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?