The Value of Backyard Chickens

As recent Winter Park residents, we’ve noticed leaders are embracing change. In June, the city kicked off Vision Winter Park,  a project aimed at bringing citizens closer to planning and development efforts.  A big element to all that planning is sustainability.

Communities across the United States are embracing sustainability to create healthier and smarter communities. Neighborhoods that improve walk-ability, reduce waste, and promote healthier lifestyles are the ones that will remain competitive and attractive on a global stage.

With that as a backdrop, we were surprised when we contacted the sustainability office and found out backyard chickens were illegal in Winter Park. The city says it’s been monitoring the ordinance and reports have mentioned the city of Orlando’s backyard pilot was also being watched by council members. With Orlando’s pilot almost three years old, it’s curious what might be holding up the decision.

I wanted to share a few of our experiences as the debate continues.

Hands-On Sustainability

It wasn’t one thing that drove us to own chickens. Sure, it helped that we had kids. To them, furry fowl were just pets, and a lot of times that’s enough to push parents to the feed store. We focused on the bigger picture. We wanted our kids to understand there’s value in knowing where your food comes from, and being a part of the process. It was also a great way to teach responsibility and educate ourselves on a lot of things that underscore sustainable living. If Mother Nature’s backyard habitat was well tended, it provided a bounty for our family. Experiencing this daily cycle helped us understand how the littlest things are interwoven.

Feathered Ambassadors and Community-Builders

ella_chickenOne of the more entertaining aspects of homestead chickens was how they sparked serendipitous conversations and interactions within our community. While I would never advocate letting hens run unbridled through the streets, it was interesting to see how many neighbors provided friendly nudges when they would jump the fence.  A few times, we had folks pick them up and bring them to the front door! In  a short time, our corner lot became a conversation post for young families, distant neighbors, and curious people who wanted to know more about chickens and other sustainable practices.

Waste Reduction 

Waste reduction was probably the biggest positive for our family. It quickly became habitual to  take everything out to the yard. Small watermelon rinds, apple cores, cabbage bottoms, and just about any other food scrap you could think of were all spared from the landfill. Minimizing our impact on the municipal waste stream was gratifying, but seeing kitchen scraps turn into nitrogen-rich fertilizer that was ready to be composted with yard waste was beyond utilitarian.

And here’s a fun statistic from a popular book by Patricia Foreman: a single chicken can bio recycle about seven pounds of food residuals in a month. That means if two-thousand homes raised three hens, more than two hundred and fifty tons of waste could be diverted annually.

Natural Born Bug Killers

Chickens will eat just about anything that moves that can’t eat them first. That means exterminators are something you can cross off the budget. You have an organic cleanup crew always ready to rid your garden areas  of pests, ticks, and other undesirables.

Soil Savers

Healthy food is closely tied to the health of our soil. Right before getting chickens, one of our close friends told us about the soil and yard impact of chickens. She said don’t get attached to any of the plants or flowers in your yard because they’d be tilled or eaten away. That sounded a little tenuous to us too. But a year or so after leaving Austin, (and our chickens taken to a farm) our yard was incredibly lush. We had buffalo grass my wife had seeded blooming in every remote patch of the backyard. (See picture below)

buffalo_grass_arpdaleWhen chickens scratch and dig, your garden beds are one of the biggest beneficiaries. They’re experts at mixing manure with various types of mulch to create raised beds. That allows you to grow more produce in smaller spaces with less water, something urban gardeners can appreciate. And don’t forget about another intrinsic benefit: they’re a heck of a lot quieter than humans with noisy and smoky tillers. Just make sure you don’t bring home a rooster or you could challenge those machines.

Now it’s up to you. Get your neighbors talking about backyard chickens. Create a proposal and pitch it to local planners and officials. Make them give you reasons why they’re not walking the walk when it comes to sustainability. It’s such an easy step that pays us back in so may ways.