In this 16-part series, Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm draws upon her expertise as a farmer, agrarian, mother, and writer to provide the information you need to raise your own backyard chickens.
Words by: Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm
For generations, our family of farmers at Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs has been dedicated to revolutionizing the way eggs are produced in the United States. Today, 85% of the country’s egg production comes from giant factory farms where chickens are housed in cramped windowless warehouses, never spending an hour of their short lives outside. Some producers in the industry have long tricked consumers with meaningless terms on their cartons, such as cage-free, natural, and farm fresh. These words are part of a greenwashing trend that is neither verified by any third party body nor held to any meaningful or transparent standards. They're accompanied by beautiful pastoral imagery of hens living on grass to lead the consumer into assuming a narrative of animal welfare and health that simply does not exist in modern day factory agriculture.
We believe that consumers deserve better eggs from happier chickens living on small farms run by fairly paid farmers, and that’s what we have dedicated our business to. We also believe deeply in the transparency and verification of our standards, which is why we became a Certified B Corporation in 2013. It’s also why our farms meet the rigorous Certified Humane Free Range and USDA Certified Organic standards. We take the welfare of our hens, the sustainability of our farms, and health and happiness of our partner farmers and consumers very seriously.
At the 50+ small family farms that we partner with, our hens are fed an organic diet free from GMOs and pesticides, and are given the dignity and freedom to range outdoors, scratching and pecking in grassy pasture as chickens are meant to. The resulting eggs are ones that stand out in the grocery store; they remind consumers of the eggs from their childhood farms, backyard flocks from before they moved to the city, and excursions abroad in Europe. And we're happy to be second best. In fact, we believe that everyone deserves a chance to raise hens right in their backyard.
We are confident in our eggs, but we know that the very best way to raise chickens is closer to your kitchen than any of our farms can get. Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs—which are now the number one organic egg in America—will be at the grocery store every day of the year for those who don’t have the backyard space to raise hens. And for all of you who do, we're here for those dark winter days when your hens slow down their lay, and for those big Sunday brunch dishes that call for a couple extra dozens. But ultimately, we want you to experience the joys that come with raising and growing your own food. Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm is here to tell you how.
Raising your own backyard chickens is hard work, but comes with numerous benefits for your home and your family. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a large backyard to raise chickens. In fact, chicken keeping has taken off in urban and suburban homes in the last decade. Over 13 million Americans are now raising their own chickens, and this series is aimed at empowering those of you who haven’t yet considered it. Your backyard flock won’t just produce delicious eggs. It will also:
Chickens are an integral link in the chain of food production, consumption, and waste management. Raising backyard chickens creates a sustainable food production cycle in your home. You may not find your grain, fruit, and vegetable waste palatable, but your chickens sure do! Have the raspberries gone mushy in the fridge? Did your daughter not finish her morning bowl of oats? Much of your household food waste can be fed directly to your chickens, diverting its stench and bulk from your garbage or landfill.
Chickens are a great source of natural fertilizer. The manure that chickens make from kitchen scraps, organic feed, and insects and grubs from outdoors is often referred to in the farming business as black liquid gold. This manure can be composted, then spread on your flower and vegetable gardens, on your ornamental and fruit trees, and on your lawn. Everything will grow stronger and taller because of it.
Chickens love to eat little bugs, which makes them perfect exterminators. Chief among their “prey” of choice are the ever present and ever reviled North American tick and mosquito. Having chickens free to range about your backyard will dramatically decrease tick and mosquito populations. With tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses on the rise, the presence and hard work of chickens simply doing what they do best can be integral to enjoying life in your backyard.
Raising chickens at home builds the foundation of knowledge necessary to create an entire generation of stewards for the environment. Raising backyard hens with your children and grandchildren is an incredible gift of empowerment in responsibility, food production, sustainability, and animal welfare with lasting effects.
Chicken-keeping is an excellent "chore" for children as young as five (they must be old enough to understand the imperative of washing one’s hands). Hens are, for the most part, a docile species and have the benefit of being much smaller than children. Kids can build up confidence and responsibility by learning how to open and close them every day, feed them, give them fresh water, and become responsible for their overall health and wellness. The resulting relationship is unlike anything that can come from the love of a house cat or a dog. In place of affection, cuddling, and piles of hair underneath your sofa, chickens keep their mess to their run and provide food for your table every day.
Feeling empowered to raise your own backyard flock? Read on to learn more about local laws for keeping chickens.
Kate MacLean lives and works on 120 acres of land known as Longest Acres Farm in Chelsea, VT with her husband Nick, son Leland, and daughter Amelia. As an ex-city-dweller, she gained valuable experience working on friends' and neighbors' farms before making the move to rural Vermont with her family in search of a fulfilling, self-sustaining way of life.
Her breadth of experience in farming and raising countless varieties of chickens and other livestock on Longest Acres Farm not only makes Kate an expert in her field, but an advocate for home grown food and self-sustainability.
April 25, 2020
Hey Kate I also love chickens and being on a farm. I have grown up in a rural county in NC for the last 42 years and you can't beat having and raising your own animals.
April 07, 2020
I, also, enjoy chickens.
Mine are getting quite fat.
We're always happy to hear from another chicken lover! Thanks for stopping by! 👩🌾
April 04, 2020
That was wonderful to read!My husband and I live in New Brunswick and have 30 chickens free range of course
April 06, 2020
We're glad you enjoyed our article, Debbie! It's always great to hear from another chicken farmer. Best wishes to you and your free range flock!
September 19, 2019
Read This Sweetie good info Love you
right now i am rehabing a little red hen with an injured hip. she pays rent (about 3 eggs per week) very sweet. i have had chickens on and off since 2005 when my husband and myself rescued a rooster that had been left in the woods near my house. his story was in the Union Leader. i always feed organic. will probably get another hen to keep Sister Rosie company. great story.
Yours is a wonderful story too, Louise! It sounds like the experience of having your own hens has been a joy for all parties involved (including the feathered ones!), and we really appreciate you sharing your experience. We wish you and you Sister Rosie all the best!
August 24, 2019
August 25, 2019