Before I started keeping backyard chickens, I never considered eggs to be a seasonal food. Sure, they pair well with many spring ingredients, but it wasn’t until I had a small flock of my own that I realized just how seasonal this everyday staple really is.
Chickens, by nature, lay eggs according to the amount of light they’re exposed to. As a general rule, they need at least 12 hours of daylight to lay well. Birds lucky enough to live near the equator will lay steadily through the year, but in our northern latitudes, without artificial light, they slow down in the fall, quit laying almost entirely through the dark months of winter, and start back up again with a vengeance in the spring as the daylight hours increase.
Commercial egg producers, and some backyard chicken keepers expose their flock to artificial light in order to get them to continue producing through the winter. I like giving my hens a winter vacation (I know I’d want one if I were them!). They generally start laying small amounts in late February, and by April we have more eggs than we know what to do with!
Why raise backyard chickens?
Beyond a doubt, the biggest reason I keep backyard chickens is the eggs. No store-bought egg can compare to a fresh one that comes from your own backyard. If you make sure to feed your hens a good diet with plenty of fresh greens, your prize is beautiful eggs with lovely high-domed, intensely orange yolks and firm whites. They are a cook’s dream, as well as being more nutritious than the pale, mass-produced eggs you can buy in many grocery stores.
Keeping chickens means you know without a doubt that your eggs come from happy, healthy birds. I have two young children—living in the city, it can be hard to educate kids about where their food comes from. Keeping chickens makes it easy (and fun!) for them to connect the dots between the food on their plate and the animals who provide it.
Feeding a backyard flock is easier than you think. I give mine a daily ration of organic grains (we sell 50 lb. bags of organic layer feed at the Co-op),plus whatever kitchen scraps and other greenery I can find. They love anything and everything, from tired veggies, to weeds from the garden, to last night’s dinner leftovers. Feeding them this way cuts down on our household waste, as well as making it less expensive to feed them, and it also guarantees they’re getting a varied diet. The chickens break their food down into a nutrient-dense manure that, once properly composted, makes a great garden fertilizer.
Like any pet, owning chickens is a responsibility and a commitment. As pets go, they’re relatively easy to take care of, but it’s necessary to feed and water them every day, collect the eggs, and clean out their coop periodically. You also need to purchase or build a good coop, which can be relatively expensive and/or time consuming. Chickens can live to be 8-10 years old, and their egg laying slows down considerably as they age, so it’s good to consider how you feel about having a flock of old hens down the road who are eating plenty, but not laying quite as much as they once did.
Alternatives to Raising Your Own
If you’re not ready to make the commitment but you still want the highest quality, fresh eggs at a fair price, we sell several brands at the Co-op that are almost as good as from your own backyard. Local producers such as M&M Farms, Yuppie Hill (available at West only), New Century Farm, and Organic Valley offer superior-quality eggs, with none of the trouble of keeping and raising chickens.
Want to know more?
We sell many of the things you need to start your backyard chicken adventure right here at the Co-op: organic feed, waterers, feeders, and more. New chicken-keepers may want to check with the Humane Society, which often has chickens from people who have decided that they don’t want to keep chickens after all.
There are also some great resources on the web. Check out madcitychickens.com, and backyardchickens.com for all the information you need to get started!