I’m Kristina - freelance graphic designer, backyard farmer, cookbook reader, project starter, and new mom to a gorgeous little boy.

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October 18, 2011

What it’s like to have backyard chickens

Jamie emailed me ages ago suggesting that there might be some interest in a post about the real deal with backyard chickens. I thought it was a fabulous idea and then waited months before actually getting it together to do the post. Shocker!

But today is the day. Should you get chickens? Do I like having chickens? Are they a lot of work? It will all be revealed. Maybe.

Having chickens is in general great. I love having fresh eggs, (especially considering how dirty eggs from the supermarket have been proven to be), I love that they eat our kitchen scraps and mulch our garden, and provide hours of entertainment for Dashiell. But they’re farm animals. And they do require some work. And they are loud sometimes, particularly in the morning.

Eggs – one cannot get tired of having fresh eggs! And considering organic eggs at the farmer’s market are like $5.00/dozen it’s pretty satisfying to get them for free. Or “free”, I guess. Since clearly they aren’t really free.

Compost – they’re little composting machines!

Fertilizer – for the veggie garden. We have a nice little ecosystem in our backyard.

Entertainment – They are so super great for kids. And if you get them when they’re little, they can be really tame and tolerate infinite amounts of chasing and poking and picking up.

Education – When our kid(s) are older it will be so amazing for them to grow up knowing that food comes from SOMEWHERE, not just the store. Our neighbors asked their son where eggs came from a few years ago when we’d just gotten our first flock, and he said “the store”. I think he knew that they came from a chicken in theory, but in practice they came from the dairy section. And there’s totally nothing wrong with this, but I love that Dashiell already knows that eggs come from our chickens.

They are loud – This is my number one gripe. We’re usually up anyway, and it’s a little better now that the sun is coming up later, but just because you don’t have a rooster doesn’t mean your chickens won’t announce to the world that morning has come. Every. Morning.

They are messy – If you let them free range, they will scratch everything out of your planters and leave poop all over the backyard. We let them free range all day every day so there’s a lot of cleaning up to do. BUT we’re in the process of building a fence so they’re confined to the back part of the yard where it’s all wild and messy anyway.

You have to clean the coop – Occasionally. The first time we had chickens I cleaned the coop once a week. ONCE A WEEK! What was I thinking??? Because we have an Eglu, the entire thing comes apart so you can really clean it (vs. just being able to rake it out). Which is nice because it doesn’t smell as much. But I’ve become lazy and now clean it once a quarter.

Chicken sitters – When you travel, you have to find someone to feed and water them if you’re gone for more than a weekend or so.

Misc. issues – Like any animals under your care, chickens occasionally have things that come up that need tending to. You might have one that’s mercilessly pecked and has no feathers left on her back. (Been there!). They might get mites. They might get worms. A predator might get into the coop if it’s not secure. Or an eagle might grab one out of the backyard. The list goes on. I’m a fan of the “let nature take it’s course” attitude most of the time, but still it IS one more thing you have to deal with from time to time.

We have a relatively big backyard for LA standards, but it still feels a wee bit too small for chickens, in an ideal world. I mean it’s FINE, but it would be great to have the coop down the hill from the house or something. So you didn’t hear them quite so often.

This is turning out to be kind of an anti-chicken post. I’m so not anti chicken! In general I think they are very low maintenance, and that the benefits totally outweigh the extra work. I’d much rather have chickens than a dog, for example. (Sorry dog people!) You can completely ignore them for days at a time, which is my kind of pet.

If any of you have specific questions, I’d be so happy to answer them. And if you have chickens, I know there are plenty of you out there who do, what are your thoughts?


  1. Naurnie said on October 18, 2011

    I am part of the reason that Jamie asked you to do this post… I live in NC and have been begging my husband for chickens for a LONG time. He is completely opposed, but I think it would be fab! Our backyard neighbors have some chicken ladies that our dog visits with through the fence and they are really tame and lovely. Their little clucking noises are really relaxing to me, and we don’t often hear them at all. They have a coop and they have a little area that they can range in during the day. Thank you so much for sharing this info!!!

  2. tammy said on October 18, 2011

    We have 4 chickens, and just got 6 baby chicks. I love having chickens. They are very funny, and you can watch them for hours on end. I love the eggs, and knowing they are not ridden with chemicals and hormones. They love random table scraps (melon, oats, grains, grapes) and they have learned to adapt to my dog who kind of protects them now. I think they are SUPER easy as pets. I have always had a dog and usually a cat, too and chickens are a breeze. Its totally fun for kids also!

  3. tammy said on October 18, 2011

    Mine cluck and coo a bit in the morning and through the day, but its nothing crazy and I enjoy the wake up call.

  4. holly said on October 18, 2011

    wonderful post! ive been toying with this idea for awhile now.

  5. Amy K said on October 18, 2011

    I like the idea of “free” eggs, but not the idea of all the”fertilizer”. This is also why we have no other other pets. : )

  6. E. said on October 18, 2011

    Great, great post!

  7. Sarah Melisse said on October 18, 2011

    Your post is right on. We just got 6 chickens in late spring and they are such a joy. Our 20 month old daughter follows them around like a little chicken herself. It’s true that you have to clean up after them… but doesn’t that apply to all pets? At least they give something back. Also, you can always pick out quieter breeds like we did.

  8. sarah said on October 19, 2011

    Great topic! We have chickens and have had them for about 5 years now. On the “pros” side– I totally agree with everything you listed, and having fresh eggs is the coolest thing EVER. And they are relatively low-maintenance. Since we have a cat that we don’t travel with, we already have to find house-sitters when we go out of town, so that hasn’t been a problem. And I’ve never minded the noise, I rather like it! However, on the cons side, I want to emphasize the “it’s a jungle out there!” factor. Within a few months of getting our first flock we forgot to close the coop up one night and our chickens were attacked by a raccoon. This has happened a few more times since and it’s always traumatic for everyone, but that first time is seared into my memory because it was so…gruesome. Definitely a different experience than having a dog! Also, we are down to 2 chickens now that are both really old and have stopped laying eggs… so I’m not sure what to do about that! We’re not the chicken-killing kind, but we are ready to get new chickens and are hoping these girls don’t hang around too much longer…is that bad?
    On the whole, though, I say GET CHICKENS.

  9. Jamie said on October 19, 2011

    So interesting. We kind of have the best of noth worlds at our house. A good friends has chickens so we get free, fresh eggs from him. It is quite lovely. And don’t fresh eggs just taste SO MUCH BETTER?!

  10. jill said on October 19, 2011

    i would have written an almost identical post! we have chickens in our small berkeley backyard and what gets me most is the noise! in the morning, i hate the chickens. but i love having the eggs. we’re looking into “quieter” breeds next go round.

  11. blake said on October 19, 2011

    great post. I really want chickens, but I guess I’m not that motivated yet. Can anyone confirm that a couple of cats wouldn’t hunt the chickens?? That might be one of my biggest concerns, as we have some hunters in the ‘hood, my own cat included. Other than that, I’d love some “free” eggs, fertilizer, bug patrolling (adios slugs & caterpillars), etc. Oh, and I think chickens are darling. Very good to know about quieter breeds for city yards.

  12. Andrea said on October 19, 2011

    As someone who would like to own chickens one day- this has been very enlightening. In a great way! Thank you!

  13. Kristina said on October 19, 2011

    Re: quieter breeds. OMG YES. Next time we are choosing quietness over egg production for sure.

    @Naurine – you guys should totally get them! Especially if you only had a few, they’re really not much trouble.

    @sarah – aye! you guys have lived through the “natural” part of having chickens, huh? You could probably just give the old ladies away on craigslist (we did the same with our first set) and get new ones. Of course you can’t be sure who will take them, but maybe you can just pretend they are going to a nice farm? :)

    @Jill – I hate them in the morning too. omg.

    @blake – A full grown chicken is almost the same size as a cat, so you know, while the kitty may be curious, he probably won’t kill them. But I’m no expert. We have lots of neighborhood cats that come through our yard and sometimes they spook the chickens, but never seem to really bother them. But you would definitely have to protect your beds. If they get in there they’ll tear everything up looking for bugs. They’re only good in between plantings when you’re looking for some little soil tillers.

  14. Nicole said on October 19, 2011

    Well stated, because of said cons we keep only a few (3) hens which gives us plenty of eggs and less poop.

  15. Hilary Inspired said on October 20, 2011

    Hi Kristina! I just found your blog and couldn’t help but comment on this post. I grew up in metropolitan Nashville, TN just a few minutes from downtown and we had backyard chickens too!! They were actually fun little pets to have as kids. I can remember one Winter I nurtured a sweet little runt chick who had been bullied by the others. It was a special experience. They are great for pest control and garden fertilizing. All in all… we liked it very much! Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  16. Dessert Darling said on October 21, 2011

    Fantastic post. Thanks so much for the scoop!

  17. Julie said on October 29, 2011

    I am so intrigued by the idea of having chickens, and probably wouldn’t mind the noise issue myself, but it’s the neighbors I’m worried about… do you get complaints from the neighbors, or are they fine with it? Do you have to go around and ask all the neighbors first to be polite, or is that unnecessary?

  18. Bridey said on November 2, 2011

    I love having chickens but my husband doesn’t! Mainly because of the mess they make (although our dog helps with the clean up, one of her favourite foods is chicken poop). We’ve got two ex-battery hens who are champion layers but a little aggressive, so I wouldn’t really trust them with littles.

  19. Tonia said on January 8, 2012

    We just ordered a box of chickens from Murray McMurray and can’t wait for them to arrive this spring!!! :)

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