Chickens · Homesteading · Off Grid

The C Files: Reasons for keeping chickens

Before we get to the reasons for keeping chickens lets first summarise the different chicken keeping methods and their terminologies:

Backyard chicken keeping yes we hen sign

There are two categories of chicken keeping; Battery cage and cage free.


  • Battery-cage: These are industrial units for poultry farming on a large scale (also known as factory farming). Mostly the cages are small and don’t really allow for movement. Cages are packed close together and the floor has a wire mesh to prevent waste build-up under the chicken. Now I am not going to go further into any detail as it is upsetting. I have seen battery hens for myself, a local farmer claimed to be selling chickens and didn’t inform us that they were battery chickens. Due to public outcry, most battery systems have been banned, but as far as I know it is not banned in SA. Anyways, I am just providing this for perspective, there are many animal welfare sites you can visit for more info and to assist with these cases.
  • Cage-free: These remain agricultural production units, but try to be more humane. These systems don’t have chickens locked in cages, but allow some movement (still restricted). This production method includes barn, free range and organic methods.
  • Farm fresh eggs: These are merely eggs that are less than 21 days old and can be from caged or non-caged systems.
  • Barn chickens: An indoor system where chickens are kept in barns (or aviaries). Birds are allowed movement within the barn and some scratch space. Units have a maximum stocking density of 9-12 birds per square meter. There is one nest box for seven hens and 15 cm of perching space for each.


Backyard chicken keeping hen forage homestead free range farm

  • Organic chickens: These are generally chickens kept in non-cage systems. They are fed ‘organic’ feeds, this means, feeds need to have been produced on farms free of toxins and fertilisers for at least three years. The chickens in this system do not get fed hormones or given antibiotics.
  • Free range: The laws governing free range chickens and free range eggs differ between countries. The chickens have similar indoor requirements as barn chickens. The birds are allowed outside in an enclosed area and units have 25 birds per square meter outdoor space. The chickens are allowed all day access to the outdoor area covered with grass.
  • Backyard chickens: I can’t find a proper definition for backyard chickens, but I assume this will be for personal rather than commercial purposes. Seeing as this has no formal definition I assume that backyard chickens have large range areas with access to greens, insects and grit with their usual chicken feed. They have a spacious nest and roosting areas with a clean coop. Chickens are kept either for eggs, composting, insect and weed management as part of an already existing sustainable vegetable garden system.
  • Pastured chickens: A chicken management system regardless of the flock size. Sometimes chicken tractors are used to allow chickens access to new forage areas as part of a sustainable grazing system with other livestock.


I think another category is requires for Spoilt Chickens, mine will fall under this category…

  • Spoilt Chickens: This includes a chicken management system of a maximum of 9 birds per hectare (100 square meters) with all day access to the whole yard, bushveld (2/3 of the property) and the compost heaps – no access to the vegetable garden as they represent weapons of mass destruction to tomatoes, raspberries, any unfortunate seedlings and Fred the toad. They get fed chicken pellets and snacks in addition to scratching the whole day. They have a warm, safe and spacious coop cleaned every two weeks. Enough nest box space for 4 chickens at any given time and meters sturdy roosts to sleep on.


Backyard chicken keeping hens cockrels


Chickens are very cheap to keep, even if they are only kept as pets and not necessarily as a productive egg supply. They are enduring and it is a lot of fun to watch all their chicken antics. There are a few disadvantages to keep in mind, such as destruction of the vegetable patch, but I believe that these are outweighed by the advantages of keeping chickens.


Reasons for Keeping Chickens and some other considerations:

Reason: Consideration
✓ Choose what you eat: Know what you eat ✗ Cocks are noisy, hens not so much
✓ Fresh quality eggs ✗ Some restrictions on flock size depending on the country or state you live in
✓ Chicken poop compost, great fertiliser once rotted down ✗ Destroy flowerbeds and lawns with scratching
✓ Insect management (not just veg garden pests, but ants and termites too!) ✗ Will decimate a vegetable garden
✓ Weed management ✗ Availability of housing and feed
✓ Fresh quality meat ✗ Some pure breeds are expensive for showing
✓ Showing hobby ✗ Local vets may not specialise in poultry (chickens can be medicated by you)
✓ Excess eggs can be sold ✗ Vulnerable (they are prey after all, watch out for mongoose, foxes, large birds of prey, monkeys and baboons!)
✓ Very cheap to acquire and maintain as pets ✗ Require daily care, need a caregiver when you go on holiday
✓ Entertainment and educational ✗ Poor sanitation and coop keeping can attract rodents
✓ Conservation and rescue for animal welfare ✗ Escapees might cause problems or get stolen
✓ Hens can be productive for up to 3 years (for eggs). ✗ Hens top productivity before first moult (the hens first year)


Backyard chicken keeping eggs white brown carton


Before you decide to get any chickens, first make sure of your local municipality’s bylaws: Here is a pdf for the City of Johanesburg’s Municipal Bylaws for public health (including the keeping of all types of animals). Poultry (chickens) are covered under page 60-62.

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