By Sion Lee
One of my good friend’s family houses four chickens in their backyard. Everyone’s reaction to this is of sheer surprise and intrigue. How could someone living in New York City have chickens running around in their backyard? Why would one do such a thing? Believe it or not, there actually are many upsides to having backyard chickens.
In New York City, it is legal to have hens in backyards- just no roosters, because of possible noise complaints from neighbors. A chicken will cost somewhere between $1-$30, depending on the breed and size of the chickens (and also depending on if you want a chick or a full-grown chicken). A coop can cost absolutely nothing if you decide to make one or up to $3000 if you’re looking for something a little more high-end. It is important to understand that hens only produce eggs for a certain fraction of their lives, so if you are in it only for the eggs, you might want to reconsider.
To be clear: the hens’ eggs probably will not be economically profitable. A hen will usually lay one egg per day. It may not be plausible to sell the eggs simply because the average urban hen owner won’t have that many to sell in the first place. However, backyard chickens have a clear benefit when it comes to eggs: they are locally produced, which means the carbon footprint is greatly reduced. Think about it. Your typical, store-bought carton of eggs are transported from the farm to the store by a truck for miles and miles. Also, the plastic/Styrofoam container the eggs are in are materials that cannot be easily recycled. Manufacturing the containers result in carbon dioxide emissions, as they are made in large factories. Backyard chickens, however, only require you to transport from your backyard to your kitchen. How easy is that?
Another benefit is that chickens eat just about everything. Cauliflower stems? Carrot skins? Cooked pasta? They will eat it all. In addition, your hens will eat those pesky insects that are ruining your vegetable garden and act as a natural pest control. An added upside is that they consume mosquitos- so if you are like me and are considered to be a scrumptious delicacy by these blood suckers, this might be good news. Chickens do need to eat some chicken feed, but they can be inexpensive if you are feeding them a balanced diet of food scraps. (In fact, my friend only spends around fifteen dollars a month on chicken feed.) Everything the chickens don’t eat, then, can be composted. What comes out of the chicken can be composted, too. Poultry waste, when handled properly, is a valuable source of nutrients for garden soil. There is information on ways you can use chicken manure to fertilize your garden here.
Of course, there are always risks to every action. Poultry- like any other animal- runs the danger of infecting human consumers. Avian flu, salmonella, and E. coli are all commonly-heard diseases that chickens are prone to. For that reason, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a guideline for keeping backyard poultry. It is vital that you are sanitary and wary when it comes to handling these otherwise fun pets.
It is totally understandable when New York City dwellers say that there simply is not enough time and space to raise backyard hens. Personally, my family does not even have a yard to house these outside pets. Heck, my landlord does not even allow indoor pets, either. That’s okay, though. The next best thing to do would be to buy local. Buying local, like backyard hens, reduce the carbon footprint that is associated with regular store-bought eggs. It’s National Farmers Market Week, so find your local farmer’s market here and find those fresh eggs.
About the Author: Sion (pronounced see-on) is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. She is a native of Queens. Sion’s favorite hobbies include eating, listening to Stevie Wonder, and breaking stereotypes.