We called our first flock of brown-egg chickens our "illicit biddies" because they weren't strictly legal in town. My wife and kids and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, relishing the fresh eggs and delighting in the antics of the hens--until a call came from our alderman and we had to find... show more
We called our first flock of brown-egg chickens our "illicit biddies" because they weren't strictly legal in town. My wife and kids and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, relishing the fresh eggs and delighting in the antics of the hens--until a call came from our alderman and we had to find them a new home. Our current flock of four layers live in more enlightened times. Today, thousands of municipalities allow small poultry flocks. More and more people are experiencing the joys of keeping a few chickens, watching them relish vegetable scraps and meticulously scratch up insects and grubs. In turn, they provide wonderfully fresh eggs, while donating manure for the compost pile. It's a fascinating cycle to be a part of.Our flock inspired me to contact Creative Homeowner about doing a book on chickens. They had a better idea, a book on the broader topic of food self-sufficiency. Backyard Homesteading is the result. I hope you find it a useful introduction to the joys of raising your own food. I thoroughly enjoyed working on the book because I got to visit scores of backyard farms and talk with people passionate about things like top-bar bee hives, heritage tomatoes, and pygmy goats. Their hard-won knowledge and canny tricks of the trade were invaluable.That exposure dovetailed with the summers I spent on my grandparents' farm in west-central Illinois. The farm was that rarity, a diversified farm, with not just row crops like corn and soybeans, but fields of alfalfa, oats, and hay, as well as chickens, hogs, and steers. In addition, a huge garden yielded a cellar full of canned vegetables. I watched my grandfather butcher chickens, using the axe and chopping block method. The smell of scalded chicken feathers is something you don't forget. That farm gave me an early exposure to how our food is produced and a lifelong love of working the soil. It also taught valuable lessons about the ingenuity and hard work growing your own food requires--and its substantial rewards.Backyard Homesteading has been well enough received to warrant a sequel, BUILDING the Backyard Homestead, due out in the spring of 2013. It is loaded with hands-on projects including hydroponics, aquaponics, fence stretching, hive building, and more. Among the projects is a portable chicken coop and run, a new home for our Araucanas and Buff Orppingtons. Somehow it always seems to come back to chickens.