500 households raised 5 chickens each, that would be 105 tons of waste each year diverted from city landfills! And chicken poop, when composted properly, makes excellent fertilizer for gardens and lawns.
Backyard hens can also provide a wonderful teaching tool for children. Like any pet, children can learn responsibility and empathy from chickens. But hens have the added benefit of teaching about food systems and the human-food relationship. Society has become so far removed from the farm, children often don’t know eggs come from chickens or beef comes from cows. I think anytime you can be involved in the production of your own food, it’s a good thing. You become more invested in what you are putting into your body. And spending time outdoors has proven to reduce stress, help with allergies and improve your health and well-being. Chickens are even being used as therapy for patients with diseases like dementia, Alzzheimer’s, depression and autism!
My backyard is, for all intents and purposes, one giant chicken coop. Except we raise pheasants, not chickens. About 20,000 of them at the peak of the rearing season. The only time I am bothered by the smell is when it has rained or snowed and we are walking smack dab in the middle of the bird pens. Occasionally I can hear a rooster crow or squawk, but given all the noises around our place, it doesn’t even hit my radar. I lived in town and town noises are much more obnoxious that a few hens merrily clucking about. Yes, hens, can and do make noise. But guess what else makes noise? Dogs barking all day and night. People playing their music at max volume. Drunks walking home after a party. Street traffic. Construction. You know what wakes me up at night? Owls. Dogs. Coyotes. Trucks. But never our pheasants.
Raising hens isn’t for everyone. You need to be a responsible pet owner that is ready to provide the chickens with the right habitat and clean up after them. You need to be prepared to spend some money on their purchase, care and welfare. You need to be educated on how to protect them from predators and prevent attracting other vermin to your neighborhood. You’ll need to find someone to chicken-sit when you are on vacation. Hens are living creatures with needs, just like a cat or dog.
And most importantly, you will need to be prepared to make tough decisions about your hens’ lives when their laying days are over. Egg production will decline as a hen ages. Will you let your beloved Christina Eggulara live out her retirement in your coop and begin buying eggs again? Are you prepared to have a vet euthanize Chick Cheney ? Or slaughter and eat Cluck Norris yourself? It is NEVER appropriate to just turn your hens loose and let them fend for themselves. Local animal shelters simply aren’t equipped for hundreds of unwanted hens. So have a plan before you even step foot into your local farm and ranch store and be prepared to make some tough choices about Tyrannosaurs Pecks when the time comes.
But if you’ve educated yourself on the responsibility of raising laying hens and are prepared to be a good neighbor and responsible owner, I say bring on the cluckers. Will the backyard chicken movement go perfectly? Probably not. But I’d venture to say that the small group of locavores who will participate in this effort have already put more thought, time and effort into raising chickens than a large percentage of pet owners out there.
Let the chickens come. Then take your neighbors some eggs.