Kate and I have raised our own poultry off and on for more years than I care to count. We have raised both meat birds (broiler chickens, geese and turkeys) and layers. In every case, raising our own poultry helped us save money, while providing endless hours of entertainment and providing higher quality meat and eggs than we could have ever even hoped to buy at the time. Now that we are once again living on the land, raising our own chickens has become a priority.
When it comes to raising chickens, I am a little more conservative than Kate is. She will often go overboard (in my mind anyway) when chick ordering time comes around. I always ask what we will do with all those chickens; she always answers we will enjoy every minute of them. And she is right.
All you need to raise chickens is a little space, a little know how (mostly know to leave them well enough alone) and some desire. If you order day old chicks through the mail, you will need to make a brooder for them. The brooder can be as simple as a heat lamp suspended over a cardboard box (it’s best to staple cardboard across the box’s corners to “round” them … this keeps the chicks from piling up in the corners and suffocating those on the bottom of the heap. You should definitely take a look at our books and articles on raising chicken if you have never done it, but suffice it to say this isn’t rocket science.
As you might imagine, raising your own chickens requires a commitment to care for and nurture the animals. For best success, you need to protect them from predators … including pets and children, and you need to provide food, water and access to shelter throughout their lifetime. During the growing season, much of that food can come in the form of grass, clover, alfalfa, bugs, worms, various garden trimmings and excess fruit and vegetables. The shelter can be a chicken house, barn, shed, old grain bin, you name it.
Some might argue that it isn’t possible to grow your own broiler chickens for less per pound than the limp, bleached out stuff they sell at the grocery store for below a dollar a pound. That might be true. But you can grow chickens yourself for less than the plump nicely colored organic free range chicken that sells for dollars a pound … likewise with homegrown eggs. But, I find that comparison to be lacking, and somewhat anti-intellectual. With chickens, saving money isn’t just about the obvious products they provide.
The fact is, you can raise your own chickens and eggs for less per pound than premium eggs and chicken cuts sell for at the grocery store. If you grow their feed, production costs go down even further. Chickens will also help you save money by keeping insect pests at bay in the garden and yard. Chickens will also help you save money by weeding and tilling your garden. Chickens will also help save you money because they are so entertaining. Once you discover the joys of sitting and watching the chickens peck, you will spend less money on trips to town for a movie … or movie rental. You will spend less money on exercise because your chickens will require daily care … morning and night. And since you and your family will be eating the best, most local food there is, chickens will save you money with physical and mental healthcare to boot.
Kate and I consider raising chickens to be part of our “golf game.” As such, those birds make a huge contribution to our savings account. And that’s a good thing, especially in 2009.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.