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SUSTAINABILITY Backyard poultry keeping

Outdoor Living
Chicken in a garden

Keeping chickens in your backyard

Chris Brown

Keeping a few birds (the feathered variety that is) around the place brings me much pleasure, and it gladdens me to hear that small scale poultry keeping is on the increase.
Collecting from your own hens and/or ducks is the best way to obtain your eggs because you know how the fowl have been cared for, and that they haven’t been subjected to the cruel confined conditions found in large-scale battery operations. You also know what they have been fed on.
I’m sure many more households could keep a handful of birds without much bother, and I would certainly encourage anyone thinking about getting a few chickens to do so. They don’t require much space – a secure cabin and a bit of outside space is all that’s needed.
Backyard poultry keeping isn’t a big commitment on your time either. If your night out on the town goes on a bit long, and you don’t get back ’til sometime the next day, no worries. The chucks can happily stay indoors for a couple of days, so long as they have access to water and the food container has some grub in it – and, if you’re lucky they will have a couple of shiny eggs ready for your omelette on your return. If you have to go away for a bit longer, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a neighbour to feed them; I imagine they’d be only too pleased to get their hands on the delicious eggs.
Packed with goodness, and each one individually wrapped by the hen herself, eggs are a superb ingredient in our diets. Typically, in this age of mis-information, people have been led to believe that eggs are somehow not good for you if you consume more than just a couple a week, but this is not correct: As has been reported recently, they are not even high in cholesterol! Packed with protein and tasting delicious, eggs are good for you. They will put lead in your pencil. Eat plenty of them.

What to feed poultry
One useful advantage in keeping poultry is that you can feed them the scraps that are invariably produced in the kitchen. Things such as bacon rinds and the shrapnel produced by feeding an infant in a high chair (which we all know goes all over the place) can be put in a small container and given to the hens each evening to supplement the feed that you will have to buy. It’s more suitable to give cooked food to animals than put into the compost heap, although it would of course make compost.
New legislation in the UK has outlawed the giving of scraps from the kitchen, including vegetable peelings, to poultry and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that similar regulations might be in place in Ireland also. This is, of course, daft nonsense that goes against all traditional wisdom, thought up no doubt in some distant office by someone that knows nowt about the subject. It is a load of horse manure without the straw, and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.
The authorities might not be able to think of better ways to deal with kitchen scraps than to put it in a wheely bin and then burn diesel bringing this organic matter to a landfill site, but be assured that left over pasta and potato skins etc are far better feed to grateful animals. If your kitchen is any good, this will be excellent food.
If you don’t feel the inclination to keeping a few poultry yourself but don’t like the idea of hens being kept unkindly in their thousands in factories and you are concerned about the important issue of food miles, then buy eggs from a neighbour who does keep hens.
Note the word ‘buy’ because this will help small flocks become established. In 2010, I sell six hen eggs for €2.50 and six duck eggs for €3.50, which I believe to be the true worth of this splendid food.
This amount of money covers the price of the feed and leaves enough over to buy the occasional pint, which I deserve, because cleaning out hens sheds is thirsty work!

Next time Drought

Chris Brown
runs Brown’s Farm, a small farm in Louisburgh. He is an advocate of sustainable, natural farming methods and buying local.