Chickens live a simple life; they eat, they poop, they sleep. They do not have to be groomed or walked or played with or taken to the vet. Give them fresh water, some chicken feed (it really isn’t very expensive), and access to green plant life of some sort, and they’re happy.
In return for those few basics, chickens will give you eggs. I’m not talking about those bland things that come from the grocery store. Fresh eggs from your own chickens are an entirely different species; they are more nutritious, the shells are harder, and the yolks are bright yellow to orange.
As if that weren’t enough, there’s the ‘oh wow!’ factor when you peek into the nest and find an egg has appeared where there was nothing but nest bedding a few minutes before.
For the complete newbie, here are some other important things to know about chickens and eggs:
Roosters are not required. Hens lay eggs. It’s what they do. If they aren’t exposed to a rooster, hens lay unfertilized eggs (which some people prefer, although it doesn’t change the quality or nutrition of the egg)
Hens don’t know the difference. When a hen gets broody (i.e. feels the urge to sit on some eggs for a few weeks), she doesn’t know or care that the eggs are not fertile. She probably doesn’t know why she’s sitting on them. In fact, a broody hen will sit on a golf ball or a rock or, for that matter, an empty nest. It’s a hen thing, so she does it.
Shell color doesn’t matter. Brown eggs are no more nutritious than white eggs. It’s all the same inside. Shell color varies from breed to breed. In addition to white and brown eggshells, you may see blue, green, pink, tan, ivory, or even chocolate colored eggs.
Clean only when necessary. It’s best to take your eggs directly from the nest to the fridge without cleaning them. Water and other liquid substances can strip away a protective coating on the shell that keeps bacteria out. Just before you crack the egg, wipe it with a cloth dipped in vinegar to remove mud or, um, other stuff.
Eggs aren’t the only benefit that comes with a small flock of chickens, either. If you let them roam free in your yard, they’ll do a masterful job of eliminating ticks, Japanese beetles, and other pests. I turn mine loose in the garden throughout the late fall and winter, where they scratch and loosen the garden soil, fertilize with copious amounts of poop, and enhance their own diets by eating the last of the vegetable plants.
By early spring, my garden looks like I’ve spent ages getting it ready to plant, and the soil is prepped for serious growing.
There’s another health benefit to raising chickens that most people never think of – they reduce stress levels. Sit with your chickens for a few minutes, notice how they give their complete attention to whatever they are doing in the moment then scurry on to the next most interesting thing in their little chicken lives. Watch a mama hen cluck her babies into a huddle. Admire a preening rooster. Emulate.
Chickens are zen masters in feather robes.