To those of you who ask why raise chickens, I say why not?
Especially during the age of coronavirus, companion animals can be an important comfort. I realize some of you may not see chickens as companion animals, but don’t forget what the great poet Emily Dickinson had to say about this: “Hope is the thing with feathers…”
Chickens have many superior qualities to commend them For one thing, they don’t bark annoyingly as some dogs do. Plus chickens lay eggs. Dogs don’t lay eggs. Also, chickens are very efficient animals. They have one of the highest feed conversion ratios (FCR) of any livestock. Feed conversion ratios look at the difference between how much it takes to feed an animal versus how much food that animal provides. Chickens will eat your table scraps and turn them into protein-rich eggs. If you don’t know what to do with that watermelon rind—feed it to the chickens. What about that tub of soured yogurt in the fridge? Chickens love yogurt. They even eat ground rock. It’s called grit, and it helps them digest their food better.
We’ve raised chickens on our farm on and off for years and though they’re interesting, funny creatures, they do have their challenges. One time I had a problematic hen who was a real nester. When it came time to gather eggs, she wouldn’t leave her nest box and scratch in the yard with the other hens. She just wanted to sit in the box, murmuring contentedly. I tried to surreptitiously wrap my arm around the box to grab her eggs from behind. But she’d have none of my foolishness. She’d squawk and flap her wings indignantly like I was some stranger with my hand up her dress.
Chickens are generally peaceable, but like humans, they’re keenly aware of social hierarchies.
I was reminded of this fact once when I taught school and attended a faculty meeting. I understood the “pecking order” among faculty members, but one of our new, young teachers, did not. She had the temerity to make an innocent suggestion–without vetting her idea first with faculty leaders.
“What? Where’d you come up with that stinker?”
“That’s a dumb idea.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
I tried to defend her, rebuking fellow faculty members by saying they were all acting like a bunch of chickens picking at the youngest and newest member of our group. It was only later that I realized what a bizarre comment this was. My only defense is I had chickens on the brain, one of the few downsides of being in the chicken-raising business.
Chickens come in variety of breeds and colors: Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Leghorn (famously popularized by the cartoon character with the southern drawl, Foghorn Leghorn).
Eggs come in different colors too, but there’s a popular myth about egg shell color. Some people believe brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs. White eggs can be just as nutritious if they’re laid by a “pastured” hen as opposed to a caged hen. This is what really makes the difference in terms of egg nutrients.
One of the best parts of raising chickens is sharing the eggs with friends and family. I’ll give Nancy (an older friend who is careful with her diet and prefers organic) a dozen. Elizabeth next door needs my eggs to bake her delicious homemade cupcakes and Danish pastries. Simon is always in a hurry when he goes to work in the morning. He likes to break one of my eggs over a piece of bread and microwave it for a quick breakfast. Overall, being in the chicken business has been for both me and my husband, an egg-cellent adventure.
Image Credit: Diana Hooley