Turning Tablescraps into Protein
Our first experience with raising chickens occurred when our eldest son excitedly reported his kindergarten class had just successfully hatched a dozen chicks and his teacher was looking for lucky families who could adopt one. We quickly responded that we could not possibly have a chicken because we lived in a crowded neighborhood. However, after some investigation, we discovered that our city and neighborhood did allow a homeowner to own hens, but no roosters. But how could we ensure that we selected a hen? There is normally very little in all that fluff to differentiate the male from the female in the chick stage. Hence, we told our son that we could accept a chick, but if we did end up with a rooster he must promptly give it away. He readily agreed and we adopted “Chirp.” As the months passed, Chirp started to grow more feathers around his head and made funny noises like a voice-changing, pubescent teenager. We were all dreading that first declaration of Chirp’s masculinity–the cock-a-doodle-doo. Then, one morning our son raced into the kitchen and proudly declared, “This is the happiest day of my life!” In his hand, was an egg no bigger than a golf ball. Chirp was a hen! So when we moved to Draper a year later, Chirp was one of the many possessions that we brought to our new home. We soon acquired some additional hens to keep Chirp company. Our family has had chickens ever since.
Admittedly, out of all the animals we have ever owned, chickens have been the easiest to care for. They like to feed themselves. They devour pesky bugs from the garden and will often “work” right beside me as I am weeding–ever ready for me to uncover a nest of earwigs or larvae. Unlike teenagers, they go back in their coop at night without a curfew or complaint. But my favorite reason to have chickens is that they help to reduce our family’s food waste.
As a family of six, we discard a lot of food. We try to minimize this as much as possible, but there are always uneaten bread crusts, left-over noodles, and partially eaten fruits. We have learned that chickens love to eat those foods. In fact, most reference materials claim that in addition to feeding them chicken scratch and mash, you can give them almost any food that a human would eat, and many that we would rather not, like grubs, worms and slugs.
Due to this discovery, in our sink we now keep a “chicken basket.” Instead of throwing apple cores, wilted lettuce, stale grain and unpopped popcorn kernels into the trash can or down the garbage disposal, those items all go straight into the chicken basket. Daily this bowl quickly fills and is then emptied when our children feed and water the hens. They empty the chicken basket in the coop and gather fresh eggs for that day. For us, it is a symbiotic cycle. The hens eat the foods that we would be disposing of and somehow magically turn those leftovers into beautiful, tasty and protein-rich eggs. Even the chicken manure can be used as a potent fertilizer in the yard and garden. The chickens eat our discards and we use theirs.
If you are interested in raising or owning chickens, I would suggest first researching your city ordinances and neighborhood regulations. Many areas have rules about what you can own and how they need to be raised. For example, Draper does allow residents to own hens, but has detailed regulations regarding this practice. You can find specific information for Draper at Draper.ut.us/DocumentCenter/View/182. Also, as you would do for any pet, study up on the needs and behaviors of chickens. Ask those who have experience. I have found the staff at the local IFA store to be very helpful and knowledgeable.
If you do decide to raise poultry, I wish you success and enjoyment in this eggciting adventure!