Are Chickens Bad For The Environment?

Chickens get a bad name when it comes to the impact they have on the environment. Decades of poultry factory farming have effectively altered the viability of the land, air, and water. With backyard chickens only recently picking up in popularity, the idea that chickens are bad for the environment has already been well established due to the inadequate factory standards of the past.

Are Chickens Bad for The Environment?

Chickens are capable of having both positive and negative impacts on the environment, depending on the type of care they are given. Much of the negative impact that chicken ownership has on the environment can be mitigated by steering clear of the poor practices associated with factory farming.

How Are Chicken Bad for the Environment?

Chickens aren’t necessarily bad for the environment. They have the potential to be, but they also have the potential to have a positive impact on it.

Chickens become harmful to the environment when large populations are confined in a small amount of space. The concentration of any animal, wild or captive, in a particular location generally has an environmentally degrading impact.

Every environment (human-made or not) has what is called a carrying capacity. The carrying capacity is how much of a population can be comfortably sustained on a given plot of land. When the carrying capacity is exceeded, the land cannot meet the needs of its occupants, which can result in several issues such as:

  • Land Degradation
  • Water Pollution
  • Air Pollution

 I’ll discuss each one further in-depth, so keep reading. 

How do Chicken Cause Land Degradation?

Having an excessive amount of chickens in a given environment can cause land degradation. This means that the quality and viability of the land and its soil are compromised. With the damage at times being irreversible. So, how do chickens contribute to land degradation?

Chicken love to peck and scratch at the ground. They do so to forage for food like small insects or simply because they like the taste of whatever greenery lay at their feet. 

Given an adequate amount of room, the constant trampling, pecking, and scratching at the ground isn’t very problematic as it’s not focused on one location.

However, when there are many chickens in a small amount of space, these activities become excessive and can expose the roots of vegetation. When the roots are exposed to direct sunlight, they will dry up and die. And if you think losing that lush green lawn you admired so much wasn’t enough, the damage doesn’t end there!

The root of plants is what holds that top layer of soil in place. Without the roots, your soil is left loose against the elements. It will inevitably result in soil erosion as wind, rain, and the continued foot traffic, pecking, and scratching of your chicken worsen the condition of the land.

Combine this with the excessive buildup of chicken nitrogen high poop (which can also kill plant life), and it is not hard to see why vegetation fails to thrive with an abundance of chicken around. This also brings us to the next set of problems.

How do Chicken Cause Water Pollution?

Without plant matter to help keep soil in place, your land loses some other essential qualities. The roots of plants also help retain moisture in the soil and filter out toxins before they enter water sources. 

Excessive chicken feces can have disastrous consequences on aquatic ecosystems and limit human access to fresh water.

Chicken poop is high in nitrogen. When there is a lot of it, it becomes toxic to the land and can kill your grass. When it rains, this excess amount of nitrogen will make its way into major water sources. It does this by penetrating the ground and entering the water table and water sources through surface runoff.

The nitrogen is carried into the closest water source, like a lake or river, either by rain or wind, where the nitrogen provides an excess amount of food for algae. 

This creates a boom in algae growth, essentially starving the other aquatic life of oxygen and destroying the aquatic ecosystem.

High levels of nitrates in the water and any other nutrients used in grain feed or poultry-related land care can have disastrous consequences for those who drink from it. It has been linked to “blue baby syndrome” in humans.

How do Chicken Cause Air Pollution?

That chicken poop is odorous. This is because of the ammonia in their stool and is what gives a chicken coop its pungent smell. If you own a flock of chickens, you know they poop a lot and that when it is not properly disposed of, it can lead to health concerns for you, your chicken, and the quality of the air.

The ammonia from your chicken’s stool binds with other gasses in the air to create ammonium, which can result in respiratory and cardiovascular health issues for anyone or animal exposed to it. 

It is not only the ammonia from their stool that affects the quality of the air, but also organic poultry dust that chicken rearing adds to the atmosphere.

Do Backyard Chicken Harm the Environment?

As previously mentioned, chickens only become a problem to the environment when their population exceeds its carrying capacity. This happens a lot with factory farming chicken, which makes up approximately 99% of chicken populations.  

As a result, people are more hesitant to partake in the joys of backyard chicken ownership.

Raising a flock of chickens doesn’t have to be harmful to the environment. In fact, chicken stool and their activities can promote healthy environments. Chickens eat unwanted, harmful insects and weeds. They also aerate and add necessary nutrients to the soil.

Backyard chicken rearing that emphasizes providing quality care (like limiting the chicken population according to your property’s carrying capacity) will prevent your flock from having the same environmental impact as the ones mentioned above.

Individual homeowners are also more inclined to repurpose chicken stool so that it doesn’t stink up their yard. They do so by composting it for its enriching qualities and thus reducing the entry of harmful nitrates directly into land soil and water.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the impact of chicken on the environment, backyard chicken care puts you more in control of the effect chickens have on it. 

So, before you conclude, they are too harmful to the environment, remember that it’s really up to how you manage your land, chicken, and the wastes they produce that make all the difference.