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Why all the interest in raising backyard chickens?

Why all the interest in raising backyard chickens?


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RIVERTON -- Over the past few years, Utah has participated in a growing nationwide trend of poultry urbanization. Salt Lake, Provo, West Valley City, Spanish Fork and Orem are just some of the Utah communities that recently approved or considered ordinances allowing residents to keep backyard chickens.

Kory Bertelson, manager of the IFA Country Store in Riverton, said he has seen an increase in sales of chickens and poultry supplies. He said his store sold about 6,000 chicks this year and the Salt Lake IFA store sold about 10,000. And there are many other retail outlets for chicks and supplies along the Wasatch Front serving poultry hobbyists.

While the urban poultry fan base appears to be growing, a major question among those who have not caught the fowl fever is this: Why would people want chickens in their yards?

Nutrition and taste

Those who prefer home-grown tomatoes to those from the store will probably also like home-hatched eggs. Crack an egg from a backyard chicken and the yolk will have noticeably deeper color.

The yolk from a home-grown hen, right, has markedly more color than the store-bought egg at left.
The yolk from a home-grown hen, right, has markedly more color than the store-bought egg at left.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that eggs produced from pastured or free-range chickens are more nutritious. Research conducted by Mother Earth News compared eggs from 14 flocks across the United States. The study found that when compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, free-range eggs contained:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 3/2 more vitamin A
  • Twice the omega-3 fatty acids
  • Three times more vitamin E
  • Seven times more beta carotene
  • Four to six times more vitamin D.

Great family activity

The process of raising chickens and collecting fresh eggs is something enjoyable for the entire family. Young children especially love taking care of the birds and gathering the eggs. Feeding and supplying water for the chickens on a daily basis is a great way to help children learn about responsibility and work.

It is also fun to watch the interaction between chickens and other animals. Bertelson said, “It’s more therapy for me. I just like to have them around to watch.”

Raising chickens is a good way to help children -- and adults -- understand their connection with the food they eat. Many people today rarely eat food that doesn’t come straight from the store and don’t enjoy the direct interaction with the land enjoyed by earlier generations.

Pest control

Related

Chickens eat ticks, fleas, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, fly larvae, grubs, caterpillars and even mice. Of particular interest for Utah gardeners, snails and slugs are high on their preferred menu. The downside is that they also don’t mind helping themselves to garden crops like leaf lettuce or to taking a few pecks from tomatoes.

Factors to consider

Like any animal, chickens require daily attention. While they can roam freely in a fenced yard during the day, at night they must be secured in a coop or shelter to protect them from predators. Some people mistakenly believe chickens attract raccoons, foxes and skunks. In fact the predators already exist in Utah cities and are not opposed to a fresh chicken dinner if the opportunity is available.

Obviously, chickens produce waste. Chicken coops and yards must be cleaned every week or two. Five or six hens create about as much waste as a medium-sized dog.

Roosters are noisy and many cities specifically prohibit owning roosters. Hens will lay eggs and live happily without a rooster.

The recent economic downturn is frequently credited for an increased interest in self-sufficiency. While collecting one's own eggs is nice, urban chicken ranchers don’t save money over buying eggs from the store. After totaling the cost of chicks, housing them, feeding them and buying other supplies, the eggs and meat the chickens provide is expensive. But for homeowners who want to know where their food comes from, the benefits of having a personal flock of chickens is worth the extra cost.

Flint Stephens has a master's degree in communications from Brigham young University. He has been an editor and journalist for newspapers in Utah and Illinois. He has also written and edited a number of financial newsletters and investment blogs.

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