Tuesday, February 26, 2013
A reminder to myself: Why chickens?
So cost wise we have the around $500 for the hutch, plus $60 for the chickens. We're going to need to spend somewhere around $60 for the fence posts, and around $150 on the fencing. Drainage under the coop won't be free, but I don't have a solid price on it yet but probably somewhere around $50 for the gravel and somewhere around $100 for the pipe to do proper french drains since we are in a moist climate. So all told somewhere around $1,000. That's a similar starting investment to the rabbits. With the rabbits we knew what we were getting out of them, meat and fur. We've actually already done quite well by our investment in terms of return for the rabbits. So why am I concerned about the return with chickens given that everyone recommends them for homesteading.
Happiness: The lady of the House really wants to have chickens. It's something she has dreamed of for years. Before we owned a house, even before we were partners. She really enjoys them, their senses of humor, and their . . . chickenness I guess you'd call it. In a lot of ways this reason alone would be enough, but if it was the only reason we wouldn't be working on the scale we are looking at.
Eggs: Wait a second, I just said we don't eat many eggs. Why am I putting that first in the benefits list? With 16 chickens, assuming only 10 survive, and they are only average producers we will be producing around 2,000 - 2,500 eggs a year, so 10 to 12.5 times what we will ever eat. For the first time we are looking at producing for more than just ourselves. There are a lot of things we can do with 1,800 - 2,300 eggs a year. There is social currency in trading and giving eggs to friends in exchange for one thing or another, or just because they are friends. There is also selling them. Maybe we can't sell them at a local market, but it is not uncommon to have road side stands with a cooler, and a sign saying "Eggs, $3.50 a dozen." People stop, put in money, take their eggs, and move on. That is something we could possibly do to defray at least the costs of the feed. We should also remember that while the Lady of the House and I eat maybe 200 eggs a year, we are also going to be tanning a lot of rabbit hides, and eggs are the only ingredient in that process beyond the hides themselves.
Meat: Hold on, I just keep citing things I said aren't something we're going to be doing. But here goes, by building a good solid, large, chicken coop now, we can raise mixed, un-sexed chicks in the future and butcher the cockerels for meat and keep the hens for laying. We can also use the dried up hens for meat when they are too old to lay. It's not going to be a major source of meat, but it will be something to mix up with rabbit from time to time.
Scraps: One of the things that is always cited as a good thing about chickens is that they can eat table scraps. While we do compost, you can't really compost things that are touched by meat grease or have been cooked with meat. With chickens around instead of throwing these things away or giving them to our foster rats, we can give them to the chickens. That reduces the cost of feeding the chickens, and will eventually re add to the soil as we clean out and compost the litter in the chicken coops.
Feathers: Chickens molt, and that means we have a steady supply of fairly pretty feathers. Why in the world would that matter? Well, I'm not sure if you knew, but by the Migratory Bird Act it is illegal to possess any feather of a migratory bird. If you weren't sure, that's almost all of them. Chicken feathers on the other hand are legal. Why does that matter at all to us? Well, we can use them to make pretty things, sell them to friends to make art with and the like. Not a huge deal, but every little thing helps. Obviously with less spectacular birds it's less useful, but still something.
Cleaning up: Chickens make a hell of a mess, why am I saying cleaning up? Well, we also have rabbits. Rabbits poop a lot, they are little round poop pellet factories with a high daily quota. While rabbit poop is relatively inoffensive, it can become a bit of a problem as we discovered last summer, due to flies and other critters. Chickens Love scratching around in poop and eating all of those delicious little critters. That will heavily reduce our fly population, and will probably make a good dent in the beetle population. They are also good to let in to the areas we grew our gardens after harvest to eat left overs on the plants, and devour pests that would settle in after a year of gardening in a spot.
TICKS: Lyme disease is scary. If you don't know much about it, you should go here http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/ and look. It is a disease with no cure because it's not worth researching since it is a local problem that mostly affects poor families. There's no one to pay for it. Our area is lousy with ticks, and while we can protect our dog (mostly) from being likely to get lyme, we can't protect ourselves except by not getting bitten by ticks, and being vigilant and removing ticks when ever we see them. Chickens love eating ticks, they devour the disgusting little things. For the eating ticks reason alone, chickens would probably be worth it for us. Ticks are a huge threat to us, any livestock we have in the present or future, and chickens help manage that.
All in all, this post has actually been really helpful for me to remember why we're spending all of this money on chickens. Most of their benefits aren't direct, but they are there!