Sustainable Living with Backyard Chickens
Ecological sustainability is nature’s way of ensuring that many organisms’ needs are met through a diverse and productive environment. In the same way when we practice a sustainable lifestyle we want to produce a healthy productive environment in our own personal lives. The sustainable mantra “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” can be applied in many areas of our lives. Keeping backyard chickens is one way we can work towards sustainability.
There are a variety of places you can purchase chicks. Purchasing chicks from a small family owned hatchery or a local breeder is best. Large hatcheries often buy their eggs from commercial chicken farms where the hens are raised in small cages with no room to move around. You can also purchase chicks locally in the springtime from many feed stores.
Before bringing home your first chicks you will want to make sure it is legal to have livestock in your community. Zoning laws vary from place to place but many municipalities are allowing backyard chickens. Some communities only allow hens and no roosters because of early morning crowing. Hens do not need roosters to lay eggs. So if you order chicks make sure to request pullets (young females). The number of chickens you may have may also be limited. Four to five chickens make a good size backyard flock.
Sustainability is about providing for ourselves in a productive environment. Raising chickens helps us meet that sustainability. Producing our own food not only assures us of a healthy fresh food but it is an alternative to supporting commercial factory farms. The Poultry industry has been “outed” of late by documentaries such as Food Inc. and American Meat which discuss the inhumane methods that the poultry industry uses and the benefits of a pasture raised system. Eggs and meat produced from your own chickens are healthy, fresh and raised in a humane manner. Something you can feel good about!
One way we attain sustainability with chickens is through the natural recycling and composting processes that occurs. Chickens love to eat green things. This can be grass clippings from mowing the yard or it may be all the scraps from when you cut up vegetables for last night’s salad. Feeding vegetable scraps to chicks allows their body to compost those scraps and turn them into high nitrogen fertilizer. And because your chickens are eating a healthy diet they are healthier and less prone to diseases such as avian flu that plague the poultry industry. And a healthy chicken lays an egg that is also packed full of nutrients. Fresh, pasture raised eggs are higher in Vitamin E and Omega 3’s. It is important to remember that along with green things and bugs a chicken also needs a good layer feed. Several organic layer feeds are available that support sustainable agriculture.
That high nitrogen fertilizer that your chicken expels as waste is great for flower or vegetable beds or just use it to mulch around trees. A compost pile is easy to tuck into a corner of your yard. You can build one yourself or buy a premade one. Several models are attractive and will look nice in a suburban yard, next to your backyard chicken coop! The bedding in the chickens housing should be considered if you will be using it on your gardens. Straw is very efficient in decomposing in the compost pile. The hollow stems allow air flow which provides oxygen to the bacteria doing the work. The straw provides a neutral Ph to the compost pile. Pine shavings on the other hand take longer to decompose and are more acid. This compost will lower the ph of the soil. This is good for certain
plants such as blueberries and azaleas but many vegetables prefer a higher ph level. You can take a soil test to help determine what is needed in your gardens.
Raising chickens sustainably helps to slow climate change by reducing organic waste going to landfills and turning into methane (CH4) gases. The poultry industry accounts for .06% of methane in greenhouse gases. (EPA 2013) Emissions are produced on poultry industry by equipment that is dependent on fossil fuels to operate. Chicken manure emits nitrous oxide and methane into the atmosphere. This is especially true in industrial farming where large open piles are kept. In your backyard composting bin you make more efficient use of the manure. So keeping chickens will help you to lower your carbon footprint.
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