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How Backyard Chickens are Changing the Sustainability + Nutrition Game

The boom of backyard chicken owners sparked during the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of slowing, and with egg prices soaring and the avian flu outbreak plaguing the US and parts of Europe, is it any wonder people are looking outside the box? But beyond more nutritious eggs, there are a number of ways in which this practise is promoting sustainability.

The trend of keeping chickens at home has surged in popularity, driven by a desire for a more sustainable and ethical approach to food production for some, and economic reasons for others. Inflation hasn’t exactly been kind in recent years! This shift signifies a return to a more traditional and hands-on approach to agriculture, even within the confines of a bustling city. But let’s take a closer look at the benefits:

Antibiotic-Free and Humanely Treated: One of the primary advantages of raising backyard chickens is the assurance of producing antibiotic-free eggs and poultry. Unlike large-scale commercial operations where antibiotics are often administered to promote growth and prevent diseases, backyard chickens are typically raised without these interventions. This translates to healthier, more natural eggs and meat, free from the concerns associated with antibiotic overuse.

Beyond the health benefits, backyard chickens are often treated as beloved pets. Owners take pride in providing their feathered friends with spacious and comfortable living conditions. This humane treatment not only aligns with ethical considerations but also ensures that the animals lead stress-free lives, positively impacting the quality of the eggs and meat they produce.

Nutritional Superiority: Backyard chicken eggs are celebrated for their nutritional superiority. Studies have shown that eggs from chickens raised in more natural and varied environments tend to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and antioxidants. Backyard chickens are often allowed to roam freely, foraging for insects and plants, resulting in a more diverse and nutrient-rich diet compared to commercially raised counterparts.

Environmental Impact: Backyard chickens contribute to sustainability by having a significantly lower environmental impact than industrial farming practices. Large-scale poultry operations are notorious for their resource-intensive nature, generating substantial amounts of waste and requiring extensive energy for production and transportation. In contrast, backyard chickens produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and their waste can be effectively used as fertiliser for gardens, creating a closed-loop system.

Community Building: Raising backyard chickens fosters a sense of community and connection. Neighbours often come together to share knowledge, resources, and the occasional surplus of eggs. Community chicken coops and shared responsibilities help build social bonds while promoting a shared commitment to sustainability.

In a world where the origins of our food are increasingly distant and the ingredient lists on packaging seem like a scientific experiment, there's a growing movement of individuals who are reclaiming control over what they eat. This movement extends beyond planting backyard vegetable gardens to the inclusion of feathered friends – backyard chickens. As people become more concerned about the presence of preservatives and drugs in their food, the trend of raising chickens at home aligns with the broader desire to know exactly what is on our plates.  

While backyard vegetable gardens have long been a staple of the self-sufficiency movement, backyard chickens add a new dimension to the idea of homegrown food. Eggs and poultry are staple ingredients in countless recipes, and having the ability to produce these items at home gives individuals more control over the quality and origin of their meals. Backyard chickens represent an extension of the desire to be intimately involved in the entire food production process, from the soil to the coop to the table. 

In an era of mass production and industrial farming, consumers are growing increasingly wary of the preservatives, additives, and drugs that find their way into the food supply chain. Backyard chickens offer a solution to this concern, allowing individuals to raise their own poultry and eggs without relying on commercial operations that may use antibiotics and other chemicals. The transparency in the backyard-to-table process provides reassurance that the food consumed is free from unwanted substances.

Raising backyard chickens is not just about having fresh eggs or poultry; it's a journey towards understanding and controlling one's food sources. Owners of backyard chickens are intimately acquainted with the living conditions, diets, and overall well-being of their feathered companions. This knowledge empowers individuals to make informed decisions about the food they consume, fostering a deeper connection to the entire food production cycle.

Cost Comparison: Raising vs. Buying Eggs

When considering the cost of raising backyard chickens, it's essential to factor in initial setup expenses and ongoing maintenance. While there are upfront costs involved in getting started, the long-term benefits often outweigh the initial investment. Here's a brief cost comparison:

Initial Setup Costs:

Chickens: Purchasing chicks or pullets (young hens) can range from $3 to $20 per bird, depending on the breed and age.

Coop: Building or buying a chicken coop can cost anywhere from $100 to $500 or more, depending on size and features.

Feeding: Starter feed for chicks and layer feed for mature hens will cost approximately $15 to $30 per month, depending on the number of chickens.

Bedding: Wood shavings or straw for coop bedding might cost around $10 to $20 per month.

Ongoing Costs:

Feed: The monthly cost of chicken feed for layers ranges from $15 to $30, depending on the number of chickens.

Bedding: Monthly bedding costs remain consistent.

Veterinary Care: While chickens generally require minimal veterinary care, occasional expenses for health checks or treatments may arise. 

5 Easy Ways to Get Started with Backyard Chickens

Research Local Regulations: Before getting started, research local regulations regarding backyard chickens. Some areas have restrictions on the number of chickens allowed, coop placement, and other considerations. 

Choose the Right Breed: Select a chicken breed that suits your needs and environment. Some breeds are better for egg production, while others are raised for meat. Consider factors like climate resistance, temperament, and egg colour.

Build or Buy a Coop: Constructing a chicken coop can be a rewarding DIY project, or you can purchase a pre-made coop. Ensure the coop provides adequate shelter, ventilation, and protection from predators.

Provide Essentials: Invest in quality chicken feed, appropriate bedding, and water dispensers. Access to a secure outdoor space for scratching, dust bathing, and foraging is crucial for the chickens' wellbeing.

Establish a Routine: Chickens thrive on routine. Establish a feeding schedule, regularly check for eggs, and monitor the health of your flock – chickens can be susceptible to infection, so it’s vital to keep an eye on them and note any changes. Changes in egg production, loss of appetite, fatigue, lethargy and unusual droppings can all be signs of an issue worth taking to your vet. But, along with monitoring health, a consistent routine helps create a comfortable and stress-free environment. 

Getting started with backyard chickens is an enriching experience that not only provides fresh, sustainable food but also allows individuals to connect with the sources of their daily nourishment. With careful planning and dedication, raising backyard chickens can be a fulfilling and cost-effective venture. 

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