Friday, February 5, 2010

Gallus gallus Hucksterism

Here are ten reasons why you should consider raising chickens--or at least think that they're all that.

1. There is something really satisfying about taking care of livestock. It's different from pets when you depend on the animal to produce something of material value. Okay, they're just fun too.
From Holmestead Pictures (public)

2. As long as you don't have roosters, most towns will let you have a few hens in your backyard.
From Holmestead Pictures (public)

3. The eggs are healthier and fresher than store eggs. Look at these two yolks. Can you guess which one came from the Holmestead? Chickens raised on pasture (or backyard) produce eggs with much higher omega fatty acids, beta-carotene, folic acid and vitamins A, D and E. They also have less saturated fat and cholesterol (source). I've seen an egg industry website claiming that there is no nutritional difference between free range and conventional eggs. That's probably true because most "free range" eggs are not truly free range. (It's the same bunk as with "cage free"--see reason #4.) This picture shows the difference between my eggs and store eggs. These were collected this week in the dead of winter when the green pickings are less than in the summer. I imagine the difference is even more pronounced then.
From Holmestead Pictures (public)

4. Every egg you produce (or if you don't have your own that you buy from someone who does) will send your dollars to humane agriculture instead of factory farms. The whole idea that "cage free" is better is pretty much bunk. Same with "organic" for that matter. Animals can be crammed into cages their whole lives and so long as their feed was raised without pesticide they qualify as "organic." To be free range a giant indoor facility just has to provide "access" to the outdoors. The birds don't have to ever actually go outside. Unless you have specific information on the producer of any animal food product you don't really know where it's been. Just go to Youtube and type in "egg CAFO" and you'll get plenty of animal rights propaganda that will help convert you to local eggs. (I say propaganda because I don't agree with all of their objections and many of the videos take on a propaganda tone.)

5. Your kids will have a lot of fun with the flock and learn a little biology along the way. They can also sell eggs to the neighbors and earn a little money.
From Holmestead Pictures (public)

6. Other cool kids are doing it.

7. All of the free fertilizer! Every few days throw some old hay, leaves or mulch under where they roost and they will make you some fine compost.

8. Eggs make a great present for neighbors, home and visiting teachees, etc.

9. I Rob!

10. Think how much tougher Rocky would have been if he had downed raw Holmestead eggs!


  1. Cool article,

    Our friends in Scotland had some chickens as pets, we helped bath and blow dry them, which to Lesley was one of the highlights of the trip.

    Lesley remembers reading somewhere that having chickens roam your garden is a good way to control bugs, although we can't remember the source.

    But we'd like to have some chickens when we're not in an apartment anymore...maybe 2013...2015...2020 (agghhhhhh!)

  2. Here's the main reason Kara doesn't want us to get chickens: she heard that they attract rats. Is this true? Also what do you need to do to keep them warm in the winter? Thanks, professor.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out. I do love raising me some chickens. I think the eggs taste a little better, too. But maybe it's psychological.

  4. Growing up, my chicken was a white bedhead--not the scientific name (the ones with the big fluff of feathers on their head), but she got bullied. The other hens were jealous of her do and pecked her feathers out.

    One day I'll have hens.

    And an apiary.

  5. Tone--I want to know what kind of folks bath and blow dry their chickens! I've never heard of that before--but it sounds like it would be entertaining.

    Brandon--Rats could be a problem if there is too much spilled feed around. Also, rats will carry off chicks if they can get in to your coop. I imagine if your coop is high enough off the ground and well enclosed the chickens would be able to get underneath it and eat any spilled feed. If the coop is secure rats shouldn't be able to get in and bother the birds. Having a cat or dog around is good for rodents too. Our cat brings us a vole every week or so--but no sign of rats.

    Warmth: As long as they are enclosed for shelter from the wind and don't get wet they will be fine. I didn't do anything special for our birds and they survived sub-zero temperatures.

    Carly--I agree. I think mine taste better too--even if it may well be psychological. And besides, I know they're healthier.

    Katy--Those kind are great, even if they inspire jealousy. Bees, huh? Bees are pretty far down my list, but I would like to try someday.