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Grow Your Own: Backyard Chickens

by Juan Pablo Echeverria

“How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?”

— George Carlin

So you’ve been working on your garden for a few months, you have your tomatoes growing, your herbs have fully established themselves and are growing well. Your lettuce and other greens are providing you with your daily vitamins and minerals. All is well in your backyard food garden. You might now be ready to introduce a new element into your flourishing environment.  CHICKENS!

Having chickens as part of your garden will not only provide you with eggs and meat but will also complete the cycle within your garden as they are great sources of nitrogen and can help you produce the soil you´ll need to continue to grow more delicious and nutritious food.

So what does it take to have happy, healthy chickens in your garden?

1. Determine the intrinsic characteristics of the chicken:
What breeds are available? What is their breed’s behavior?  Some of the local Guatemalan breads are great for scratching and turning soil but don’t produce as many eggs as other breeds. What kind of climate tolerance do they have?

2. Determine their needs:
They will need shelter, a place to lay and a place to roost. Their shelter must also serve as a composting system so that you can keep their area clean while generating your own compost. Having available woodchips or dry leaves to pile up on the floor of their coop will keep them healthy and balance out the nutrients in your compost pile. Water: Chickens need freshly available water, so depending on what watering system you use, check it regularly and keep it clean.

Food: Chickens are omnivores, so they will eat almost anything: bugs, grains,  kitchen scraps, and grass. If they are free range they will be able to forage for a lot of these things, but you will need to provide the grain. Locally it’s hard to find any organic source but there are feeds that contain no antibiotics or hormones. Chickens also need other chickens. Nobody likes to be alone!

3.    Products. So this is the fun part:

Eggs: Ideally you’ll want a “dual purpose” chicken breed which means they will lay eggs but also grow fat and meaty. Hens start to lay at 4-5 months of age, and lay best during their first year, each year after that their production decreases. If kept with a regular mixed diet, chicken usually lay about every 35 hours. Once your chickens have laid their first egg, run to the store and buy a conventional egg and compare. The differences are huge.

Meat: This will also depend on the breed, if it’s a meat only variety then they can be ready to butcher by 10 weeks. Otherwise wait till their egg production decreases and then you can make your chicken soup.

Manure: Chicken caca is high in nitrogen so mixing it into your compost while balancing it out with sufficient carbon material will create great fertile soil for you garden.

It’s important before getting chickens that you provide them with an ideal living space. Remember these can be wonderful pets, your hard workers in the garden and your source of protein. So ensure they can live out their chickeness and they will in return provide you with delicious backyard eggs.

We still need help in our gardens, if you are interested in volunteering contact us at: juanpa@elininfinito.org

 

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