Backyard Poultry: More Than Just Eggs!
By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed. – Positively Green
Once a purely rural phenomenon, raising backyard poultry has moved throughout the suburbs (and even urban areas!) across America. With low space requirements and fairly inexpensive start up costs, raising backyard poultry is the perfect answer for many people who want to feel more connected to the food they consume and are undaunted by the idea of caring for the birds every day. From eggs to meat, having poultry in your backyard allows you to control the living conditions, feed, and processing of the birds you ultimately consume.
Eggs are probably the number one reason many families decide to raise backyard birds. Depending on the age and breed of the birds, between 5-10 birds can easily keep a family of 4 in plenty of eggs for eating and baking needs. Eggs gathered in the family coop are fresher, better tasting, and are subjected to less processing and transportation than traditionally bought store eggs.
The meat from home-grown birds also is a large draw for many families interested in chickens. With concerns about the amounts of medications being given to commercial birds as well as questions about the conditions they are raised in, many people feel that having the ability to control these aspects of meat production result in a tastier and healthier source of meat. Interested in birds primarily for their meat value? There are specific breeds which mature quickly and yield a higher percentage of meat than a specific egg laying breed. In fact, some meat birds mature at only two months or less, limiting feed costs and maximizing the value for your family.
Chickens allowed to roam during the day can also be an important type of organic pest control for homeowners. Chickens scratch and eat many different kinds of insect pests not only found in gardens, but in lawns, too. By having a small flock of poultry wandering around during the day, you may find that there are less uninvited pests showing up on your pets and in your home!
Despite the positives, there are five important considerations before your family decides to jump on the chicken bandwagon:
§ First, contact your local town offices to determine if you have enough land to have your own birds; some municipalities strictly govern space requirements for any kind of agriculture, even poultry. Also, talk to your neighbors before your get your birds. While roosters are not necessary for egg production, many families keep one in their coop. But, like the stereotypical farm scene, roosters often wake up before the sun, so try to speak with your neighbors before your rooster does the calling for you.
§ Second, if you haven’t had birds before, take a course at a local school, nature center, state extension center, or 4H club to learn about the health, housing, and feeding requirements to keep your birds healthy. While not very difficult, you always want to be sure to provide the best care possible for your flock.
§ Third, have a family meeting to determine whose responsibility it will be to care for the birds. Even in the winter they need daily care.
§ Fourth, make sure you have a safe environment for your birds, both day and night. Predators are one of the leading causes of bird loss.
§ Finally, if you process birds for meat, speak with your local health department regarding processing and handling regulations. There are special rules to follow to make sure the meat is handled appropriately for human consumption. Separate rules may apply if you plan on selling any of your meat, besides.
By doing some pre-planning and investigation, your family can soon be on its way to successfully raising wonderful backyard birds! Enjoy the eggs, meat, and all the healthy benefits that come with caring for your own livestock. You may be even more inspired to go Positively Green!
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