Backyard Chickens Are Probably Not For You
Our family has raised backyard chickens for several years now. I love it. My kids love it. We have become "those people" . The weirdos with almost a dozen hens in the suburbs. Sundown had ducks, chickens, geese and turkeys growing up in Colorado. I have to admit, however, that I went into this a little blind. There was no real end game. I was in love with the idea of cute little chicks, feathery hens scratching in the yard, fresh eggs for my family. There were painful lesson along the way. We learned a lot of things the hard way. A few chickens paid the price with their lives for our mistakes. That was not what I envisioned when we first discussed getting backyard chickens.
Occasionally, people ask me about getting chickens. Believe it or not, I usually tell them the same thing- "You probably shouldn't"
Does that surprise you? If I have learned anything over the last few years it's this- Most people should not have backyard chickens.
Like most things in life, the reality of owning chickens is nothing like what you imagine when you are dreaming of fresh eggs, happy birds scratching in the yard, feathery friends pecking at corn that your kids throw to them. Don't get me wrong- that happens too but there is way more to it.
For starters poop. So much poop. Smelly, slimy poop. Everywhere. Cleaning out the coop is no one's favorite job. It is mildly gross on the best day. It is horrifyingly disgusting if you let it go too long then have a combination of a torrential downpour and a slightly leaky hen house roof. It's a constant that you can expect if you have chickens.
But chickens give you eggs and that's what makes it worth it right? Well yes, but chickens only lay for 2-3 years and they can live to be 10-12. So then you have to make a decision- is this a pet who will be living out it's life with us or is this bird now dinner? We eat our birds. We love them, but they are not pets. And if you raise chickens long enough, you will have to make a choice. Some people are okay with keeping old layers and that's great. But if you're only in it for the eggs, you will be disappointed. And if you decide to move are you willing to move the coop and your hens? Dogs and cats are pretty easy to move, chickens not so much.
It is not okay to give the chickens away just because they aren't laying anymore. It is even worse if you try to insist that these birds not be eaten by whoever you are unloading them onto. We've had that happen several times. It goes something like this. "Thank you for taking my hens. We just can't keep them because........ It is really important to us that they go to a good home and don't get eaten"
You do not get to abdicate responsibility for these animals and then dictate what happens to them.
Chickens can also be a little mean (mostly to each other). Pecking order is a real thing and it's brutal. For the most part it's not deadly, but often it's bloody. Adding new flock members can be difficult. If one of your birds is sick of injured you need to isolate them so their flock mates don't kill them.
When ordering chickens, occasionally you will get a rooster. Sexing chicks is difficult and the odd rooster in an order is to be expected (approximately 10% according to most hatcheries) . They won't take them back. You need a plan to deal with them. We ended up with a rooster this summer. He was glorious. He was beautiful. He was crowing noisily at 5 am and we had to put him down. If you can't do that, know that if you give him away- he will be eaten- guaranteed. Our city farm, Full Circle Farm inherited three roosters this year from people tossing them over the fence. Also, not an appropriate way of addressing the issue.
Then there is the practical problems that go along with having chickens. Predators, weather, illness. You can learn to deal with these, but even with the best planning, you will still probably lose few hens. It is just the reality of poultry owning.
If you ask me it is still all worth it. And it may be for you too. But you need to be clear about your expectations. You need to know what you are signing up for. It has been an invaluable learning experience for my family. and we would definitely do it all over again .
Want to learn more about backyard chickens? Check out our next Class