By Eric Guel
Photos by author
My family has been homesteading for three years. Like most Western homesteaders, we’re hobby farmers … We don’t do this to stay alive, though we feel most alive when we’re doing it. 🙂
Through each passing season we’ve learned about gardening and animal husbandry through reading, asking our neighbors, asking our friends, and, most importantly, actually getting out there and doing something. Trial and error is a faithful schoolmaster.
Our flock of chickens has fluctuated from 10 to 30 birds, and our ducks (which are a perfect complement to chickens, but by no means a replacement) have been ubiquitous as well, as they’re good at hatching as many as 15 to 20 little billed buddies at a time.
All of those feathered friends are great for laying eggs, but that’s not the only benefit to fowl on the farm. What follows is a non-exhaustive list of the myriad ways homesteads benefit from chickens and ducks:
- Eggs! Okay, we already mentioned that one.
- Meat. If you’re not too squeamish to shed a little blood. Typical “meat bird” varieties, while not sustainable, come out far tastier than buying them from a grocery store, and, I’m sure, better for you as well … because you can put them on pasture and give them access to fresh air. For sustainable options, ducks are especially good because they’re so prolific. Quack quack.
- Pest control. Yes, this is one of the oft-overlooked benefits of poultry. With free range chickens, say goodbye to any need for professional pest control. Seriously. Not only that, but poultry’s insatiable appetite for bugs will also help you save money on feed. See Mother Earth News’ Poultry Pest Patrol page for more details.
- Rototilling. With enough time, chickens are the absolute best land cultivators. They’ll scratch up roots, eat anything in site that’s green, devour pesky bugs, and leave a fertile mix of manure in their wake. Recently my wife and I planted in an area where chickens have been kept for several months, with nary a sign of invasive weeds.
Those are a few reasons why poultry just makes sense. They’re the perfect livestock and ridiculously versatile. Chickens in particular are hardy as all get out and nothing if not entertaining to watch.