Chickens are usually the first livestock the aspiring farmer purchases and if you don’t have any of these fluffy critters running around your yard, you should really consider it. Here at Flip Flop Ranch, we have a few hundred of them, but our start in farming began with only one.
Betty was a Frizzle with curly feathers. She was raised in a cage on my bathroom counter, wore diapers around the house and pecked at the door to go in and out. I remember being so proud when she laid her first egg…on the dining room floor.
Chickens make great pets. They have individual personalities and many breeds enjoy being around people. Rhode Island Reds and Cochins are particularly known to enjoy human company. You can purchase chicken diapers online if you want a house pet, chickens are cheap to feed, they don’t need much space and they are great for people with fur allergies.
It’s a good place to stop right here and caution you that chickens are addictive. You see, I felt bad that Betty was an only child, er—I mean chicken, and so I had to get her a second chicken and then a third. One day I woke up from a feathery fog and realized I owned hundreds and I’m still not sure how it happened. Keep that in mind.
Regardless, only a couple of chickens are necessary to keep a small family’s fridge stocked with yummy eggs. The average chicken lays 5 eggs a week. Some chickens such as Leghorns and Anconas have been bred to lay eggs and are excellent at it, laying up to an egg a day (and sometimes more), while others have been bred purely for meat production, such as the Cornish. Dual purpose breeds like Rhode Island Reds and Australorps have been bred for both purposes and are good for either eggs or meat.
Raising chickens for meat can be a bit harder for the aspiring farmer. You not only have to emotionally handle taking an animal’s life, but also learn the skills necessary to do so humanely and efficiently. It is possible to hire someone for the task but it can be difficult to find a butcher nowadays who will process poultry. However, it is worth it. The taste difference between home raised and store bought is enormous. And to know that the chicken you raised was happy and healthy (which is not always the case with store bought) is priceless. At our farm, we were helped through our first butchering experience by the chicken himself. We had the meanest rooster and after a few attacks, it was a pretty easy decision to have rooster stew for dinner!
At Flip Flop Ranch, we raise Dorking chickens for meat and Australorps for egg laying. Both breeds are dual purpose although the Dorking really excels at meat production. Australorps are known for their amazing egg laying abilities, but since they are dual purpose, we also get yummy stew meat from them when they are too old to lay well. Australorps, being from Australia, also handle the heat of the desert without a problem.
MyPetChicken.com has an app that will help you figure out which is the best chicken breed for you based on your answers to questions about the personality, productivity and other characteristics desired in your chicken.
An often overlooked aspect of chickens is their sustainability. If you are interested in saving the environment, you should own a chicken. We waste no food at Flip Flop Ranch. Chickens will eat just about anything—including some meat as they are omnivores. Most of what they won’t eat, such as paper, can be composted. Chickens love to scratch through compost looking for bugs. This not only decreases your bug population but also helps to turn the compost and provides free food for your chickens. Chicken poo itself is pure gold for the garden.
A final reason to raise chickens is to be part of saving rare heritage livestock. There are hundreds of varieties of farm animals, but many are going extinct due to the industrialization of farming. Our Dorking chickens are on the threatened list with less than 5,000 left worldwide (as compared to 50 billion chickens worldwide). You may not be able to raise rare pandas to save from extinction but it’s pretty cool to save a rare chicken.
Chickens are cheap to feed and quieter than dogs. You don’t need a rooster to have eggs and if your chicken turns out mean, you can eat them. You don’t need an expensive coop to keep them in. A dog crate or even a large cardboard box is good enough as long as the chickens are in a secure yard. As long as they can stay dry and out of the wind or sun, have food, friendship and are secure, an adult chicken is happy. They provide eggs, meat and entertainment and even help us feel better about our contribution to the planet. Why wouldn’t you raise a chicken?
Originally printed in the Daily Press by moi!