Sunday, September 26, 2010

Increasing Sustainability

Backyard chickens are a great way to increase your personal sustainability and the sustainability of your community. When I look at my hometown of Tacoma, I can see that we are not yet a sustainable community. We have a lot of sustainable practices, particularly in the legal and political fields, but not in the environmental or food department.

Our current system relies on diminishing supplies of fossil fuels to keep us fed. Because this can’t continue forever, we must find a way to transfer to a more sustainable method of living. Urban chicken farming is a step in the right direction. By producing eggs or meat in your backyard, you are cutting out the distance that the eggs or meat need to travel to get to your plate. This is a great step toward sustainability.

But how can we increase our sustainability if we already have a backyard flock? While chickens are very efficient at producing consumable energy (eggs and meat) they don’t produce in a vacuum. Chickens require food and water if we expect them to produce food for us.

I purchase X-Cel Chicken Crumble, a chicken feed produced here in Tacoma, and I have used that to feed my flock, but a tremendous amount of energy is nonetheless used to grow the grains, ship the grains, and process the grains in order to feed the chickens. A backyard chicken flock might be more sustainable than buying eggs at a store, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The core from this apple on the tree in our backyard makes a great dietary supplement for our hens.

You can start by trying to feed your chickens as much as possible with table scraps. Apple cores, leftover rice, stale bread, etc. will supply your chickens with a great deal of nutrients that would have otherwise ended up in the garbage. I always think that for every apple core my chickens eat, they are eating that much less grain, which is decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels.

Penny and Dorothy attack the apple core.

Chickens are also great foragers. They enjoy grazing on tender grass and clover. They also eat various roots, bugs, and flies. Chickens that forage tend to produce eggs that have a higher Omega 3 content.

As conscientious urban chicken farmers, we should always be mindful of ways to increase our sustainability. We should be careful about the feed we buy for our animals. We should allow them to forage as much as possible and supplement their food with our kitchen scraps.

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