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Chickens and sustainability

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Conservation Corner for Dec. 22

Ever since the 1960s there has been a growing awareness among consumers (that is all of us) about the foods that we eat. People now know that pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and chemical fertilizers are in the foods that are produced by large scale agri-business. Once this information got out, many people were not comfortable about what they learned. Since the 60s that educated consumer has started several trends that continue on today. Just look at the growth in the number of nationwide farmer’s markets and the organic food industry, the number of people now growing gardens or the idea of buying locally grown foods, all in an effort to eat safer, fresher and more wholesome foods.
You only have to look at the nightly news to see why these trends are gaining speed; continual recalls on fresh produce, processed foods and meats contaminated from Salmonella and E. coli and people dying. In addition, food prices went up approximately13 percent in the last year due to energy cost increases and worldwide demand.
This is where the amazing CHICKEN comes into the story. Chickens have been domesticated for thousands of years. At one time, just about every small farm and an occasional city resident had chickens. Then there was the time period when small towns and cities wanted to have a more modern and progressive image so, sadly, in many places the wondrous chicken was outlawed.
But that has changed. Today in more than 65 percent of large cities across the U. S., chickens are once again being allowed and the trend is that more and more cities are allowing chickens. In most places, the chickens need to be confined. Roosters, however, are generally not allowed - and for good reason as they are just plain noisy!  Hens will lay eggs without a rooster; the eggs just won’t be fertile.
There are lots of reasons to keep a few chickens. They make nice pets, are fun to watch, they take up a small amount of space and they eat all of your kitchen waste, except for leftover chicken. Additionally, they are economical to keep; if free range, will help control insects; their manure makes great compost; and lastly, but most importantly, they give us the EGG. Homegrown eggs not only taste better and look better than factory raised eggs, but they are also healthier for you. Eggs from your chickens will be higher in vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol and saturated fats than factory eggs.
Dogs, foxes, opossums, raccoons and hawks also think that chicken taste good, so you will need to have a secure enclosure for their protection. Old cover net works pretty well. All you need is a simple coop to keep the rain off of them, a nest box so they have a place to lay eggs and a pole that they can roost on at night - and, of course, water and food. Pretty simple.
You would be surprised how much food waste a family produces: pounds and pounds every week, all of which could feed your chickens. They are also fed laying mash, some crushed oyster shell so they form tough shells and some scratch, which is cracked corn. Just scatter the corn around so that the chickens can scratch around and find it along with numerous insects.
 Chickens start to lay eggs when they are from 20 to 25 weeks old and three chickens should provide you with two eggs a day. There is some fluctuation in production due to temperature or the amount of sunlight available and the age of the chickens. You can either buy chicks in the spring or buy birds that are already producing. Either way, it is enjoyable raising chickens to provide food from your own yard. You just can’t get more locally grown than that.
There are several excellent, informative websites about having chickens on a small scale. Thecitychicken.com is a really fun website. It has lots of info and tons of pictures of beautiful chickens and cool chicken coops. There is also backyardchickens.com and urbanchicken.org which are also very good.
Tom Deverin