Homesteading with Chickens
A requirement of homesteading, I believe, is to have your own flock of barnyard chickens. Not only are they pleasant company, but they give you the very best tasting (and nutrition wise) eggs. They are also a smaller version of owning a pig. They are efficient garbage disposals for almost all your household table scraps. Any trimmings, peals, skins, or foods gone bad can be given to your chickens and they will eat with comical enthusiasm. The only things I do not give my chickens are food items that may flavor the eggs or upset their stomachs like garlic, onions, or things that may have hot spices or sauces.
Murray McMurray chicken hatchery (where I buy most of my chickens from) has a great list of foods to feed and not feed your chickens. Since having my chickens, I feel better about bread that I forget about that goes stale or heaving leftovers forgotten in the fridge. Their favorite scraps are fruits and vegetables. Pineapple and watermelon rinds become obsolete within a few minutes of being tossed over the fence.
When house scraps are running low, my chickens enjoy foraging around the farm, and appreciate weeds and grass clippings. Bugs are part of their daily diet and it is always enjoyable to watch them chase crickets. Poulin Grain, a local Vermont grain company, makes a wholesome layer pellet that keep my chickens fed through the winter.
Chickens are also easy to keep and don’t require a lot of space. Urban chickens are becoming more and more popular so even if you only have a small yard, they can easily be part of your life. Many books and blogs are available that focus on raising chickens that can be of help. If you are like me and want to dive in head first, I have had good luck in simply selecting breeds of chickens that are cold hardy and ordered them.
The best breeds I have found so far for Vermont are Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and having a few Araucanas (they lay colored eggs of light blues and greens) are always fun. As long as you have a coop or suitable home for the chickens that keeps out the elements, a heat lamp, starter food, and a little common sense, you can start your flock. In Vermont, it is best time to start them is in mid-spring, as they will grow fast and need to be outside sooner than you think. You can always purchase adult birds from local farmers or find them at farm animal auctions so that you can have your chickens producing eggs as soon as you bring them home. This is also helpful if you decide to start your flock in the fall.