Five Reasons to Get Chickens
Chickens are one of the easiest ways to raise a part of your own food with a low upfront investment and minimal daily exertion. We owned them for a few years, and intend to do it more in the future. There are many excellent blogs and books by subject matter experts (chickenologists?) about raising chickens, so I’m just going to list a few considerations for keeping chickens here in the Roanoke area, and, as an amateur, give several of my personal favorite reasons for owning chickens.
You always have to consider local regulations on keeping chickens. Fortunately, the restrictions are not burdensome in Roanoke City, where my family lives. On residential properties, you are allowed up to 10 hens on properties under 20,000 square feet (approximately 0.5 acre), and up to 40 hens on properties above that size. Also, your chickens must be enclosed in some form or fashion – either a coop or a pen – and the enclosure must be at least 50 feet from the nearest neighbors’ house. In Roanoke County, it is slightly more restrictive – 6 hens for properties under 20,000 square feet, 9 hens for properties between 20,000 square feet and 1 acre, and 12 hens for properties larger than that – and you’ll need to apply for a county permit. Roosters are not permitted in either municipality, likely due to their noisiness and aggressiveness.
Here are five of my favorite reasons to get chickens:
Fresh eggs: A good laying hen can produce an average of 2 eggs every 3 days, and close to an egg a day at some times of the year. They won’t usually begin laying until they are about 5-6 months old, so if you bought chicks, be patient. Hens typically slow down their laying rate during the winter months, although with artificial light they can lay year-round.
Food scraps: chickens are excellent at converting table scraps into eggs. (As a father of two young children, I have plenty of table scraps.) This also reduces the amount you’ll spend on chicken feed.
Fertilizer: chicken poop is nitrogen-rich and is great (in proper quantities) for your lawn and garden.
Pest consumers: although they won’t single-beakedly exterminate all your ticks, chickens do keep down the pest population within their reach. Yes, that makes them bug-to-egg converters as well.
Yard utilizer: We fenced off a section of our yard for ranging our chickens. This enabled them to forage for part of their food, thus minimizing the amount of feed we needed to buy; helped keep them happy and healthy; and reduced my mowing requirements. Chickens don’t eat grass, but they will certainly keep it down. Installing a chicken wire fence with metal fence posts is a fairly low effort project; chickens are poor fliers, so a 5 foot tall fence should be sufficient. Make sure you don’t have gaps at the bottom of the fence, because chickens will try to scratch their way under. Alternatively, you can build or buy a “chicken tractor” – a coop that is light enough to be moved around your yard daily to fresh foraging areas.
Obviously each family has to determine whether chickens are right for them; but if you like growing your own food, spending time outside, and teaching your kids responsibility, chickens may be right for you. If your neighbors complain, make them a souffle.