I feel like I’m always encouraging people who express interest in adding a “farm” style animal to their family to do it. But, these are all people I know, whose situations I also understand. And so, if you’re considering a new addition to your home, here’s what I would say to you if you asked:
Should I get chickens? Yes! Chickens are one of the most rewarding animals you can have in your life. They keep the bugs down, are very affectionate (for chickens) and give you fresh eggs. Each chicken has its own unique personality (although in my opinion some are better than others. If you’d like my recommendation on favorite breeds you can check out our personal flock profiles. Chickens are also pretty smart and can be trained. Ours will come running from ½ an acre away at the sound of my voice (I mean honestly, is there anything better for your self-esteem than being able to summon an entire flock of birds? And then, is there anything better for your day than watching an entire flock of birds coming running towards you? I think not.)
So you’re in? Chickens it is! Here’s the down in the dumps info:
- Chickens are destructive, they scratch. It’s what they do. It’s what they’re supposed to do. It also means they scratch at your grass, your flower beds, your beauty bark...everything. Believe it or not, they don't care.
- Chickens have toxic poo. Okay, not really. But it is hot, hot, hot. You cannot compost it directly and it’s pretty runny stuff. Chickens are also not discerning about where they poo (save for the next boxes). If you’re going to have chickens you also need to have a poo management plan AND the diligence to keep their area clean.
- Chickens need dust baths. It’s how they control insects on their bodies and, I’m pretty sure, it’s also how they enjoy their day. They will bathe in any loose piles of dirt (reference: your flower beds from the first bullet).
- Chickens need fresh air. It’s cruel to expect chickens to live inside, or under cover. If fencing is an issue consider a chicken tractor you can move around your lawn. But chickens also need sunshine (just like people) to get their Vitamin D intake…
- Chickens are loud. Even if you don’t get a Rooster, chickens still cluck. You’ll start to learn their language ("An egg! An egg! I just laid an egg!” versus “Hawk! Hawk! Hawk!”)
- Chickens are brutal and sometimes violent. The term pecking order didn’t gain any sort of meaning without merit. We actually lost a baby chick to cannibalism. It’s very disheartening. They will peck and peck until they see blood. And then, once they see blood, it’s on. We had no idea. This is also a good argument for making sure you have happy chickens who are having all their needs met (space, food, water). Happy chickens are less likely to kill their flock mates.
Still want chickens? Here’s what I would say to you to make the most out of your flock:
- Raise your chicks by hand. Ours actually lived indoors for the first 2 months of their lives, and when I say indoors, I mean our living room. That’s probably a little overkill but we were first time chicken parents and wanted to make sure we did it right. You wouldn’t have to raise them in your living room, but, keep them close. We held each chicken a lot. We talked to them, we pet them, we fed them by hand…and now, I’m convinced, because of how we raised them we have very sweet chickens (and a few Roosters) who only slightly remember their cannibalistic days. It's because of the success we had with hand raising the first chicks that we have made the personal commitment to hand raise all the chicks we breed to sell as laying hens.
- Keep your chickens on a routine. Routine makes animals (especially farm animals) easier to manage. Find what works right for you in terms of feeding, play time, etc. and try to stick with it.
And finally, a few more notes:
- If you live in a neighborhood a lot of CC&Rs are pretty strict about chickens. I’d double check those before going to far. Also, even if your neighborhood supports chickens I’d run it past your neighbors. (reference: chickens are loud and destructive). A lot of times this can be mitigated by sharing the bounty of fresh eggs…but probably not if your neighbor has an easily accessible, prize-winning garden. Just be honest. Chickens are not like cats. You can’t hide them. The secret will get out.
- Have a plan for what you will do with your chickens once they stop laying. I have heard stories of farmers whose chickens lay for 7+ years. But the general consensus seems to be that they lay for 2-3 years. Either way, as a responsible chicken owner you need to know where non-laying chickens will fit in your family. Are you going to let them live out their retirement years with you? Great! That’s actually what we we are doing with our first ladies. Since we hand raised them and they are our first flock we’re pretty attached to each and every one of them. We also don’t have to spend a lot of money on food because they free-range. Are you going to eat them? That’s fine. No judgment here. Because we hatch laying hens at The Farmstead we actually grow out all the males for our personal consumption (it's one of the reasons we only breed dual purpose breeds). Whatever you choose to do I’m sure is great…just have a plan.
Phew! That's a lot. Hope I helped provide some perspective...but just remember. Chickens are the gateway drug to a farming lifestyle. Before you know it you'll have goats!
This is a photo of our Black Star Laying Hens at The Farmstead from the premier edition of "From Scratch" magazine.
Speaking of which, check back on Monday...we'll be answering the age old question, "Should I get goats?"