Food and fuel prices are creeping skyward and people are scrambling to provide healthy food for their families. The more people learn about how critical good nutrition is to our health, the greater the demand for food that meets that criteria.

Enter the urban backyard hen. The ordinance the Billings Backyard Hen Initiative is requesting states that hens (no more than 6, and NO roosters) must be kept in clean, enclosed, and predator-proof housing. That means no stink (clean), no runaway/flyaway hens (enclosed), and no pile of feathers in the backyard (predator-proof). And in return for responsible housing and care, hen owners receive:

A pet with benefits. A gentle, quiet, independent bird who will eat bugs and table scraps along with a small amount of chicken feed, and who will lay an average of 1 to 2 dozen eggs per month in return. And the eggs? Far healthier than factory-farmed, as evidenced in various studies:

  •  ¼ less saturated fat
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • twice the omega-3 fatty acids
  • three times the vitamin E
  • four to six times more vitamin D
  • seven times more beta-carotene.

And that is compared to a brand-new factory-farmed egg… USDA allows egg producers to sell eggs up to 30 days after having been laid… as with any fresh food, nutritional values will drop as the food ages. (Try the water test – place an egg fresh from the grocery store in water. A fresh egg will lay flat. As it ages, it will tip upwards and finally float. Don’t eat the floaters… that egg is probably 45 days old and has filled with gases as it decomposes.)

Billings has wonderful programs in place to help feed the hungry, which is something that any compassionate human being has to realize is hugely important. And as we are feeding people, and teaching people, shouldn’t we also teach them how to provide for themselves, in conjunction with other programs? Teach people how to garden, teach them to cook and how to preserve foods, teach them how to take care of a few backyard hens. That is what “local and sustainable” can and should mean. “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime” – that adage applies to a lot more than a day on the river.


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