(BPT) - From fresh egg production to natural garden fertilizer, there is no shortage of benefits in raising backyard poultry. But even as families become more familiar with sustainable living and keeping chickens, several poultry myths still exist.
Here to set the record straight for our feathered friends is poultry expert Lisa Steele, creator of the renowned Fresh Eggs Daily brand and author of three top-selling books on the subject. Steele is also a consultant with Tractor Supply Company, the rural lifestyle retailer now celebrating Chick Days with live chicks and ducklings at its stores nationwide.
Here are Steele's eight most common myths surrounding backyard flocks:
Myth 1: Chickens are difficult to care for.
'There is, of course, a certain level of responsibility required to properly care for any living animal. However, when it comes to backyard poultry, the time commitment is fairly minimal - maybe 30 minutes daily,' Steele says. Here's what you can expect: In the morning, chickens will need to be let out and fed; waterers will need to be filled. At some point, eggs will need to be collected. Then, around dusk, after the chickens have wandered back to the coop, the door needs to be locked to protect from predators.
Myth 2: Chickens (and coops) smell.
'Chickens themselves don't smell, nor does a well-maintained coop," Steele says. "On average, a chicken produces about 1.5 ounces of manure a day, which is far less than the average dog - not to mention, when composted, it makes wonderful nitrogen-rich fertilizer for a garden.'
Myth 3: Chickens are noisy.
'Despite what you may have heard, chickens are pretty quiet. In fact, a clucking chicken tends to be on par with normal human conversation (60-65 decibels). In other words, it's a lot quieter than your neighbor's barking dog, lawn mower or car alarm,' Steele says.
Roosters are a different story, and some areas prohibit them for that very reason. Be sure to check your local ordinances about keeping backyard poultry!
Myth 4: You need a rooster to get eggs.
Chickens will lay eggs regardless of whether or not there is a rooster in the flock. A male chicken is only needed to fertilize an egg, meaning eggs laid by hens in a rooster-less flock can never hatch into baby chicks. And while there are some benefits to having roosters, they aren't necessary for your hen to produce a basket of delicious, fresh eggs.
Myth 5: A chicken lays an egg every day.
Fresh eggs to eat and share with friends are one of the best benefits of raising poultry, but Steele says not to expect your hen to lay an egg every day. 'The average chicken will produce four to five eggs a week, but that will vary depending on the chicken's age, breed, health and environment. Shorter days, extreme temperatures, molting (growing in new feathers) and other stressors, such as the presence of predators, can all affect egg production,' Steele says.
Myth 6: Brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.
'The nutrient content of an egg is based largely on a hen's diet, not the color of its egg, which is determined solely by the chicken's breed,' Steele says. According to a study conducted by Mother Earth News magazine, a free-roaming chicken that consumes grass and bugs will lay eggs with less cholesterol and saturated fat and more Vitamin A and E, beta-carotene and Omega-3s than a chicken fed purely commercial corn/grain-based foods.
Myth 7: Chickens carry disease.
'Chickens don't carry any more risk of disease than a dog or cat. In fact, they love to eat ticks and other pesky critters known to transmit diseases like Lyme disease, tapeworm and heartworm,' Steele explains. 'While salmonella can be transmitted to humans through poultry dander and feces, simply washing hands after handling the chickens keeps the risk of infection minimal.' The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also cautions against live poultry inside the home and against letting children younger than 5 years old handle poultry.
Myth 8: Chickens attract rodents and predators.
'Wild predators are not any more attracted to chickens than they are to wild birds, rabbits, squirrels and other small animals,' Steele says. 'The truth is, predators are likely already living in your midst. The key to keeping them at bay is to keep your chickens safe in an enclosed pen or run area. Chicken feed should also be taken up at night and stored in predator-proof containers to reduce the possibility of flies and mice.'
Now through April, Tractor Supply features Chick Days, where at nearly every location you can see and select live chicks and ducklings. When it comes to raising backyard poultry, Tractor Supply is a one-stop shop with coops, equipment, feed and the expert advice you need to successfully raise chicks into an egg-laying flock.
For more expert information on safe handling and care for poultry, starting a chicken coop and more, visit TractorSupply.com/Chicks.