Sus Danner is director of protection for The Nature Conservancy in Idaho
By Sus Danner
On a recent trip to the grocery store, I marveled at the price of a carton of organic eggs — $4.99 — and the fact that they had been shipped from a distant state!
It felt great to walk away knowing that I have a cheaper, tastier, humane and local source of organic eggs: my backyard!
According to a 2006 report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock industry produces 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide.
Choosing locally raised livestock can help to reduce air pollution related to the long-distance transportation of meat and poultry products.
We city dwellers may not be able to offset our carbon use by growing a steer in the backyard. But in most suburbs and even some cities, it's easy to raise chickens.
I got my pair as chicks at a local feed store. You can also find them through mail order from several reputable companies. I chose hens only; in my city of Boise, Idaho, roosters are outlawed.
Chickens don’t require much room to thrive. I have a postage stamp of a backyard, and that’s plenty of space for my two hens.
I use an old dog house for a coop (where the birds sleep at night), and let the chickens out in my fenced yard during the day. Most chickens don’t fly much, so they never leave the yard. But you might need additional fencing to protect chickens from the dogs and raccoons that will be tempted to prey on them.
Watching the chickens’ interactions and behavior is very entertaining — curious children in my urban neighborhood often drop by my backyard "farm."
Chickens are easy to care for, too. Their principal diet consists of the pests and weeds in my yard. I provide fresh water and feed to supplement their backyard pickings.
Since getting my two chickens, I’ve seen reductions in slugs, snails and earwigs — not to mention dandelions and other weedy plants. I compost the chicken droppings into excellent fertilizer for my garden.
Each hen lays an egg every day-and-a-half. The eggs that my chickens lay are delicious, with bright yolks and strong shells — and they don’t require factory farming, packaging or long-distance trucking.
Raising your own hens lowers your carbon footprint and your slug population — and it's a whole lot of fun!
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.October 25, 2010