(NewsDakota.com/NDAgConnection.com) – Backyard chicken flocks are popular in urban and suburban communities throughout the country. Most owners raise them for eggs, meat, controlling pests and sometimes, just as pets. Preparation is essential for a thriving backyard flock. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is leading a series of webinars throughout the coming year on various aspects of raising backyard poultry.
In conjunction with the Universities of Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, The Ohio State University and Utah State University, UK will host 10 Zoom sessions in 2023 on everything from reproductive issues to managing poultry flocks on pasture.
“Backyard poultry has gotten really big recently and UK is taking the lead on providing science-based information to small and backyard chicken producers through our website, Facebook page and our monthly webinars,” said Jacqueline Jacob, an extension project manager in the UK Department of Animal and Food Sciences who puts together the yearly event.
Chickens were not considered livestock by American farmers in the early 1900s; eggs were regarded as a delicacy, and chicken meat was served only on special occasions. The U.S. government appealed to backyard chickens after the start of the First World War, though. Foraging chickens produced their own food, composted kitchen scraps, controlled harmful garden insects, tilled soil and ultimately increased the availability of food supplies to send to troops in Europe.
Following World War II, this mentality faded as people moved to the suburbs, and backyard chickens were replaced by industrial poultry.
While Jacob does not have specific numbers for backyard flocks, she said suburban poultry has made a comeback over the past several years, and skyrocketed when COVID-19 hit. With schools closed and workers laid off, furloughed or working remotely, many Americans saw starting a backyard flock as a rewarding project for the weeks or months of confinement at home.
“Chickens are beneficial for several reasons,” said Jess Slade, native plants curator at The Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, who purchased her backyard flock at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “They produce colorful eggs with rich, orange yolks that beat any grocery store egg in flavor and beauty. I currently have a flock of eight chickens of various breeds and they are a delight to watch and care for – plus the eggs make great gifts for friends and neighbors.”
Aside from fresh daily eggs, meat and a great source of garden compost, poultry can also be an excellent educational tool for children.
“Taking care of your own chickens is a great learning tool,” Jacob said. “Children learn about respect for life, general biology, caring for one another and responsibility. Some families consider their flocks ‘Chicken TV.’ They sit and watch their chickens’ daily activities and have a blast doing it.”