When people are looking to start raising chickens, it can be easy to get caught up in logistics and details – How many hens do I need? How many eggs will they lay? Should I start with pullets, chicks, or eggs? A coop costs how much? However, while all of these details are important and need considerations, potential chicken owners should also take some time to zoom out and look at the bigger picture of chicken owning, part of which is that it comes with some surprising health benefits. Besides the benefits of farm fresh eggs that get so many people into raising chickens in the first place, a coop in the backyard can also have positive effects on someone’s mood and overall mental and physical health.
While caring for an animal can obviously introduce stress and increased responsibility into someone life’s, hanging out with that animal can more than counteract it. Any form of animal companionship, including chickens, can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, and as a result improve long-term heart health, especially when coupled with the increased exercise chicken owners are likely to get as they care for their birds.
Improved mental health
A lot of research has looked at the link between animal companionship and care and various mental health conditions, from ADHD to depression. While most of those studies weren’t definitive, the general trend in the research is that animal companionship decreases feelings of loneliness and depression and can improve someone’s mood and even their ability to focus.
Improved social life
Animals, even those in the backyard, can be a catalyst for social interactions, which have huge mental and physical benefits for everybody, even self-identified introverts. Humans are social animals, too, and even the simple interaction sparked by a passer-by asking about the birds or offering a neighbor some extra eggs can help someone reap the benefits of social interaction.
Farm fresh eggs
Obviously the health benefit everyone thinks of when they think of getting chickens is the delicious farm fresh eggs, and they’re not wrong to do so. Home-grown eggs have higher levels of vitamin E and beta carotene and lower levels of cholesterol than the eggs in the store, as long as they’re cleaned properly to avoid bacterial disease. Additionally, for those with reservations about factory farming and industrial agriculture, there’s no better way to ensure they know where, when, and how their eggs were produced.
Of course, once someone has decided to partake in the benefits and joys of chicken raising, the question still remains: How? The logistical concerns about raising chickens are real, and should be carefully considered before anyone starts dreaming of fresh eggs every morning and cuddly chicks every spring.
The first question any potential chicken owner needs to answer is whether or not they can actually own chickens. Especially for people in urban or suburban neighborhoods, local ordinances around animals, buildings, and noise can all prevent or limit their chicken-owning venture. It’s much easier to research these questions ahead of time than to deal with the headache of an HOA complaint after the fact, or the painful and difficult task of rehoming chickens a family has already fallen in love with.
The next question is one of equipment; most people know that chickens need more than food and water bowls and a litter box, but probably can’t articulate what those things are. The big one is obviously a coop, which will also be the biggest start-up expense. How big a coop and what material will be best for a flock depends on a number of factors – whether the birds have a run or other opportunity for outdoor exercise, what kind of climate they live in, and how the owner wants to clean the coop. If you’re handy, you can build your own wooden coop relatively easily – blueprints are available for free online – and coops can also be purchased more or less ready-made in either plastic or wood. These ready-made coops often come fully equipped with perches and nesting boxes, but these can also be easily made or purchased separately.
Once the coop is set up, people are obviously going to be looking for birds to put in it. Chickens are commonly raised either from eggs or chicks, although first-timers nervous about handling young birds or hesitant to purchase the necessary equipment for chicks – things like special feed and feeders and a warm brood box – can buy pullets (young adults) or adopt retired industrial birds and move them right into the coop. Anyone looking to start with eggs should be aware than not all of the eggs they buy will hatch, and there’s no guarantee that the ones that do hatch will be hens. Chicks, on the other hand, can be bought “sexed,” so the buyer knows what they’re getting, though without the excitement of watching eggs hatch. Raising the birds from chicks or eggs also means they’re more likely to be comfortable and affectionate with their owners.
Once they have their chickens, the real work begins for owners. Chickens should always have a full feeder, so they can eat small portions over the course of the day and imitate their wild diet of foraging and grazing. Of course, owners with a lot of space can best imitate that diet by providing it, letting their chickens free range and forage for insects and other natural food sources. There’s also the concern of making sure the hens don’t become food for something else – hawks, foxes, and skunks can all menace chicken coops. Hawks can be deterred by shiny, glittery objects, as simple as old CDs hung from a tree, and most ground predators can be stopped by a sturdy fence sunk at least a foot underground.
All of this may seem overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean chicken keeping is out of reach for anyone. Fortunately, expert advice on all facets of chicken raising is easily accessible online, and will only become more so as backyard chickens become more and more popular. As with any new venture, there will be ups and downs, triumphs and mistakes, but, even beyond the health benefits, the pure joys of keeping chickens will likely outweigh them all.