Chickens vs Bees - It sounds like a B movie that you might see featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 doesn't it? Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your view, this post isn't about anything quite as exciting as a battle between the two species.
A couple of weeks ago Andrea suggested that we should start seriously preparing to add our first livestock to the homestead, either in the form of bees or chickens. We've been talking about them for some time, and taken several workshops on both. I think she's right, now is the time to start taking some action.
Of course there are pros and cons to both animals, so we're in the process of trying decide which to start with. I'll be doing more posts on the topic as we go through the process of choosing, then planning, and eventually buying our first bees or chickens.
The idea to get bees was mine. For some reason I'm fascinated by the creatures. They are relatively easy to care for, as I understand it. Obviously honey production is the primary benefit of getting bees, although we really don't use much honey. We have been trying to incorporate more honey into our diets, however, to gain the health benefits of using local honey. You certainly can't get much more local than honey produced on one's own property, so that is a definite benefit of having bees. Another benefit, especially if we locate the hive(s) near the garden is pollination. There are other pollinators that we can attract, however, so that isn't an overwhelming benefit.
Getting chickens was Andrea's idea. She has been wanting to get some ever since we moved here. Even though we have no plans to raise chickens for meat at this point, there are still many benefits to having them. The first benefit is egg production. While we don't go through a lot of eggs, our usage has picked up recently. Andrea has been feeding Jack a mixture of eggs and diatomaceous earth as a treatment for worms, and she hopes to continue this as a preventative measure, as well as for the benefits he gets from the eggs. Luke isn't quite as willing to eat the concoction, but he will eat it at times, and will gladly eat a whole egg when one is given as a treat. If each of the dogs eats 2 eggs per day, and I eat them even occasionally, that works out to a dozen and a half per week. Add in baking or pasta making, and we could probably find a use for at least 2 dozen eggs per week, which is the likely warm weather production rate of a small flock of birds.
Other than egg production, there are a couple of additional benefits that we would gain from chickens, that bees could not provide. One such benefit is insect control. We plan to let the chicken free range in the front yard, which should help to reduce the insect population near the house. Our natural lawn should be an idea area for chickens to forage.
The other benefit chickens provide is a natural nitrogen source for the compost or garden. Chicken manure is a great nitrogen source, which is something that we could certainly use. In fact, we are considering purchasing some chicken manure later this fall to use in sheet composting of next year's garden plot. Having a ready supply of chicken manure, even if it only met part of our needs, would be a real benefit to our gardening efforts.
It is quite apparent that the list of benefits of getting chickens is longer than the benefits of having bees. This isn't the only side of the equation, however. I consider the cons of beekeeping to be fairly few. The biggest con is the risk of being stung, which is not something I look forward to. Aside from that, there will be an initial investment in supplies, but that should be no more than a couple hundred dollars. Chickens, on the other hand, require a larger initial investment, both financially and in labor. Before we get chickens we will have to locate and prepare a place to build a coop. While the chicken coop doesn't need to be anything fancy, we will want one that will last and has adequate space for adding additional birds if we choose to. We will also want to provide the chickens with a fenced and covered run that they can access from inside the locked coop, so they get access to grass even if we aren't home to let them out of the coop. Fortunately my Dad will be able to help me build a chicken coop, so expenses will be limited to the cost of materials. I hope to be able to buy much of the material from the Re-Store, which should help to keep the costs down. I still expect to cost of building the coop to be greater than the initial investment in beekeeping supplies.
At this point, I am leaning towards chickens as the best livestock for us to begin with next Spring. Even with the added cost and work of building a coop, I believe the benefits make it the best choice. Of course we may find that Luke and/or Jack have something to say about our decision, and cause us to change our plans. I've asked Andrea to look into coop designs, so we can better gauge the costs before making a final decision. Stay tuned for more info.