The basic concept behind a permaculture approach is finding a design solution to a multiple of problems.
Chickens themselves offer a variety of solutions to a variety of problems. Specifically, chickens act as lawn mowers for overgrown brush and weeds, bug eaters for invasive creatures, garbage disposals for food scraps and dead animals, fertilizers of the soil and compost tillers, egg layers for the breakfast table, and a hearty source of meat for the dinner table.
The chicken serves to answer a whole host of challenges, however the one challenge that is furthest reaching and most relevant is egg production.
If you frequently purchase eggs at your nearest grocery store you may have noticed an increase or a fluctuation in egg prices. It is very plausible that this could be the result of the avian flu that impacted a great number of egg laying birds resulting in a shortage of eggs. Even some restaurants were affected by it!
Not only is the shortage of eggs a very real dilemma but the way they are being produced is also a very real issue. Many of the eggs purchased at the grocery store are products of inhumane treatment of chickens who live in cramped, dirty, and claustrophobic environments such as those highlighted in the documentary Food, Inc.
Additionally, free range* labeling leads us to think we are buying humanely raised chickens that can roam outdoors when in reality there is no regulation for minimum space per bird. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) definition of ‘access to the outdoors’ looks different from that of The Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC). The HFAC states that in order for chickens to be considered “free range” and Certified Humane they must have at least 2 square feet when indoors and be outdoors for at least 6 hours a day as weather permits. This is much better than the USDA and industry standard of “free range” where the many chickens may have so much as a “pop hole” to the outdoors. (*Free range indicates that chickens are not confined to cages inside.)
So how do we help alleviate this problem? Backyard chickens! By housing these backyard permaculture chickens we not only have access to delicious eggs, lawn mowers, and debuggers, we also get a new and unconventional family pet!
The General How To
You might be asking yourself what comes first when owning permaculture chickens…the chicken or the egg? Well, luckily this time there is an answer. It is the chicken!
In order to get started with your chickens Justin Rhodes offers a step by step how-to, answers to frequently asked questions, as well as a comprehensive list of basic materials needed at Getting Started with Chickens: the Ultimate Guide. To go over a few of the basic responsibilities for owning chickens we will look at housing, feeding, and harvesting.
Housing, Feeding, and Harvesting
Housing. There are several aesthetically and functionally diverse ways to design a chicken house. A few designs featured by Justin Rhodes of Abundant Permaculture have proven to be successful when raising chickens:
The A-frame is designed for mobility and has an exposed ground, it is also perfect for winter housing due to the covered roof. The Chicken Tractor is ideal for mobility with two wheels and wire mesh flooring to eradicate manure build up. Lastly, the Poultry Pen, like the A-frame, has an exposed bottom and is ideal for summer use due to the partially covered roof.
Feeding. This part of the puzzle does not have to be a constant high expense; in fact there are ways to make it relatively cheap and affordable…
- Ration your feed
- Soak your feed
- Feed grass – 20 percent of diet, free range
- Kitchen scraps – feed them everything
- Feed weeds and insects
Lastly, the benefits to us: Harvesting! In the morning you get to walk out the back door and snatch a few eggs for your morning breakfast. Once the chickens mature to about 5 months of age they are typically able to produce about 4 eggs a week. So with only 3 chickens that is a dozen eggs a week!
Where to get them
There are several different options to choose from when deciding where to purchase chicks. In Albuquerque we have online forums (such as here, here, and here) where the local community can post notifications of chickens for sale, as well as tips, tricks, or answers to any questions asked. You can also get chickens shipped to you through poultry supply websites.
Enjoy all of the benefits of your backyard chicken while having peace of mind that you are helping bring about a solution to a widespread problem.
-Posted by Rebekah