Chicken ownership is a very interesting and rewarding hobby. Chickens offer many benefits to a homestead, and are relatively easy to care for. Besides the many benefits and being easy to care for, they are fun to watch and have interesting behaviors.
One of the first things that comes to mind involving chickens is that they produce eggs. Owning your own chickens means that you have the freshest eggs available, right from your own backyard. Chickens on factory egg farms generally live their whole lives in cramped small cages. Living in tight quarters, they are usually fed high doses of antibiotics. If you have never looked up where your supermarket eggs come from, you might be shocked and disgusted. Keeping your own chickens means you know where your eggs come from, and how your chickens are treated.
A silkie chicken Polish (front) and Rhode Island Red (back) chickens
Some other things that chickens produce are meat, feathers, and fertilizer. Chickens can also turn up soil, eat ticks, and will even eat your leftovers. Chickens molt their feathers every year. A great way to not waste these feathers is using them for arts and crafts. Children love using feathers in arts and crafts. Chicken manure can be composted to use as fertilizer later on. Chicken manure is highly valued because it contains high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If chickens are allowed to free range, or have a mobile run, they can be put in the garden to turn up to soil, and will eat young plants and ticks. Because chickens will eat young plants, it is recommended to put the chickens in the garden before you plant, or after your plants are somewhat mature.
Chickens need to be locked up at night, or they can easily be attacked and killed by various types of wildlife. Most people keep their chickens in coops, but rabbit hutches can also be used. When in a coop, the minimum space each chicken needs is about four square feet per chicken. If the chickens are in a run, the minimum space recommended is ten square feet per chicken. The average chicken will eat about a quarter pound of food a day. Like all other animals, they also need a fresh supply of water. Depending on the type of housing the chicken have, the manure will also need to be cleaned up to prevent dirty living conditions, and possible diseases from affecting the chickens.
There are hundreds of different breeds of chickens, which come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and uses. Some common dual purpose breeds are Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Orpingtons. Dual purpose means that they can easily be used for multiple purposes, like producing eggs and meat. Some breeds are more decorative than useful for eggs or meat. Chickens like the Polish and Silkie are examples of showy looking birds, that look great in the garden. Certain chicken breeds are also more suited to survive in certain climates. Some breeds, mostly showy and small breeds, have a hard time surviving the cold New England winters, and may need additional heat sources. Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks are best suited for living in the New England climate.
Chickens are a great addition to any backyard. They offer many benefits, are low in cost and maintenance, and also make interesting pets.