Chicken Myths, Busted
Think Twice Before You Just Believe Any Old Chicken Adage
By Robert Pekel, Arkansas
The demand for fresh, nourishing food free of chemicals is accelerating. Small backyard chicken flocks are a clean, healthy source of eggs and meat. Many cities across the country are updating ordinances to welcome country chickens to an urban environment. Raising them is fun and fairly simple. However, successful egg production and quality meat depends on choosing the right breeds and raising them the right way.
Today families in diverse environments can experience the fun of bringing home day-old chicks. Chicks can be purchased over the Internet and delivered by mail, but it’s much more fun to pick out chicks at a local feed store.
In Arkansas, where I live, feed stores offer spring chicks starting in March. They usually keep a good mix through April into May. The feed store is fun because I get to survey all the poultry including ducks, geese and turkeys. But before a trip to the feed store, be sure to have ready a draft free pen, water, chick starter, heat lamp and a bale of pine shavings or straw. While a feed store may be a bit of an excursion for urban or city farmers, the adventure should be well worth the effort. Next, the focus turns to choosing the right breeds. A good laying hen should yield close to an egg a day.
DUAL-PURPOSE CHICKENS ARE GOOD FOR BOTH EGG AND MEAT PRODUCTION
I have tried most of these breeds, and in my experience dual-purpose chickens either don’t lay enough eggs or the meat is off flavor or there’s not much of it.
Red Sex Link, Golden Comet and Leghorns have performed well. I purchase these chickens at the local 4-H club pullet auction. A pullet is a 6-month-old bird ready to lay eggs. The auction is an annual event every August. There is probably a 4-H club in your area. Breeds like, Black Australorp, Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red also perform well. They are all good foragers. This broadens their diet and offers them the exercise they need to lay nutritious eggs. A Mother Earth News survey reported eggs from pastured chickens “contain one-third less cholesterol, one-fourth less fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, twice the omega-3, three times more vitamin E, and seven times more beta carotene,” than industrial farmed eggs.
Meat chickens should produce flavorful meat and a lot of it.
CORNISH ROCK AND CORNISH CROSS ARE NOT GOOD CHICKENS BECAUSE THEY ARE THE INDUSTRIAL FARM STANDARD.
They are the standard for a reason. Cornish Rock produces the best quality and the maximum quantity of meat. How it is raised determines the difference between a healthy chicken, or the industrial creation of Franken-chicken. This breed provides wholesome, nourishing meat when raised with an abundance of sunshine, fresh air and exercise. Free range is good. I let my chickens range in the afternoon until sunset, but only when I can keep an eye on them. Several hours a day should be sufficient time to add bugs and grasses to their diet. Coyotes, raccoons and hawks are all looking for a quick, easy meal, and can wipe out a small flock in short order. For this reason, I use a coop to protect the chickens when I am not at home or at night. It is also a good idea to change the time of day when letting the chickens out to range. Hawks have an uncanny ability to pick up on a pattern. A natural diet will require a little coaxing to get Cornish Rock to leave their coop. Cornish Rocks tend to belly up to the feeder rather than forage, but with persistence, and in time they will run the yard and even try to fly.
A Cornish Rock chicken will grow very quickly. Some times they put on meat faster than their hearts and liver can keep up. This may cause them to drop dead. Bring them up slow with no artificial lighting. Limit their feeding to twice a day, and encourage them to forage. It will take about eight to 12 weeks to reach a hearty eating size of around six to 10 pounds.
A ROOSTER IS NECESSARY TO PRODUCE EGGS.
This is probably more of a misunderstanding than a myth. A rooster is not needed to yield eggs. Roosters tend to be rather hard on the hens, so unless one wishes to try a hand at breeding, roosters are unnecessary. Your hens will thank you.
THE BIGGEST MYTH IS THAT CHICKENS ARE GOOD FOR THE GARDEN.
I’ve read too many articles that attest to this fairy tale. Chickens in the garden are a disaster. They disrupt carefully mulched beds, and destroy seedlings with their scratching. Oh yes, they like to dine on young seedlings such as cabbage, broccoli, and other greens. This is very, very annoying.
A real bonus and no myth at all is that chickens can create black gold when yard waste such as leaves, and grass clippings are added to their pen. The chickens will blend in their droppings, work it all together, and scratch it down into nutrient rich fertilizer. That’s not all, foraging chickens will put a big dent in the tick and flea population.
The popularity of raising backyard chicken is soaring, and with good reason. Chickens offer backyard farmers an abundance of good products and services. Imagine the excitement of harvesting farm fresh eggs, or serving healthy, home raised chicken for dinner. Envision adding nutrient rich compost to your garden that was created on site. Think how good it will be to have an effective, non-hazardous pest control at your disposal for free. Backyard chickens are a potent addition in the quest for self-reliance. A little understanding of chickens will produce best results and create the best experience.
Robert Pekel is a long-time poultry owner who lives in Arkansas. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.