When asked why she wants to go through the effort of building a pen and buying a slew of chickens, Elizabeth Guest of Portland is not afraid to tell you how cute she finds fluffy new chicks and how much she would enjoy making them into her pets. But mostly she realizes that the rewards of such a hobby “might be the closest thing to farming [she] ever achieves.”
Although it is common for small farms in open, rural areas to have chickens, perhaps as well as a garden and some other small livestock animals, few people realize that those living in urban and suburban areas can enjoy such a sustainable decision. In fact, the trend of owning one’s own chickens is actually growing, even in Alaska, the benefits of which spread beyond one’s own coup.
The most obvious advantage, of course, is having healthier eggs. Guest “believes the eggs from [her] chickens would be fresher and of higher quality than what is typically found in grocery stores,” and she is absolutely right. For the most part, chickens on large farms are often fed poorly and are forced to live in unsanitary conditions. The eggs that they produce have thin shells and crack easily, which may suggest that the hen was nutritionally deprived, as calcium is the primary mineral that makes up the eggshell. A safe rule to follow, whether buying or gathering one’s own eggs, is this: the thicker the shell (the harder it is to crack open), the better quality the egg. Eggs produced from farm-grown chickens tend to be thick and heavy, hard to break, and thus of a higher quality.
A healthier diet, however, is not the only benefit. Besides being a sustainable and environmentally friendly practice, raising chickens for eggs can also be a shared experience. Inspired by her neighbors, Guest comments, “Fresh eggs can be shared with friends and neighbors, thereby promoting a genuine sense of community.” Many times, it costs less in the long run to raise one’s own hens, even sell some of the product to neighbors, and consume a higher-quality egg than it does to buy poor-quality eggs from the store. This kind of fair trade among neighborhoods not only provides the community with healthier groceries, it also builds trust and friendship between farmer and consumer.
Raising chickens may sound like more work than one may desire, but a healthier diet, a sustainable food source, and a stronger community just might be worth it. A highly recommended source to help any aspiring urban farmers is Jenna Woginrich’s book, “Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatchlings to Laying Hens.” Good luck, farmers!