The Backyard Chicken Movement

Published on Thu, 07/16/2015 - 3:39pm

Reasons why "The Movement" is growing

  By Andy Schneider, aka The Chicken Whisperer

  Look around and you can see we are in the midst of a huge backyard chicken movement, and it’s getting larger every year—and not just here in the U.S., but all over the world.

There are now more books, magazines, blogs, and forums about chickens than ever before. There are more chicken-care-related products available now. Companies would not be taking the time and spending the money to develop chicken treats and chicken toys if there wasn’t a ready market for these products.

The report we hear from hatcheries across the country is that they are also selling more baby chicks than ever before. A case in point is Ideal Poultry, which ships more than six million baby chicks per year, and every year in the spring, most hatcheries fall several weeks behind due to the seasonal demand.

Who is in The Movement?

The popular theory in the media is that this backyard chicken movement is driven by one of several types of people: homesteaders, tree huggers, "preppers," yuppies, or even urban soccer moms. This isn't the entire story.

There is not just one group of people responsible for the backyard chicken movement, nor is there just one type of group keeping backyard chickens. Instead, The Movement is a melting pot of different people, and they all have their own particular reasons for doing so.

For example, I have many fans who are vegans who keep backyard chickens. They don’t eat the eggs or the chickens, but keep them for composting, fertilizer, insect control, and as pets. Many in The Movement are urban soccer moms who want to educate their children about what it takes to get food from the farm to the table, and to learn where their food comes from.

Some studies show that many children in America can’t identify parts of a chicken like legs, thighs, wings, and breasts, because the majority of the chicken they eat comes in a nugget or a patty. However, many also can’t identify whole fruit because the majority of the fruit they eat comes in the form of a fruit cup, fruit slices, or fruit cocktail.

You will also find so-called preppers (the Doomsday variety, that is), that are keeping chickens to provide a high-quality protein source for their families, just in case The Big One drops. Hey, you never know, right?

People used to keep chickens, right?

Keeping backyard chickens is nothing new. In fact, decades ago it was the norm even in urban areas and big cities. So, what changed?

It was normally the responsibility of the woman of the house to deal with the backyard chickens including feeding them, watering them, cleaning the coop, treating illness and injuries, culling them, plucking them, and of course, cooking them.

Small-town picket fences weren’t just decorative—they were built to keep poultry inside the yard.

One theory is that after WWII, a lot of small mom-and-pop grocery stores started popping up all around the country. Well, one day the woman of the house walked down to Jane’s Market and found out she could purchase chicken—killed, plucked, cleaned, jointed, and oven-ready—for just 69 cents! She thought to herself, “Why am I doing all the work dealing with the chickens in my backyard when I can walk down here to Jane’s Market and purchase a whole, ready to go into the oven chicken for just 69 cents?”

For the most part, she still knew where her food was coming from, because she knew that Jane’s Market got their produce and chicken from Bob’s farm just outside of town. Then, supermarkets replaced the neighborhood grocery.

This is just one theory why backyard chickens started to disappear from backyard across America.

Why has The Movement occurred?

While there are many reasons why people keep backyard chickens, I have narrowed it down to six main reasons:

  1. Education – Parents want their kids to become educated about what it takes to get food from the farm to their table. They want their kids to know where their food comes from.
  2. Local food source – Many want to provide food for their family locally. They want their eggs to travel 15 feet to their table, not 1500 miles. Because they know what’s going into their chickens, they know it to be be a healthier food source for their family.
  3. Composting – Chickens make great composters by eating most everything left-over from your plate after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This can reduce the amount bio-waste from scraps going into the local landfill. (Please note that leftovers and treats should not be more than 10 percent of your chickens’ total diet.)
  4. Fertilizer – Chickens poop a lot! They can, however, be a local supply of fresh fertilizer for your garden, plants, shrubs, lawn. And again, because people feel they know what’s going into their chickens they also know what’s coming out of their chickens, and in this case, it’s amazing fertilizer.
  5. Insect control – chickens are omnivores, and they love scratching around the backyard looking for all kinds of bugs and insects. This makes them an all-natural insect control for your backyard.
  6. Pets – Yes, chickens can make great pets. Many just getting started with backyard chickens have a hard time comprehending this, but they soon learn that chickens have distinct personalities that make them wonderful pets. I often hear the term “therapeutic” used by chicken owners to describe the benefit they get from their chickens.

Not a craze or fad

While The Movement is still growing, it seemed to have had its greatest growth in 2008 and 2009. One recent study claims that three percent of the population keeps backyard chickens, and that number will grow to six percent in the next few years. I personally feel that percentage in The Movement is larger, because there are so many people keeping backyard chickens under the radar because they are illegal where they live.

Could it be a fad like the potbellied pig craze of the 1980’s? For some, that may be true, but I really think it’s more of a lifestyle, or at least a part of a lifestyle that people are living. Because of this, I think backyard chickens will be with us for a while.