by Patricia Foreman

[This is the second in a series of chicken care articles by guest author Patricia Foreman. If you missed her first article, you can view it here: The Chicken Have-More Plan]

Keeping backyard chickens is part of the urban farming movement. Family flocks are gaining popularity as commercial food prices go up, and the nutritional quality and safety is questionable.

“Buy local, grow local, and eat local” has become the slogan for community food self-sufficiency. Along with this slogan we can add “Got Chickens?”

Chickens are viewed by many as the essential part of urban agriculture that helps folks achieve some degree of self-sufficiency. Many chicken owners view keeping a family flock as an “act of green living” and a statement of independence. This is with good reason. A family flock of chickens has innate skill sets that enable you to develop a Chicken Have-More Plan for your urban homestead.

The attached diagram “Chickens in Biomass Recycling and Food Production Systems” (PDF) gives you a visual about how versatile, valuable and venerable chickens are when their skill sets are focused and fully employed. To understand this, you truly have to “think outside the coop” and “inside your garden”.

Let’s wander through the diagram hitting a few of the highlights. It all begins with chickens doing what they naturally do, which is scratch, poop and eat.

  1. Chickens Scratch. When chickens scratch they can aerate the top layers of soil, mulch and even compost. By doing this they are also mixing in nutrients that can be used by the soil dwellers thus enriching living soils. In many situations, chickens’ scratchings can be efficient — and more beneficial to the soil — than using a fuel-guzzling, ear-muffling rototiller.
  2. Chickens Poop. Chicken manure, properly managed, is a gift to local food production. Chicken manure is very high in big three nutrients (NPK) and contains about 4% Nitrogen 6% Phosphorous and 4% Potassium (K). Chicken poo also loaded with micro-nutrients and trace minerals. How many trace minerals do commercial NPK fertilizers contain? Zippo, nil; essentially none.Now, here’s the trillion dollar question: Where does commercial fertilizer come from? The answer is primarily oil.
  3. Chickens Eat. One chicken eats about it’s weight in food every month. They are omnivores – eating things that move, as well as some things that don’t, including plants. Their gastronomic skill set is that they love crawly, slimy things like, worms, grubs and bugs. They also eat greens, including weeds and grass clippings. And they love people food – the stuff folks normally toss into the trash can help feed your flock. And just about everything they eat can be turned into eggs, fertilizer and compost. Chickens are truly “pets with benefits”.

I encourage you to take a few moments to ponder the attached sketch about “Chickens in Biomass Recycling and Food Production Systems” (PDF). The ramifications for urban agriculture are broad and wide. The consequences are environmentally and financially significant.

All this has lead to chickens rightfully being elected as the mascots of the local foods movement.

May the flock be with YOU!

Patricia L. Foreman