From the health-trends-we-never-saw-coming file: backyard chickens! As part of the movement away from mass-produced, factory-farmed food and toward environmental sustainability and self-sufficiency, a growing number of suburbanites and city dwellers are raising chickens in their own backyards. In addition to providing fresh, humanely raised, nutrient-dense, organic eggs, many flocks become entertaining members of the family.
Mailee Jones, who keeps three chickens in San Leandro, Calif., says she wanted her son to see where eggs came from. “We were interested in seeing if we could stop purchasing something from the store and rely on ourselves completely,” she says. Although the trend has often been framed as a recession-buster, most chicken enthusiasts say economics isn’t their primary concern.
“People keeping chickens on a small scale are probably not going to save money in the short term,” says Jennifer Megyesi, an organic farm owner in South Royalton, Vt., and author of The Joy of Keeping Chickens (Skyhorse Publishing). But in addition to being surprisingly cuddly, homegrown chickens mean health benefits, too. Megyesi says free-range eggs have higher omega-3 fatty acid levels than the ones you’ll find in conventional cartons. But the satisfaction of rearing a flock might be best of all.
“It’s still amazing to just go outside and get an egg,” Jones says. “Sometimes they’re still warm in the palm of your hand.”
So, you want to own chickens? In City Chicks: Keeping Microflocks of Laying Hens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers and Local Food Suppliers (Good Earth), Patricia Foreman not only reiterates why this runaway urban underground movement is so great for the environment and your health, she also provides a detailed primer on how to get started. Foreman, who has kept poultry for more than 20 years, helps newbies learn how to purchase, care for and get the most from their flocks. Then there’s the fun: Because they don’t need to be walked, hens are easy to care for (and they’re mesmerizing, too). This entertaining how-to book might even turn a total “city chick” into a backyard egg producer.