~ P.J. Rourke ~
Those of you who have read "Seed to Harvest" in the past know that responsible self-sufficiency is important to our family. I am a firm believer that self-sufficiency and the opportunity to provide food for oneself or their family is a human right. One has to be neighborly of course and make sure their animals are not a nuisance or a public health hazard but if one is practicing responsible husbandry than those issues should not even be a factor. Backyard chickens provide an opportunity to continue that philosophy.
One may be surprised to know that there are drastic health differences in a factory farm egg compared to "backyard" eggs. As an example we have all heard that eggs contain far too much cholesterol for a healthy diet. You may be interested to know that only half the cholesterol present in factory eggs happens to be found in backyard eggs. I sometimes wonder if this is simply from the stress and diet of the factory birds? The urban homesteader will also be happy to know that their chickens produce eggs that have nearly 25% more vitamin E. Vitamin E is important in a number of biological functions with its role in antioxidants being well known. Backyard hens also have nearly 75% more beta-carotene in their eggs. Beta-carotene when converted to vitamin A in the intestines provides a number of the same benefits. Last but not least backyard birds eggs contain nearly 20% more omega-3 fatty acids than their factory farmed relatives. Omega-3 is believed to help with everything from depression to asthma. Eggs in general are sometimes called a wonder food because they basically contain everything one needs for health except vitamin C.
There are of course a number of things to consider with backyard chickens. Breed and purpose tend to go hand in hand. Hens whose primary purpose is for egg production are normally on the smaller side so are not necessarily ones first choice for meat, for example the leghorn. On the other end of the spectrum you have meat birds who provide a nice plump carcass but are not exactly what you would want in way of eggs, think Cornish rock. There are the dual purpose breeds who are good for both but fall somewhere in between. Some birds are far more flighty than others, some more docile. Some are vocal while others are not. As with most self-sufficient ventures research is a good idea. Don't be afraid to go outside of a book and talk to someone who owns a particular breed you are interested in. The website backyard chickens which can be found at http://www.backyardchickens.com/ is a fabulous resource as well.
It is not a venture to take lightly but with that said the reward is immense. Just remember, happy chickens make happy neighbors and everybody wins.
Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead https://www.facebook.com/seedtoharvestbossyhenhomestead/ which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here https://amileinhershoestalesofastayathomedad.wordpress.com/