Ever wonder what the attraction to chickens is all about? Compared to thirty years ago, there are lots of urban chicken flocks, and I’ve had people ask me “Why?”
Well, the obvious answer is, of course, eggs! Eggs are a great protein source, many people love to have them for breakfast, and they come with the added bonus of knowing that your own chickens produced them. I also want to add that a “home-grown” egg bears only a superficial resemblance to what you’ll buy in a store.
I distinctly remember my Mom calling and telling me that she’d given my brother a dozen eggs from her bantam chickens, not long after we got her set up with a small flock of five. My brother had cracked an egg into the frying pan, and immediately phoned her to ask “What’s wrong with these eggs?” “What do you mean, what’s wrong?” she replied. “Well, the yolk is REALLY orange and it’s standing up in the pan!” he answered.
We laughed ourselves silly! I’d had home grown eggs for so long that I hadn’t thought about the differences from store-bought for many years, but we got a refresher that day. Our home-grown eggs did, in fact, stand up in the pan (picture a small yellow-orange ping pong ball in the middle of the spreading egg white), and they were definitely a different color as well. Store-bought eggs are a whole different animal!
The biggest reason that home produced eggs are different is that chickens at home get to run around and do chicken-y things like look for bugs, scratch in the dirt, take dust baths, flap their wings and just be chickens. All the exercise they get makes them a far different animal than the egg-producing machines that are kept in cages so small they can barely turn around. Those poor birds are treated like things, rather than living creatures that need to get out, stretch, run, scratch and breathe.
Home chickens generally are treated as a valuable part of the family, in that they not only produce eggs for their humans, they’ll also happily eat any leftover food that’s gone bad, any vegetable matter like potato and carrot peelings, and be healthier for the extras. Chickens in your yard are impossible to ignore as they chase each other, fight over who’s the boss, and generally act silly. If you scatter a handful of feed in your yard every day when you let them out of their coop, you’ll find yourself calling them over and talking to them. The best part of that is that they’ll talk back! Your own chickens will happily begin to come when you call them, expecting a treat every time, so you won’t want to disappoint! They’ll express their pleasure with your offerings in no uncertain terms, and you’ll find yourself learning their different personalities and quirks.
Another thing that chickens can be helpful with is pest control. Your home chickens will happily chase down and eat everything from flies to caterpillars, and as bonus they’ll entertain you with their antics. There are few things as immediately hilarious as looking out the window to see a line of chickens at full run, speeding off to a corner of the yard, then stopping in a huff to look around for the cause of the hubbub!
All in all, having a few chickens in your backyard is inexpensive, amusing, and unless you insist on keeping a rooster, pretty quiet! The eggs seem to be more of a bonus for us, and being able to give eggs to your family and neighbors is a fabulous way to share your bounty and make friends.
P.S. My Mom had to re-home her flock after just a few years, but by then the neighbors were all so addicted to fresh eggs that she had three offers of homes for them!