Who knew raising backyard chickens could make your brain and heart healthier?!
These girls are growing so fast it seems time to share an update on our progress in expanding our permaculture knowledge as we enjoy the adventures of poultry parenting!
For those who are just meeting the Apple a Day Chicks, a mini-recap, you can link to my first article about the chicks here.
Raising backyard chickens is good for your brain.
As a physician, I am a BIG believer in neuroplasticity: the concept that if we continue to challenge our brain with new adventures, our neurologic system can continue to expand and refine itself, perhaps even indefinitely. A rolling stone gathers no moss, as they say. This year, as one of my personal brain health exercises, I decided to expand my own knowledge base and the Nourish Wellness gardens program by learning more about permaculture. My goal was to have fun while learning and to further improve our sustainability practices for the gardens at the medical center and at home. Introducing chickens to our homestead ecosystem allows us to improve our on-site composting efficiency by utilizing garden and kitchen scraps to supplement the chicks’ diet, which in turn enriches our garden productivity at both locations with the addition of composted nitrogen from the chickens’ droppings.
In this little video the girls are ranging in age from 4-6 weeks. They all have names now too! Alpha Male (yes we know hens are girls) is a Black Copper Maran and will lay beautiful chocolate colored eggs. She is the one attacking the iPhone camera. Amelia Egghart is a Plymouth Barred Rock (brown eggs), Cream is a Crested Cream Legbar (blue eggs), Lil’Chicky is a Speckled Sussex (brown eggs), Marilyn Monroe is a Buff Orpington ( brown eggs) and last but not least, the youngest at 4 weeks is Peanut, a Lakeshore Egger (blue-green eggs).
Once the chickens are laying, these bonny girls will also provide the Apple a Day Doc kitchen with vibrant eggs that have come from animals who are well treated, and fed organic locally raised feed, without antibiotics or hormones. I am very concerned about the risks non-mindful commercial animal husbandry practices are introducing to our food system. Overcrowded housing conditions increase the rates of illness among many commercially raised flocks. Due to the elevated frequency of animal illness in these high volume farms, antibiotics are being utilized in animal feed globally rather than on a limited basis to treat specific animal illnesses. This antibiotic overuse is contributing to the startling rise in multi-drug resistant bacteria I am seeing in my medical practice among my patients. In addition, distressed overcrowded animals’ nervous and endocrine systems release elevated levels of stress hormones into their eggs and tissues, which are then consumed by humans.
I practice and teach an organic whole food plant based approach to nutrition, and I believe animal products should be used very sparingly in our diet, both for our personal health, and due to the environmental impact of large scale animal agriculture. When managed well, small chicken flocks can contribute positively to reducing the use of agrochemicals for plant based agriculture, as the nitrogen their composted waste produces in combination with composted plant material, eliminates the need for chemical soil amendments to fertilize the garden. In large scale production however, their unreclaimed waste can become an environmental hazard.
So our little flock of six came to us as two day old chicks in March, and now in June they are pre-teens, just about to hit their final growth spurt and puberty in early fall. From a brain expansion standpoint…these are a few lessons I’ve learned from the chick to pullet learning curve of a first time poultry parent.
- Chicks are awesome, and they will melt your heart (see heart section below).
- Chicks grow very quickly and you will need more room in your indoor brooder than you may anticipate as the girls can not move full time outdoors until they have most of their adult plumage at 7-8 weeks old. My family can share some pretty funny stories about the six pigeon sized chickens living in our dining room… that last two weeks was a little taxing and we were all glad to see the weather warm up enough for the daytime dry weather “field trips” to the outdoor yard become a permanent situation.
- I am really glad I spent time researching breeds when designing our flock. I’ll cover this in an upcoming article, but taking into account temperament, size, and cold-hardiness for your region is important to do up front.
- Researching housing options was key, and I am thrilled with the Omlet brand system I chose for our coop and outdoor enclosure system. It is easy to maintain and keep clean, easy to harvest the manure for compost, and very predator proof. I promise another article in the future with more info for those interested in creating your own backyard bird haven.
- Composting is an amazing science and I am still learning. Link here to an article to get you started. We opted to use barrel composters which are awesome from a containment standpoint ( no critters can get in) but you will need several if you have a sizeable garden and more than 2-3 chicks.
So here’s the heart expanding part…
Just like all babies, the chicks are adorable and quickly warm your heart. As they grow, their individual personalities will amaze you and they develop a fairly complex social system that is fun and interesting to witness. Even Rosie-pup is entertained by them, she loves to investigate their goings-on until she sniffs too close and is rewarded by her own reminder of the “pecking order”.
How are you expanding your mind and your heart this year? Please do share your adventures with us too! Keep learning and growing peeps!
Here’s to your good health with love from Dr. C!
Written by: Ann C. Collins, MD, RYT
Photo and video credits: Ann C. Collins, MD, RYT