By Chef Centehua
The sun is just beginning its ascent when the hens let it be known they are ready to begin their morning activities. Chickens are creatures of the sun and they waste no time inside. We decided to get chickens three years ago and our flock grew quite quickly from three hens to sixteen! All our girls have names and are loved dearly. My husband is the first one up each morning, so he greets the girls and opens the coop for them. Then he makes them breakfast which consists of a blend of millet, amaranth, flax, apples, papaya, bananas, chia seeds and sometimes yogurt or kefir. The hens can hardly wait for their meal. As soon as he walks out with the plates of food, they run over to meet him with loud chirps and squawks.
Caring for chickens is really quite simple: basically they eat what we eat, kitchen scraps and any leftovers. Just like us, chickens need to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in their digestive tract, so we also add a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar to their water once a week. Cultured foods such as kefir and yogurt are great, too.
When we first got our chicks, we supplemented their diet with organic scratch feed and organic lay pellets. However, these often contain corn and/or soy which is why now we make our own feed blend of millet, flax and amaranth.
Living sustainably means reducing our waste. Anything we don’t eat goes to compost or to the chickens. Egg shells get fed back to the chicks for the additional calcium necessary for laying hens. We just save them in a large bowl and, when we get enough of them, they’re baked for a short time and then pulverized. The rest of the day they forage for weed seeds, bugs and grasses.
We have multiple varieties of birds: Americaunas, Buff Orpingtons, Buckeyes, Danish leghorns, Wyandottes, Black sex links and Sea bright bantam mixes. Our egg basket is beautifully filled with Easter-colored eggs from the different hens. Some lay blue eggs, some brown and white, and they all have the most delicious golden yolks you’ll ever see. Each hen lays about an egg a day, so we average a dozen daily. The surplus of eggs has brought our community together because we share with neighbors and create new beneficial relationships. Some people are amazed that we have that many chickens, and that our yard doesn’t smell and is not crowded with flies. Cleanliness is important when raising chicks. Daily we scrape poop from the nesting area in the coop and spread new hay. Chickens poop a lot, so they are amazing creators of fertilizer and soil builders.
Health and sustainability motivated us to raise chickens. We are passionate about reducing our carbon footprint, and about teaching our children how to close the nutrient cycle and be responsible for our health and well being. Not only do the chickens provide nutrition and fertilizer for our garden, but they also are fun to watch and interact with. The children love waking up to collect eggs in the coop. When breakfast is served, they know where their eggs came from and are grateful for the wonderful gift their hens provide each day.
Living sustainably does not mean you have to move to the country and be a farmer. New laws allow city folks to have chickens, pot belly pigs and pygmy goats. I am so excited to see more people jumping in to have backyard chickens and develop gardens. Many are returning to the land, tending the earth and creating little urban farms. Backyard chickens are a great addition to anyone looking for greater self-reliance and health.