Sunday, 31 January 2010

Bring The Chickens Home To Roost

With the rising cost of food, urban agriculture is becoming a hot topic. Growing your own food can be an exciting experience and help decrease your ecological footprint since your home-grown food requires less fuel to get to your plate. You may have already considered a garden, but what about a backyard chicken coop?

That's very nice in rural areas, you might say to yourself, but not in my backyard. You may surprised to know that there are plenty of cities that already allow chickens in urban areas, including Portland, Seattle, New York City, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Austin, Denver, and Atlanta. You might already have neighbors with birds in their backyard. Roosters are not usually allowed because they can be noisy, but well-kept chickens won't make a racket.

In addition to being a cute, chickens can do great work for you. They are an optimum means of pest control - these cheerful characters will keep all sorts of nasty insects out of your garden including slugs, snails, earwigs and pill bugs. If you want a bed turned over, just let your feathered helpers go to work: they'll scratch up the earth and take care of weed control. If you have a compost, they can help with that too! The chickens will pick through it, eating a lot of it and helping to break down the rest. The birds' final product, chicken manure, makes an excellent fertilizer for the garden.

The best part is the fresh eggs that your chickens will lay for you. Imagine collecting your Sunday morning omelet fixings right from the backyard. Some studies suggest that free-range hens with access to pasture produce eggs with less cholesterol and saturated fat and more beta carotene, omega-3 and vitamins A and E. Whether or not your backyard eggs are better for your health, they always taste better when you raised them yourself!

There are a few basic needs that you will need to sort out before you procure your new feathered friends. Where will they sleep? How will you protect them? If you choose to let your chickens roam freely in the yard, you'll need to alter your yard to be sure those curious characters stay put. You might choose to use a portable chicken run so that you can rotate the areas being covered by your birds.

Feeding them isn't too hard if they have access to the yard and some greens (these birds love greens) - you may want to supplement with a bit of grain. Remember, chickens can eat a lot of things, but they shouldn't be fed any meal made of other chickens.

There are, of course, many different breeds of chickens and a little research will help you chose the best type for your needs and your location. Most species take at least six months to mature, so you won't be getting your eggs immediately, but don't give up hope - they're coming. In this case, the chicken definitely comes before the egg.

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