Why you should keep backyard chickens

Crack an egg from a well-tended backyard chicken and you’ll immediately notice the thick, well-formed eggshell surrounding a rich orange yolk. Contrast that with the “store-bought” egg’s thin, brittle shell and a pale lackluster yolk. This is evidence enough for even a small child to understand: healthy animals produce healthy food that is good for people to eat.

Eggs from backyard chickens taste better, and they are better. But the health from a small chicken flock does not turn merely on the eggs it produces. Chickens also produce manure, which—if properly managed—can be turned into compost to run a stupendous garden nearby. There is a fair amount of hand-wringing done over how unsafe chicken manure is, but this is really mostly a matter of logistics, not substance: if you don’t go swimming in the stuff or plastering it to your hangnails, you’ll be fine.

Chicken manure requires a fair amount of carbon—dead leaves and straw, for instance—to reach the optimal composting balance (and also to neutralize the smell, which—if left untreated—is rather pugnacious). Over a few seasons or a year, many people build up a thick bed of leaves, straw, and chicken manure in the chicken coop or the chicken yard. Then it’s ready to be formed into a compost pile or else just turned directly in the earth for decomposition.