As you know, one of our goals here at The Outdoor Apothecary homestead is to live more self-sufficiently and sustainably. One of the ways we do that is by raising chickens. In fact, raising chickens has become an activity of growing importance within permaculture/sustainability movements, and we can attest to the benefits of this endeavor.
A lot of backyard chicken owners raise their birds for eggs and meat. Some people also keep chickens as companions, because they like their personalities. Others have chickens to supply them with fresh eggs and fertilized chicken manure.
What is clear to me is that chickens form one piece of a larger sustainable system for us–it’s important to remember that when thinking about sustainable transitions, we need to think in systems, not in solitary activity. It’s all about how the pieces fit together as a whole and how each piece fits together. One of the best books I’ve found to date on sustainable systems and thinking this way is Gaia’s Garden.
For us raising chickens means so much more than fresh eggs every morning, although it’s definitely an added bonus. Our “girls” also provide us with garden fertilizer, garden tilling, natural pest control, compost, and last but not least, entertainment. Chickens are marvellous creatures whose everyday habits positively contribute to their environment, and fit perfectly into our overall sustainability framework.
Environmental Benefits of Raising Chickens.
When you keep backyard chickens, you can raise your own eggs and avoid factory farming’s harmful environmental impact. Compared to a factory farm, backyard hens produce less manure in a smaller space. You can handle the waste properly, returning it to the environment in an eco-conscious manner. And with proper care, there will be little or no odor from your coop. Your birds will also be happier and healthier—and their eggs will contain better nutrition than those from factory farms.
Here are a five ways that backyard chickens provide an environmental benefits to us:
1. Fresh Eggs
Eating as locally as possible is something my family has been working on for the last few years. One of the ways we do this is by having a constant supply of fresh eggs from our sustainably raised chickens. Knowing that we are treating ourselves with food that contains no chemicals, hormones, or other nasty interferences gives us such peace of mind!
Another benefit is knowing that raising chickens and producing our own eggs means that no money has gone into factory farming – where chickens are subjected to abhorrent conditions in order to meet the demand. Raising chickens based on a healthy diet and using those eggs instead helps us to remain mindful of where our food is coming from and to be grateful for the gifts our “girls” give us every day.
Like most living creatures, chickens produce waste. A lot of it. Aged chicken manure can be used as fertilizer for your garden. Since chickens are omnivores (meaning they eat everything), they don’t carry diseases or bacteria found in the manure of meat-consuming animals. Collecting and using their droppings as fertilizer will give your plants a brilliant range of nutrients.
3. Garden Tilling
Chickens are a great way to prepare new garden beds and is in the spirit of aligning yourself with natural processes so you don’t have to fight nature.
The fact is if you leave [chickens] in one place long enough, they will kill the sod.
The result of chicken tilling is ground that has:
- Been stripped of cover crop or other vegetation.
- A top inch or so of loose dirt.
- Cover crop roots left in place to provide organic matter for microorganisms and water retention.
- Been fertilized with high nitrogen chicken manure.
Save yourself a lot of work by:
- Using chicken tillers to prepare beds of weeds for planting.
- Planting cover crops after chicken tilling and letting it grow.
- Shredding the cover crop using chicken tillers.
- Planting your garden.
4. Natural Pest Control
If you are looking for an all-natural solution to your garden’s pest problems, consider raising chickens! Chickens love to eat grasshoppers, slugs, snails, and beetles – preventing these pests from damaging your plants. Raising chickens on a bug and insect-rich diet is extremely beneficial for them, and will even make your eggs taste better as a result
Since we are committed to caring for our planet we refuse synthetic and harmful fertilizers in any of our gardens. Instead we rely on compost which is a great way to reuse waste and create natural fertilizer. Chicken manure is an excellent ingredient for compost because it’s rich in nitrogen and potassium. We add other organic matter like the natural wood shavings used as bedding in the coop and in nest boxes. We also add bits of extra plant life, then moisten the pile with water to activate its fertilizing properties.
We also keep a compost bin under our kitchen sink where we collect kitchen scraps for both the compost pile and to feed to our hens. Chickens love kitchen scraps! Feeding your kitchen scraps to your chickens is a great way to minimize waste and reduce landfill. Once the chickens have digested it, it goes on to create manure which is then used as fertilizer! And thus the cycle of sustainability continues.
To learn more about composting, check out this post Composting 101: An Easy Composting How To Guide
Other Benefits of Raising Chickens
Providing Entertainment – Chickens are fun, entertaining creatures to have around. We have had chickens for several years now and have found them to be wonderfully entertaining. We have spent many an afternoon sitting nearby while the “girls” scratch and peck in the dirt searching for insects or taking dust baths! Chickens just seem so happy with life–give them a little room to roam, you’ll see what we mean.
- As a Teaching Tool – Raising chickens with kids is a great way to teach them responsibility and how to live in an eco-friendly way. Chores such as collecting eggs, feeding scraps at dinner time, and cleaning out the coop give children valuable lessons and skills about caring for animals–and often lead to self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment. Educating kids while they’re young makes them more aware of their footprint on the earth for years to come.
Building a Coop
Building a chicken coop doesn’t have to be tricky or expensive, and it will provide you with many benefits. It is also much easier than you might think, and it can be a fun project for family members of all ages.
Building a chicken coop can seem like a daunting project. Knowing what steps to take, what materials to use and how to execute them can be confusing if you’re not familiar with carpentry. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some easy-to-follow guides to building your own backyard chicken coop. If you can gather your materials, plan, and tools to start building a chicken coop now!
Chickens can teach us a lot as we strive to live in harmony with nature. While chickens spend much of their focus on survival, they also take time to enjoy dust baths, napping in the sun, and receiving attention from their caretakers.
We too need to focus not only on our survival but also remember to take time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Like chickens, we should strive to live in harmony with nature and get back to basics, keep things simple, and make the necessary lifestyle changes so that we may all be producers and not just consumers.
If you have the space and ability, consider including chickens as part of your homestead. With a few adjustments and some dedication, they can provide a good source of healthy food while enriching your life at the same time.
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