Keeping and raising chickens is becoming more and more popular. There are many benefits of tending chickens, including fresh eggs, pest control, fertilizer, entertainment, stress relieve, therapy and family values. It is great for children to learn where their food comes from. What a great way to learn about the food chain and about respecting the animals that provide us with food.
The daily fare of fresh eggs offers numerous health benefits and they taste good, too. A recent study in Mother Earth News showed a comparison in nutrients between eggs from pasture-raised chickens and those raised on factory farms. Benefits of pasture-raised chicken eggs over their commercial counterpart include:
• Less cholesterol and fat
• Two times more omega-3 fatty acids
• Three times more vitamin E
• Six times more vitamin D
• Seven times more beta carotene
Have backyard pests? Chickens love to search for bugs. Every waking moment they are scratching and pecking around looking for a tasty snack. Chickens like grasshoppers, caterpillars, worms, beetles, centipedes, scorpions and other crawling nibbles. What we consider pests, chickens consider lunch.
Chickens are also masters at recycling. The nutrients in food scraps and weeds eaten by chickens are recycled into an extremely valuable substance for the garden…manure! Chicken poop is one of the best garden fertilizers because it contains essential nutrients including nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. The hardest part is keeping the chickens from eating the garden while they are fertilizing it.
Did you know raising chickens can also help reduce stress, increase health and calm the mind? Similar to caring for and enjoying other pets, tending chickens causes the body to release oxytocin, a stress-lowering hormone. Clea Danaan, author of Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens: The Way of the Hen, explains, “Chicken watching increases our mindfulness skills. Caring for chickens gets us outside regularly and watching their methodical scratching and foraging around the yard slows us down and grounds us in the present, providing a meditative and relaxing experience.”
When socialized and supervised properly, many animals offer additional therapeutic benefits to children and adults. More than 3,000 animal assisted interaction programs exist across the country. These programs are designed to help people create a natural relationship with animals, which helps strengthens their own social and emotional skills. Chickens are recognized therapy animals used to address a wide variety of issues including dementia, Alzheimer’s, sensory disorders, psychiatric illness, depression and autism.
Pet.org.au, an organization that provides support services for autistic children and parents to find the perfect companion animal, offers the following explanation: “A child who is on the autism spectrum inherently needs to be assisted away from over fixation on the inner self. This encouragement to outward awareness and not to fear it can be found in the antics and curious jerky head motions made by chickens. It is so captivating and funny. Chickens, as with most pets, will coax a special needs child to innately accept that there is fascinating ‘chaos’ in life and that unpredictable things will occur with a fun result. Chickens offer a soothing effect, as well as help to increase social and play skills, decrease feelings of loneliness, and promote self-care and independent living skills through daily chores.”
Finally, chickens are very entertaining. Each one has a different personality and quirky behavior. Some are quiet and some are chatty. Some liked to be held and carried; others not so much. And, there are so many different breeds available. You can find some cool-looking chickens. Kids love to pet and hold chickens and if you get them when they are chicks, they will like the physical attention.
The biggest time investment is building the coop and preparing the yard for the flock. After that, you might only spend 10 minutes a day making sure your hens have plenty of food and water, throwing out scraps for them to snack on and checking for eggs. If you let your hens free range in the backyard, you will only have to clean out their coop every three to four weeks. But you will have to hose the back patio or deck often, and rolling around on the lawn my offer more than grass strains.
It is important to check city ordinances or neighborhood regulations to make sure backyard chickens are allowed and to find out the limit. Most cities allow three to six hens and no roosters. FBN
Jenniene L. Foster, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist specializing in regional anesthesia, joined Forest Country Anesthesia in 2006. Dr. Foster came to Flagstaff after completing her medical residency program at The Ohio State University. When not caring for patients, Dr. Foster enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters in their yard that backs the national forest and has room enough for a large garden and nearly a dozen chickens.
Forest Country Anesthesia providers perform more than 16,000 anesthetic procedures each year in all areas of anesthesiology, including cardiovascular, neurosurgery, obstetrics, orthopedics and pediatrics, across five facilities in Northern Arizona. To learn more about Dr. Foster and Forest Country Anesthesia, visit ForestCountryAnesthesia.com or call 928-773-2505.