Lessons big ag can learn from backyard chicken keepers
In recent years, backyard chicken keeping has become more and more popular. Not only are chickens fun to keep, but they have a ton of other benefits that make backyard chicken keeping an appealing hobby.
Backyard chicken keeping has become so popular that big agriculture has started to notice. Big agriculture is taking note of the various practices used by backyard chicken keepers when it comes to caring for the birds and using the birds for purposes beyond food production.
Here are three lessons that big agriculture can learn from backyard chicken keepers.
More than eggs
A rather typical issue encountered among both backyard chicken keepers and big poultry plants is aging hens. Egg-laying hens typically lay the most eggs when they are in the first few years of their lives. After those first three to four years, egg production will most definitely decrease if it does not stop altogether. Unfortunately, a decline in egg production is sometimes seen as an indication that a hen is no longer useful. This may result in the bird being surrounded or even killed.
However, backyard chicken keepers know that chickens are good for much more than just egg production. Chicken waste can be used to produce nutritious compost material to be used in gardens so plants can grow bigger and healthier. Many breeds of chickens are great foragers and will eat weeds and pesky bugs around the yard during their outdoor range time. A lot of breeds make great family pets as well. In fact, some breeds of chickens are so docile that they are used as therapy or emotional support pets.
Big agriculture can learn from backyard chicken keepers that chickens have many purposes beyond laying eggs. Big agriculture should take advantage of the various capabilities of chickens instead of surrendering or killing the birds when they are past their egg-laying prime.
It may come as a surprise to less-experienced chicken keepers that there are many different breeds of chickens. According to Chickens and More, there are over 100 different chicken breeds, and each breed is developed for a specific purpose. For example, some chicken breeds are better for egg-laying purposes because they lay more eggs on average per week. Other breeds are better for meat.
A big part of keeping backyard chickens is picking the right breed for the desired outcome. This involves doing a lot of research in order to make the right decision. For example, if a backyard chicken keeper is expecting a lot of eggs from their chicken, they should not purchase a chicken that is developed for meat purposes.
Big agriculture can learn from backyard chicken keepers than not all chickens are created equal. It’s important to do sufficient research in order to understand what breed of chicken is best for the desired outcome, whether that be egg production or for meat. By making these decisions carefully, unnecessary frustration that may result in the killing or surrendering of chickens can be avoided.
Habitat can contribute to illness
Chickens are well-known for being self-sufficient and hardy animals. Even when they do fall ill, it’s typically easy to treat them and bring them back to health. However, there are lots of steps that can be taken to prevent chickens from becoming sick.
According to the University of Maryland, many of the diseases that are common among chickens are partially caused by or at least contributed to by poor habitat conditions. Elements such as lighting, air quality and coop cleanliness all play a big role in a chicken’s health.
Paying extra attention to coop cleanliness and other habitat factors is something backyard chicken keepers are quite accustomed to. Especially with such a small number of birds, many backyard chicken keepers want to prioritize the health and well-being of the few chickens that they do have. Cleaning the coop, refilling fresh water, and giving chickens time to range outside of their cage are all daily practices for a backyard chicken keeper when it comes to keeping their birds healthy.
Big agriculture can learn from backyard chicken keepers how important habitat factors are with regard to the health of the chickens. It’s all too easy to assume that a sick chicken was already sick or that it somehow caught a nasty infection. However, before deciding that a sick bird is no longer useful, big agriculture should take a hint from backyard chicken keepers and critically examine habitat elements that may be causing the bird to become sick.
There is always more to learn when it comes to keeping chickens. Backyard chicken keepers can take hints from fellow backyard chicken keepers as well as big agriculture, and big agriculture can take hints from backyard chicken keepers as well.
By sharing tips and tricks and collaborating with one another, backyard chicken keepers and big agriculture can help change the future of chicken keeping for the better.
Chris Lesley is the editor-in-chief at Chickens And More, a backyard chickens magazine https://www.chickensandmore.com/