Why do you raise chickens?

Most of us reading this article have probably already made the decision to raise chickens and have raised them for at least a few years, but occasionally, questions like this come up, perhaps in the form:

Raise chickens? Why would I ever want to do that?

to which my immediate response, verbalized or not might be: “Well, why not?”

When I was young, my parents began to raise chickens in the tiny backyard behind our small-town rental house. I was around 8 years old at the time. We raised mostly meat birds, and when it became time to prepare them for the table, we would slaughter and pluck them. Plucking is what I remember the most. Hot, wet chickens. A certain homey, but not entirely pleasant smell. Feathers — lots of feathers. Downy feathers sticking to my fingers. Picking them off and placing them into the black garbage bag while plucking. Picking up loose feathers from the yard after plucking was done. (Nowadays, I normally skin rather than pluck my chickens.)

A few years later, we moved “out into the country” into the suburb of a small town. We at last had some land, and our flock grew larger to match. In a used, round, metal incubator, we hatched eggs — a mixed flock of Rhode Island Reds and various crosses. Lots of color variety and lots of memories of caring for them. Time, it seems, has a way of aging memories, making them fonder even than the original experience.

Another move. Off to high school in the city then college, living in a dorm room. Calling various apartments home for a few years. Then marriage. Later, our first child. We moved onto small acreage, and I found myself preparing to raise chickens again, building a coop out of leftover lumber from another project.

All of my children have grown up raising and caring for chickens. Some have enjoyed it more than others. My youngest knows each chicken by name and won’t let a day go by without going out to check on them (or without picking up and holding them).

So while I could write about lots of practical reasons to raise chickens, something in my own experience and in my family runs much deeper than that, tying me both to my immediate family, my ancestors, and even extending into the future, continuing to tie things together there, and chickens are a part of that. Something deep in the heart can at times seem to compel you to take certain steps, make certain choices or decisions, or enter into certain commitments, even though you may not be able to fully articulate in a rationally comprehensible way to someone else all the practical reasons why. (And somehow even to try to do so can seem a bit trite — somewhat incapable of expressing the real reasons why.) Yet you try. You branch out into this metaphor or that, this remembrance or that, until someone else picks up the thread and begins to run with it. And, it seems, many of the more meaningful things in life take root in that way.

So back to our original question: Why raise chickens? Here are a few answers that come to mind:

For the experience and the memories. This, I would say, is the first and most fundamental reason. Raise them because they’ll enrich your life and experience in ways that you cannot fully predict or even anticipate. And they’ll bring you into shared experiences with others in certain wonderful and unexpected ways.

For the children. Even if you don’t have children of your own, surely some of your neighbors have children (neighbors that don’t yet raise chickens), or perhaps you have grandchildren, or friends who have children. (And if not, you’re missing out on something even more important than chickens, so start there, if you need to, and then come back to the question about why you need to raise chickens.) Getting some chickens and letting the children help you raise them will make a difference in their lives and yours.

Fresh Eggs. Though the ability to find high-quality, fresh food at local markets has taken a big leap forward over the recent years, there’s simply no such thing as a store-bought egg that’s as fresh as the eggs from your own chickens. You can step right out your back door, egg basket in hand, walk to the coop and grab a few eggs. Then walk back to the house, crack them into a hot, buttered skillet and be sitting down eating a fresh omelet faster than you can get your car warmed up to drive off to the market, even one that’s just a few blocks away. That’s fresh, and eggs don’t get any fresher than that.

These are just a few of the reasons why I raise chickens. More could be said on the practical end, and we’ll perhaps cover that in a future article.

So, why do you raise chickens?