The two lovely ladies in the featured picture are our two Brahma hens, Lindsay and Paris. They are living happily in the Chicken McMansion in the back garden. We have two other pullets (hens younger than a year), who have yet to be named. They are living in one of the outside rooms until they are big enough to live with the older ones, without getting henpecked too much.
If you have some space in your urban garden, a little bit of patience, and enjoy growing your own food, you should consider raising some chickens at home. You don’t need a farm to raise chickens. It is quite a movement in suburban gardens in the USA, especially in eco-conscious, hipster areas like Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. In South Africa, this should be something every family considers not just for the novelty and being green, but for food security too. Here are five reasons why you should consider raising chickens at home:
1. Save money! Chickens will provide a supply of fresh, organic eggs.
Have you seen the prices of organic and free range eggs? My family loves eggs, and we go through a lot each week. You’ll save lots of money getting eggs from your own chickens. Depending on the breed, you can expect as many as 300 eggs per chicken, per year. On average, hens will each produce between 4 & 6 eggs per week. With our Brahma chickens, we can expect 4-5 eggs per week from each one. You’ll also know what you’re feeding your chickens and thus avoid feeding your family eggs that are full of hormones and steroids.
2. Make money! You can sell extra eggs to neighbours or an organic market.
The Department of Agriculture has a great little info sheet on starting a small business, raising egg laying chickens (as opposed to primarily meat chickens). According to the department’s info sheet, if you keep 9 chickens, you can expect 8-9 eggs per day. By selling only 4 eggs a day, you’ll be able to cover the costs of feeding all the chickens, and the rest of the eggs can can be used for eating, or selling for a profit.
3. You don’t need roosters to get eggs.
Roosters are loud and will pester your hens to no end if you have too few girls. Your neighbours will also be very annoyed getting woken up at 4am. All of the local by-laws are clear that one cannot keep poultry if the birds become a public nuisance.
Thankfully hens will lay eggs without a rooster. Because the eggs will be unfertilized, it means you won’t have any baby chicks. So if you want to grow your flock, you’ll have to buy more hens.
4. Chickens make valuable manure for fertilizing your garden.
Your chickens will make manure extremely high in Nitrogen, that you can use to fertilize your vegetable, fruit and ornamental garden. Chicken manure is high in Nitrogen, and has good amounts Potassium and Phosphorus. Bird droppings are incredibly rich manure and whole industries were built in the past, from harvesting seagull guano from islands. Just make sure that you allow the manure enough time to age, around 6-9 months, otherwise you will burn your plants.
We use a method I learnt about on the chicken forums, which not only makes fantastic compost, but also makes cleaning the chicken run a breeze. We don’t throw away our weekly lawn clippings. The cut grass is placed in the chicken run to line the floor. The chickens love the fluffy bedding. When they first moved in, Lindsay even made herself a nest in it. Now they do their business, scratch around it in turn it very often. We then haul it out and put it in the compost heap and repeat. Much easier and less gross than removing 100% droppings, because the grass makes them clump together and covers them up.
5. Raising chickens is fun.
Chickens get a bad rep but they are some of the most fun pets you can have. I was initially against keeping chickens, until I started reading up about different breeds and their personalities. Some breeds are loving and cuddly, like our Brahmas. They actually get very tame and docile, the more you interact with them. Others are jokesters, cheeky or just gorgeous and ornamental. I also spend lots of time on the chicken forums learning about building coops, great things to feed them (use up kitchen scrap veggies), and laughing about various mistakes we all make when we are starting out in this hobby.
If you have kids, they will love learning where their food comes from, and helping their family to look after the chickens everyday will teach them responsibility.
Some resources to get you started raising chickens at home:
Know your rights, keep your chickens happy by giving them a good environment and care, and make friends by sharing those eggs.
Helping breeders raise poultry in urban areas – Poultry Club of South Africa
City of Johannesburg Public Health by-laws
City of Tshwane by-laws for keeping animals, birds & poultry
City of Cape Town policy for keeping animals & poultry
Modimole by-laws for keeping animals, birds & poultry
Backyard Chickens Forum
The City Chicken
My Pet Chicken.com
The Poultry Site forum