Can Raising Chickens Be the Solution to Escaping Extreme Poverty?

An letter to Bill Gates in response to his article, “Why I Would Raise Chickens”

First, I applaud the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation efforts to help eliminate poverty and all of the wonderful donations and programs that have been developed.  I do not seek to diminish or disregard the tremendous contributions that have been gifted to communities around the world.  The world would be a far better place if everyone followed your exceptional example.

I do wish to address a recent post by Bill Gates on entitled “Why I Would Raise Chickens.”  It appears that the feature was created to support a project entitled “Coop Dreams Giveaway” and is a personal commentary by Mr. Gates on why he would raise chickens if he lived in extreme poverty.

Can Raising Chickens Be the Solution to Escaping Extreme Poverty?

It’s a noble thought and I agree, there’s merit to this idea as one facet of helping to reduce poverty in select communities.  The feature, however, is riddled with misleading information and for anyone who has raised chickens, leaves the impression that Mr. Gates has very little concern for animal welfare (an impression I hope is not an accurate depiction that Bill Gates intended.)

I wish to address a few points directly in support of our dear feather-friends:

“It’s pretty clear to me that just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens.” – Bill Gates

As I’m obviously rather fond of chickens, I believe most people would benefit from learning how to raise chickens.  The experience provides much more than sustenance and profit.

However, Mr. Gates, while the person who is living in extreme poverty may be better off having a chicken, they may find it does not improve their situation. The chicken may not be better off, either.  Without proper education on the care and proper maintenance of chickens, you could easily be subjecting both chicken and owner to disease, bacteria (such as campylobacter and salmonella,) poor health, mistreatment of animals and a host of other health and well-being-related concerns.

The key factors missing from your entire article is that chicken owners need to be educated on the care of the chickens prior to owning and that chickens need a healthy, sustainable environment.  Even if both this crucial conditions are met, problems can still arise, but issues like disease, bacteria, poor health, and mistreatment will be curtailed when a healthy environment is present and a well-informed owner is tending to the flock.

“They (chickens) are easy and inexpensive to take care of.”  – Bill Gates

The ease of care and expense will vary greatly by breed, housing requirements, feed requirements, health concerns and how well educated the owner is on the proper care and handling of chickens.  If you live in an urban area, expenses will be higher due to supplement feed and the need for a fully functional coop set-up.  Space restrictions will also squelch the owner’s ability to breed and increase egg or meat production.

In addition, there are many things that are critical to know such as what plants are poisonous to chickens, how to diagnose and care for a sick baby chick or chicken, how to treat pasting, parasites, broken legs, cannibalism (yes it happens!) and a host of other complications that may arise when raising chickens.  All of these things can easily be taught, but for the well-being of the chicken and owner they need to happen PRIOR TO ownership.

“Many breeds can eat whatever they find on the ground (although it’s better if you can feed them, because they’ll grow faster). “ – Bill Gates

Did you truly write this statement Mr. Gates?  If so, it does illustrate your point clearly that you have not raised chickens.

First, chickens, by nature, are ground foragers.  They, do, however, have to have a desirable feast available to free-range adequately and receive the proper nutrients they need to thrive.   When they have an adequate diet, they grow as nature intended and the hens produce superior eggs.

Second, force-feeding a chicken supplemental foods to produce quick growth is not in the best interest of the chicken or the human who will later consume them.  Not to miss mentioning, supplementing feed will increase the expense of care for the chicken, cutting dramatically into any hope of profit for the owner.  Accelerating growth past the point nature intended can cause intense pain to the chicken, heart attacks, diseases and bone damage along with lowering the quality of the eggs and meat.

If you happen to also care about the controversial subject of GMO’s, most supplemental feed also contains grain and corn grown from crops of genetically modified seeds.

In addition to feed, water is a primary concern.  Chickens require a clean, healthy, and abundant water supply.  In an impoverished area where humans often do not have adequate access to fresh water sources, adding animals to the mix will increase problems, not solve them.

“Hens need some kind of shelter where they can nest, and as your flock grows, you might want some wood and wire to make a coop.” – Bill Gates

To quote myself, “Space is not something that should be compromised.  Chickens in too close quarters will be stressed, may have health problems and may develop ‘picking’ habits, meaning they will pluck feathers from the other chickens.” (pg 21, “Getting Laid: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens, Gardening and Preserving.” ISBN 1632280213)

Hens without proper nesting boxes will choose alternate spots to lay eggs which can cause contamination of eggs, broken eggs and diminish the hen’s desire to brood.

A resource that may offer further insight on understanding of the effects of over-crowding and force-feeding on chickens is the United Poultry Concerns organization

Above and beyond what has already been addressed, there are plenty of safety concerns to consider for the welfare of the chickens such as exposure to rodents and other animals and proper ventilation.

“They’re a good investment.” – Bill Gates

Mr. Gates and I agree on this point for similar reasons but from my perspective for the added reason that chickens are excellent companions and allow owners to connect with nature in in a richly rewarding way.

The potential for an impoverished individual to earn additional money through the sale of chicken eggs or meat exists.  I’m not an economist, but might the problem with flooding the market with an excess of poultry could potentially mean lowering the profit, thereby refueling the poverty cycle?

On the up note, the impoverished family would have a sustainable food source available to them which certainly contributes to Mr. Gates points that chickens are empowering and may contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

To accomplish this in a reasonable manner, we must put the welfare of both the owner and chicken first.  I implore the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to please ensure that poultry education is in place and an adequate, healthy environment is available before willy-nilly handing out chickens to anyone in an impoverished situation.

I also hope that Mr. Gates will further his education on chickens, where he will no doubt be less likely to dispense potentially harmful advice and instead, find plenty more reasons to be excited about this subject!

Thinking About Selling Eggs?

Selling Eggs ArticleMy interest in sustainable living and my love of raising chickens naturally led me into the egg-selling business. As my brood grew, I found I had far too many eggs for our family and began to give them away to many of our neighbors. Word spread and before I knew what was happening, people started showing up at our farm asking to buy some of those lovely, fresh brown eggs we had.

I recently shared my experience with the Penny Pincher.  You’ll find my tips and those from Dana Kee, owner of Moose Manor Farms at

Have tips to contribute?  Be sure to share them in the comments section!  I’d love to hear about your egg-selling experiences!

Baby Chick Basics

Sobaby chicks you think you want baby chicks.  So cute, so cuddly, so soft and adorable. The irresistible lure of baby chicks is difficult to resist!

The number one thing you need to keep in mind is those soft little cuddlies grow up to be big, beautiful chickens who need lots of breathing space and attentive care.  If you are ready to add a new brood to your family, baby chicks are relatively easy to take care of when you have the proper equipment and know-how.

Before you impulsively purchase your chicks, it’s helpful to know what’s involved in their care. First and foremost, baby chicks need a safe, warm, dry, and clean environment to thrive in.

What should I buy?

If you want eggs, then you do not want to purchase a mixed run. If you want females, you need to purchase “pullets,” which is the term for a female baby chick.

If you want fertilized eggs (to raise more chicks) you will need a rooster. Be careful about getting too many roosters, they tend to get very territorial and will attack each other. Some recommend that you only have one rooster, but depending on the breed, you may be okay with several. I have 3 Rhode Island Red roosters living in harmony for two years now.

As for breeds of chickens, do your research. There are too many breeds to cover in this blog post. Start locally, ask others what they are raising or ask the feed store what chickens fair well in your environment.

Where will they live?

Rubbermaid storage containers (the large totes) work well, as do large fish tanks (emptied of water first, of course!) or a large cardboard box (makes for easy disposals when cleaning, but you will need a few on hand to change out.)

Old blankets or towels (without frays) will make good liners. Some people (including me) use wood chips for bedding (which can be purchased at your local store.)

The container can be kept in the house or outside, as long as it is in a safe and secure location, away from drafts, predators, and so on.

If you have house pets, it’s a little iffy how cats will react to their new friends and dogs generally will just sniff at the new crew, then leave them alone. Do a test run with your house pet by keeping the chicks in a location you can keep a watchful eye on constantly until you feel confident that the house pet has accepted their new roommates.

baby chickHow will they stay warm?

A 100 watt light bulb will do the trick (use a clamp style lamp to attach to one side of the container.) Reptile cage lamps work well, too.

The chicks will let you know if they are too warm or too cold by either clustering under the direct light of the heat lamp (they are too cold) or by clustering as far away from the heat source as possible (they are too warm.) Adjust the position, height, or bulb strength of your lamp accordingly to ensure a consistent temperature and environment for the chicks.

How do they eat?

Baby chicks are very hungry and they grow like the Dickens! (pardon the silly half-pun.) General retail stores (like Walmart) or farm specialties stores (like Tractor Supply) typically care basic chicken supplies such as waterers and feeders. Purchase them. They are well-designed and it’s hard to find a better substitute.

Freshen water regularly and keep the waterer full.

Baby chicks should be fed baby chick food generally for the first two months. Keep the feeder full, baby chicks do not need to be on a restricted diet, be sure to let them eat as much as they desire. After two-to-three months, a grower food (typically 17% protein) is recommended for the next two-to-three months.

How clean is clean?

Here’s where we need to talk about poop, yep, I said it… it’s not a pretty topic, but it’s an important one.

The only way baby chicks stay clean is with your help. This means you’ll need to change the bedding often (which is where wood chips are sometimes easier to use than towels, etc.) How often? Depends on how many chicks you have, could be daily, could be weekly. Rule of thumb, if it looks dirty or it’s starting to smell in the least little bit, change the bedding.

chicksShould the kids/I play with them?

Yes! By all means yes, pet them gently, hold them gently in your hands, talk to them, and spend as much time staring at them as they grow as you would like to. Just be sure to wash your hands after handling.

Chicks that get a lot of love are more likely to be friendly adult chickens who will be responsive to you and less likely to roam away from their home.

What’s next?

While this bit of basic knowledge will get you started on your baby chick raising journey, it’s important to have a more comprehensive guide to take you through the entire decision-making process and beyond.  Check your local library for books on raising chickens and stay tuned for our upcoming guide (publication spring 2015!)