Andy Schneider, better known as The Chicken Whisperer, described some of the benefits of raising a backyard chicken flock in a recent Murray McMurray newsletter. I would like to explore some of the reasons for growing chickens in more depth.
Raising chickens, like gardening and many other homesteading activities allow us to participate in something that supports and sustains life. Food is, obviously, essential to life, and raising a flock of chickens is a way to raise food that is within the reach of many of us.
When we participate in doing something that is essential to life, many positive things start to happen. For one, we derive a sense of meaning, fulfillment, and purpose from it that exceeds and transcends what we experience in doing non-essential activities. It also deepens our relationship with others, particularly with our children. If you have young children and a backyard flock, you may have already discovered that many children like nothing better than to go see the chickens and help take care of them.
As our children help us care for the chickens, they learn to not just focus on their own wants and needs but become aware of and sensitive to the needs of something outside of themselves, the chickens. These needs include proper food, clean water, proper housing, dry litter, protection from extreme heat and predators. They also learn that living creatures need continual care. Just because you fed the chickens yesterday doesn’t mean that you can take off today and tomorrow. This teaches them a sense of responsibility. Some may say, “well that’s just chickens”, but the care, sensitivity, responsibility, and reliability that they learn (and we learn) in caring for the chickens will spill over into every other area of their lives also, and will help them care better for their children or perhaps an aging parent or grandparent as they grow older.
I only have three chickens and an A-frame chicken tractor on a half acre, treed, fenced lot, so they free range every day. Is it necessary to give them water every day when their water is frozen and there is soft snow in patches all over? Don’t grouse and other wild birds eat snow? Surely they are smart enough to do that rather than die of thirst. I’m in British Columbia, Canada, and our snow seldom gets too hard to peck in pieces. thanks
In my senior years, being a chicken keeper and loving it, I enjoy visiting McMurry’s Hatchery Blog and reading about experiences of other chicken enthusiast’s. I too, like someone wrote in their post, enjoy watching chickens more than watching TV. The only TV show I enjoyed more than my chickens was Red Shelton.
During WW2 and before, we ordered chickens from Sears Roebuck and Company, raised, and cared for them for extra income. As soon as they were large enough we sold the fryers for one dollar each and the same price for a dozen of eggs. Each day before and after school my job was to feed, water, and gather the eggs.
My Father saw how much I cared for the chickens so he bought me a set of caponizing instruments. As a member of the local 4H Club my Father invited one of the agents to our small farm to teach me the art of caponizing roosters. Then, we had large White Leghorn Capons running with the other chickens. That same year the capons were entered in the Gregg County Fair Livestock Show. My capon receive a blue ribbon and sold for $55.00 dollars at the auction. I thought I was wealthy. I cherish those times keeping chickens as well as the present. Life is fun.
We donate a dozen eggs a week during the summer as part of our PTA fundraising Auction. Its really a great way to raise money for the schools and let people know they too can raise chickens. We know three or four families that are now raising their own chickens just by seeing that we raise chickens and talking to us about it. Word travels fast.
When I moved to the country my neighbor had two roosters who would crow together, but slightly off key. Their harmony reminded me of the Everly Brothers and so I called them Don & Phil. Everytime they would cut loose I would giggle and smile. Then one died and eventually the other and I missed the morning concerts. So about three months ago I saw an advertisement for Free Roosters and quickly brought one home and named him Peckerhead. Ol’Peckerhead would begin crowing around 4:30 am. and continue throughout the day until well after sunset. I found that he was calling to a neighbors rooster a half-mile away and one afternoon he took off to find this guy. When I found him he was in the pasture about halfway to his destination and knew he needed some girls to call his own. Now we have four hens, who lay like crazy, and Ol’Peckerhead free ranging all day long on the ranch. They are more fun to watch than TV and I’ve been working on their new house & chicken run for about six weeks. Who knew a free rooster would cause me to spend so much time and several hundred dollars on a hen house. But I got to admit it’s been very therapeutic as well as entertaining having Ol’Peckerhead & The Posse rooting around the yard for all the creepy crawlies. And I agree, their eggs are delicious.
We began the adventure of raising backyard chickens back in the early 1990’s when our children were young. Whenever I need to buy store eggs while traveling or when they’re not laying, I have to splurge on the expensive cage-free organic ones, as I don’t even consider factory eggs to be food. They are so pale, flat and sickly compared to the robust, deep yellow yolks of our homegrown eggs. They don’t even have taste. We’ve sold eggs for many years and our customers keep coming back. It has been so much fun for the children over the years. Now my oldest daughter has carried on the tradition at her farm, and our 7 year-old grandson has his own little egg business to save up for the Lego set he wants. It teaches a sense of self suffiency which is so good for kids, not to mention the entainment value! They never cease to amaze us and make us laugh. The funniest antic I remember was when our little buttercup rooster decided to crow under the electric fence. He started to crow, and as he raised his head for his “crowing stance” his comb touched the wire, and his crow was cut short and became a series of insulted squaks for about 5 minutes. It was so funny to see how insulted he was! His dignity had been compromised… We all laughed so hard at him!
The biggest thing I’ve learned from our chickens is that I must enjoy the present, and dwell in it as they do. The present moment is really all we have, and yet many of us are seldom there as our lives are so busy and filled with worry and stress. Chicken’s lives are uncertain. Most don’t live very long. Yet they thoroughly enjoy each moment of sunshine they are given. I love watching them luxuriously dusting in a wallow in the morning sun, or happily jumping to catch a flying bug in mid-air. There is a grace about them that cannot be explained. They are just great to have around the yard, and provide hours of entainment, and healthy meals for our family.
My husband Dallas, and I love our chickens purchased from McMurray’s. We have been keeping chickens for many years now and have loved every minute of it. We live in Michigan and have not had any problems with the chickens living in a cold environment; it is amazing how they adapt. We share the work, except in the winter months. My husband has the sole responsibility then, because I have a bad back and can’t go out in the snow for fear of falling. We probably talk more about our chickens and their antics than anything else, it seems they give us this rewarding purpose in life. We sell our eggs for $1 a dozen to help out the poor in the area. We can’t imagine life without our feathered friends. We highly recommend it!
This year is our first at raising chickens. I spoke about having a flock of chickens for about six months. My wife, Linda, was getting “tired” from hearing me talk about chickens. She really wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea, but after looking at a chicken catalog, she was really amazed at all the different types of chickens.
Last February we got our first four birds. Linda wanted more than just 3 reds and one Americana, so she started looking for more. Soon four more were added. They are all brown, blue and dark brown layers. Eight soon turned into ten. Then we added the Buff Orpington for color. Eleven was a good number, but “Cleo” turned out to be a rooster, so he had to go. We finally settled down on ten. We figure that this is the best number for us.
Now they are just starting to lay (small brown eggs). We’re hoping that they will get bigger as time goes on. Aside from the eggs, just watching the chickens run around the yard, scratch in the dirt and interact with each other and us, is a kick. Our girls really love raisins as a special treat. They sure move fast when trying to get to the raisins.
With our “extended” family, Linda and I actually enjoy sharing the chores and collecting the eggs. This has been a great, down home, experience.
We live on a 3 acre lot for the past 12 years, and we just recently starter raising chickens. It really isn’t that hard to take care of them, but the return is worth every effort. I definitely recommend raising chickens to any one who has the space to do it.
I have moved to a ‘country’ life and I get such a kick out of relating my chicken stories to my ‘city’ friends. It’s a way to teach them, also, about simple things like WHERE our eggs and meat actually come from. Recently I found a hen brooding on 41 eggs she had laid secretly!!!…..what fun I had with that story! But then came the questions about roosters and brooding and laying….and I had friends write back saying just how interesting it was to really know this. Can put in a plug against factory eggs, too.
Already, just three years with chickens, I have had so many great adventures with them. The wonderful eggs and meat are just a fringe benefit of knowing the critters themselves. I hope soon to have grandchildren old enough to enjoy them, as well.
The leap last year to meat chicks as well as layers was a big one for me; I do not have to do the actual ‘processing’ which makes this somehow possible; the meat from my free range color ranger chickens is like a whole different food from the paltry store offerings. You really should sell these chicks: very self-sufficient, active, more ‘real’ chickens than the cornish X….at least in my humble opinion. They do really well as free range birds. My bunch this year is being too friendly………..I am trying to keep some distance……or I might have twelve ‘extra’ chickens running here all winter. This breed does not die from heart and lung problems as the cornish do, either.
Yea for the chickens of the world!!
What kind of meat chicks do you use?
How can you tell if a chicken is still laying eggs?
As a hen lays, her yellow skin gets bleached to a pale pink or whitish color around the vent area – where she lays the egg. If the hen has been producing eggs for a long time, even her shanks (the part of the hens leg between the claw and the first joint) will be bleached, so they will be a lighter color. A good layer will have a large, moist vent.
We have many excellent reference books. You can see these on our website or in our catalog. One book that is great if you are just beginning to raise chickens is: A Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow (available in our catalog as #731).
For years, I have had backyard chickens which I got from McMurray’s. My eight grandchildren think of gardens and chickens when they think of grandmama. They love to look at your catalog and dream of which breed of chickens we should try after these get old. The children love to get the eggs and we try to have enough for them to take home with them too. The children love to collect the feathers and see the different kinds and colors and are awed by the variety that God creates. Backyard chickens have been a unifying force in our extended family. Thank you for so many happy memories you have made possible with your wide variety of chickens for us to choose from.
I love the article by Andy Schnieder. It is so true. Chickens teach children…and us all…so much!
I loved the article!
I couldn’t agree more. Raising laying hens has really taught her responsibility in several ways. At age 14, she has already been completely caring for her laying hens and selling their eggs for almost two years! In fact, last year, she used some of her profits to buy more chicks to raise and she currently splits the cost of her feed with us (with as many eggs as our family uses it is only right!). She really cares for her birds. No one has to tell her to feed and water them or to clean out their coop or collect the eggs. Also, she knows her birds so well she can tell if one seems sick or is hurt and takes care of them accordingly. It has been a really good experience for her.
Raising chicken is therapy for the soul. A sense of pride and something to share with your kids, grandkids and loveones!!!!
I started raising backyard chickens about two months. I have a 10 year old son who has struggled with ADD for several years. I must say since I built my coop and started raising chickens, my son has made such a huge turn around. He loves coming into the coop and hand feeding the chickens and he laughs and laughs when they start to fly and land on his shoulders. I was told to put him on medication a few months ago and did in fact pick it up at the drugstore, but never gave it to him. Giving a young child such a serious medication was upsetting me greatly. I have to say that I’m so great full to my chickens for helping my son with his ADD and not having to start him on any prescription drugs. My advise to anyone is start raising chickens!!! there fun, easy, and your children and spouse will love them.
Laughter is medicine, right? I think so many of these problems that confront this new generation could be addressed much more simply than with all those chemicals!
I’ve only just begun this chicken raising adventure a few months ago, and even though we haven’t yet seen an egg just the birds themselves bring joy and life to our home:)
I like your list. I might add that keeping chickens also has helped my children deepen their understanding and respect for the robustness of life –tending to an abandoned fledglings which just hatched by creating conditions to nurture that new life when its mother could not. And too helped them face the death — seeing how the other chickens respond when one of their own dies — the upset and consternation in the coop, the way one chicken will crow like a banshee in what seems a wail of mourning and respect for its fallen sister’ and it’s shown them too the way we must respond quickly and directly when a chicken is killed by a predator or dies of natural causes. Finally, and related to both of these, I’d say that the opportunity to act humanely toward any animal is good experience for all of us. We are ennobled by the opportunity to connect with the simple happy lives of our chickens, learning their personalities and individual behaviors. It’s a lot of fun, but also quite a privilege to have these remarkable creatures in our lives.
I agree with all the wonderful reasons you have mentioned about the positive effects of raising chickens in your own back yard. If I could I would like to add that the health benefits of happy chickens raised in a clean environment out number the convenience of store bought chicken and/or eggs.
Our chickens wake up each morning when my husband opens the door to their house at about 6:00 am. They each bound out of the house to be the first one to find the night crawler still on the surface of their grassy yard. After they receive their breakfast of cracked corn or oats, they begin the vidual of exploring the grounds looking for bugs, seeds, worms and even grass.
If one spends the time and listens you will hear the little chirping and cooing sounds they make to communicate to each other. They transport a psychological feeling that all is well and safe. I have heard that their owners even have lower blood pressure after spending time in the hen yard watching them perform their daily routines. And then there is the dust bath. The first time I watched a hen digging herself into the ground, I was alarmed thinking that something was dreadfully wrong. To my amazement I realized that this was part of their grooming habit to rid themselves of parasites.
The taste of their eggs is remarkable; the deep yellow yokes stand tall and round. Each egg is worth its weight in gold, called the perfect food. The protein is exactly the right amount for humans, as well as the cholesterol which is balanced between the white and the yoke.
My husband and I also raise chickens for meat. Within a few weeks of receiving our chicks we have them butchered by a professional that is FDA inspected for cleanliness. We have butchered our own chickens a couple of times in the past, but now pay a few dollars each to have them done by someone who is set up for the whole operation. I don’t like the kill part of the whole thing, but I justify it by knowing that our chickens received the best attention I could possibly give them. They had freedom, sunshine, clean water, and protection from predators. We know what these birds have been fed. No chemicals, no antibiotics, no feces as factory birds get. I really believe that these are happy chickens.
We have given chicken to friends and neighbors as gifts, and even as barter or trade. I trade eggs with my oldest daughter for her handmade soaps. The return we obtain from our backyard chickens is always amazing to me.