Reasons I love raising urban chickens
Raising chickens in the city in this day and age often raises eyebrows. The responsibility, hassle, mess, smell, noise, cost are all reasons we are questioned about over and over again by friends and neighbors. Those are the same questions and fears we wrestled with before taking the plunge into urban farming.
If you've been considering opening your garden as well as your heart for some fine feathered friends, here's the good news - yes, they take some work, yes, they can poop everywhere and make a huge mess, but if you plan, prepare and decide to have fun with it, it's definitely worth it! The rewards extend far beyond the most delicious eggs you'll ever taste. Here are some of the benefits I've discovered.
Chickens teach my kids responsibility. They look forward to checking for eggs and petting the chickens each day, so it's never an issue to get them out there to take care of a chicken chore (feeding, changing the water, egg gathering, putting them away in their coop). They think it's fun!
Chickens are a conversation starter. Since I've started chicken wrangling, I've met more neighbors. Everyone seems interested in what we're doing and will stop to chat when they walk by. They're supportive too, even though the girls do get a bit squawky and noisy around egg laying time. We share the spoils (everyone loves eggs) and have yet to hear a complaint.
Chickens can be like pets (or at least someone to greet you each day). We've handled ours since they were freshly hatched so ours love to be petted and held. They're unexpectedly soft, warm and fluffy. Not exactly cuddly, but they get excited to see their humans and whatever treats you might have for them. Hide your toes and bedazzled jeans though, unless you want to be chased out of the backyard by the greedy little peckers.
Chickens help establish life's rhythm, routine. Saturday morning, 7:23 AM. When the sun had just barely risen, I clung to my covers in protest. But the chickens needed out, so I got up. As soon as I stepped outside into the clean, crisp morning air of a new day I felt more alive. It was quiet, peaceful. My coffee is just finishing brewing and while my family sleeps I plan to enjoy a little alone time on the porch. I cherish this alone time. Early morning is the only time I get it, and if it weren't for the chickens, it might never be.
Chickens are sheer entertainment. Throw them some kale or a piece of bread and it's suddenly Wild Kingdom. They dust bathe. They hide (roost) in the trees. They leap and run and talk to each other in a strange warbling language. The cats also love the coop. They wait around outside of it for mice to make an appearance and occasionally venture inside when they're especially impatient. More than once I've seen a cats furry behind be chased off by a bossy hen.
Pest control. These girls are opportunist omnivores and will eat just about anything. See above.
Chickens facilitate a connection to our past. My husband and I walked over to the coffee shop today and on our way home we heard a wonderful song. Not the song of birds in the trees, but of chickens, in backyard coops off of city alleys, announcing with alarm that an egg was about to be laid. It made both of us smile. We imagined Tacoma like it might have been in the early 20th century - working class families trying to make ends meet, raising eggs for food and thrift. We no doubt romanticize that time in our town's history, but as chicken owners, it made us feel a little more connected to where we live and the roots laid down by those who came before us.
Raising chickens means we know where our food comes from. The most obvious benefit of raising chickens is fresh eggs. Home grown eggs taste a thousand times more delicious than store bought and we know what the chickens were fed, what conditions they were raised in. It's important to keep the birds clean and cared for, but on a day to day basis, it's so much easier than I ever thought.
Chickens help fatten your wallet with recycling. We throw the chickens our food scraps, which cuts down on our waste and our budget for feed. We use their bedding in the compost heap and as fertilizer in the garden where we grow our veggies, so literally nothing goes to waste with these birds - and it doesn't stink because we keep their area clean and know exactly what we feed them.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The benefits extend far beyond my original food-revolution aspirations and so far there are no real drawbacks for me. In fact, we plan to get two more birds. You will get attached, so be prepared. We found a possum once in the coop when we forgot to shut the door at night - so diligence and care are crucial. But it's a fairly relaxed kind of maintenance once you get the birds established. A clean coop, fresh food and water, plenty of space to roam, basic care and your occasional love/devotion are all these creatures really ask. More on that later...
Some of my favorite chicken sites:
www.backyardchickens.com - Coop plans, forums, gallery and breed/product reviews.
www.mypetchicken.com - Loads of great info here on breeds, supplies, getting started.
http://gardensphere.biz - Local gardening center that sells chickens and poultry supplies. They provide lots of great info and friendly service, and hold an annual coop tour in the Tacoma area. My go-to guys!