Friday, January 15, 2010

You've never had eggs before.

In light of Liz's rant of yesterday, I want to express my full endorsement and take it a step farther with backyard chickens.

The backyard chicken movement is huge and getting bigger every day. I have four, my next-door neighbors have three, the people across the street have some of their own, and every so often I hear more when I go walking in the neighborhood. (One of my neighbors even has an illegal rooster! But I'm not telling.)

There are a lot of myths about chickens and eggs. Like...

Myth: Hens won't lay eggs unless there's a rooster around.
Truth: You ovulate whether there's a man around or not, don't you? Same thing with hens. Personally, I prefer to keep my hens with no rooster so that I know all the eggs in my fridge are unfertilized.

Myth: Chickens are messy and expensive.
Truth: Chickens require less cleanup and maintenance time than indoor cats. As for the expense, I built my coop out of scrap wood and castoff hardware, obtained five chickens (we lost one to a hawk) for a total of $45, and I pay about $15 a month for feed. In return, my kitchen scraps get recycled into an average of two dozen eggs per week - which would cost me about $30 per month if I bought inferior "free-range" eggs at the supermarket. As an added bonus, I get pest control services (they eat all the bugs they find, including fly larvae) and excellent garden fertilizer for free.

Myth: Eggs are eggs, right? Why not just buy them at the store?
Truth: Backyard eggs are a heart-healthy protein packed with calcium, beta-carotene, omega 3's and other nutrients that grocery-store eggs (even the "free range" ones) just don't have. Backyard eggs are also lower in the bad cholesterol, higher in the good cholesterol, better for baking, and FAR superior in taste. Personally, I never liked eggs much until I got my chickens. The yolks tasted like farts from all the sulfur compounds. My hens' eggs have a sweet, rich flavor and whenever older people try them I always get the same response: "Wow, this is what eggs used to taste like when I was a kid!"

Garbage in, garbage out - not just for us, but for any animal. If a chicken is not getting proper nutrition in the first place, then not much nutrition is going into the egg. You can boost the nutritional value of any meal with homegrown eggs.

Besides, chickens are fun, plucky animals with tons of personality.

There are plenty of resources out there for building and maintaining chicken coops, so I won't get into that here; we haven't the space. But as Liz and I have each lost a chicken due to predator attacks, safety's worth a word. Chicken wire is not sufficient to deter most predators. Dogs, raccoons, and even rats have no problem getting through it. You can line your coop with chicken wire underneath (to deter burrowing) and overhead (to deter hawks), but the sides should be made of hardware cloth, which is a strong, small metal mesh. Make sure your hens are locked up secure at night, but let them out for at least a few minutes in the day so they can eat up your grass and trim your lawn for you.

"Well, that's cute," you may say, "but there's no way chickens are legal in my area." You might be right, but you're probably wrong. More localities allow chickens than you think, and I myself live on a normal city lot in a metropolitan area. Research American chicken laws here. And when in doubt... well, I say it's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

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