Poultry Primer: Adding Backyard Chickens to Your Preps

Why backyard chickens should be a part of your preps

If you are looking for a way to have a more reliable egg supply, keeping backyard chickens might be right for your family. There are a lot of other great reasons to consider adding backyard chickens to your property, as well.

Baby chicks are adorable, and the personalities of hens in a backyard flock provide entertainment for children and adults alike. If you’re interested in getting a pet, they’re good for that. But they can also contribute to your household. By learning how to take care of animals that produce food, you will gain valuable knowledge along with your delicious breakfasts.

Learn a New Skill

In Chris’ recent article, 2024 New Year’s Resolutions for Preppers, Resolution #1 was to increase your skill set. Learning how to take care of chickens can fulfill that.

Chickens are often referred to as the “gateway drug” for livestock. They were for me! But that’s because caring for them is not much different than any other pet bird, except that they become bigger and give you food.

If you have never raised birds before, I strongly recommend purchasing chicks from a farm supply store such as Ace Hardware, Bomgaar’s, Farm & Fleet, Rural King, or Tractor Supply. Most of these stores host “Chick Days” events in the spring, where you can talk to experienced flock owners and get your questions answered. Learning to care for chickens isn’t hard, but it’s good to know where you can go for advice.

Backyard chickens can be educational

Educational Project for Children

In William Cobbett’s 1822 homesteading classic Cottage Economy, he discusses how essential it is for children to learn to care for other creatures. Learning how to respond to another creature’s needs develops a child’s ability to empathize, and taking care of chicks is an easy place for most children to begin.

Additionally, your children will learn about life cycles as the birds grow up. Chicks losing their down and growing their adult feathers makes the birds look funny for a couple of weeks; it is analogous to teenagers going through puberty, as most of them quickly realize. Observing bodily changes and life cycles in animals makes those discussions with children about what happens as they grow up far less uncomfortable.

If you decide to process your own birds that get too old to lay eggs, children will get regular anatomy lessons. It is better to think about this before you buy chickens. They don’t lay eggs forever, and feed is not free. If you have the space to bury birds in your backyard like you would bury a beloved pet dog, that’s fine. But you’d be burying something you could, in theory, use to make a good soup.

Provide a Steady Source of Eggs

Eggs are a superfood. Egg protein is considered perfect for humans because it contains all nine amino acids in roughly the proportions most beneficial for us. They are naturally carbohydrate-free and incredibly versatile. Best of all, they take practically no skill to cook. Most high schoolers can prepare nutritious scrambled eggs for themselves. Your teenagers will have a breakfast that is cheaper and far healthier than cereal.

Cheaper, that is, unless egg prices spike again.

During the spike in egg prices in 2022, my grocery store simply didn’t have them for a few months. Prices dropped and are now back to more historical average levels, but they may begin to rise again.

Bird flu has been coming back. While the country’s largest egg producer, Cal-Maine, had been largely spared from outbreaks in 2022, they reported an outbreak in their Kansas facility in December 2023.

According to the USDA, 11.47 million birds tested positive for bird flu in December. This is up from 8.08 million in November and 1.37 million in October. Cal-Maine alone has had to cull nearly 2 million birds. And birds are still testing positive.

This article isn’t about criticizing industrial agriculture. However, it is worth noting that sunlight has been proven to kill viruses. If your birds have access to sunshine, are not too crowded,  and if you can keep wild birds (and their poop) out of your backyard coop, you will not have to worry about bird flu affecting your access to eggs.

Backyard chickens can help with composting

Create Compost Material

Do you already have a vegetable garden and a compost heap? Adding soiled bedding from your birds can help you produce more compost for your garden.

Chicken manure is extremely nitrogen-rich. It will burn your plants if you dump it directly into your garden. You wouldn’t want to do this anyway because it’s a great way to get sick.

However, if you mix chicken manure with twice as much high-carbon material such as wood shavings, straw, or leaves, keep the mixture moist and stir it occasionally, in about a year you will find yourself with a high-quality soil amendment.

If you’ve ever bought expensive organic garden fertilizer from various garden centers, this is how much of it gets produced. Do it yourself and save some money.

Know What’s in Your Food

The gimmicks to convince people to eat highly processed, laboratory-created junk seem never-ending. We get told that we can save the planet by eating insects. We’re supposed to believe that cell-cultured chicken is somehow healthier for us, even though rodent DNA was recently found in cultured chicken, along with lead, at amounts up to 20 times higher than in normal chicken.

The push to develop synthetic eggs has not been as strong as the push for synthetic meat because decent vegan substitutes already exist. For example, if you’re baking for someone with an egg allergy, you can substitute one tablespoon of flaxseed plus three tablespoons of water for one egg.

If you want a vegan substitute for scrambled eggs, you could opt for one of the other artificial egg products on the marketplace. These are far less controversial than cultured meat or dairy, but why bother? Synthetic eggs consist primarily of bean protein and vegetable oil. You could head to the grocery store for this highly processed synthetic food. Or you could go to your backyard for the real thing.

Final Thoughts

Skills are one of the best forms of wealth; no one can take those away from you. And skill in supplementing your family’s food supply will give you increased confidence in the face of a supply chain that doesn’t always seem to work as well as it should. Americans have been used to a wide variety of cheap, abundant foods for decades, but that has changed over the past four years. We could complain about it; we could also learn how to thrive in spite of it.

Back in World War II, the government widely promoted Victory Gardens to increase the country’s food production. We’re not in WWIII (yet), but why not take a page out of that old book and see what you can do to enrich your own household?

Additional Resources:


Poultry Primer: Adding Backyard Chickens to Your Preps

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