Should You Get Chickens?
We’ve had chickens for over a year now. Last year we bought six-week-old chickens from an online site, and this year we raised from day old chicks that arrived back in March. They’re a farm animal you can easily keep even in a suburban backyard, and, in my opinion, are one of the lowest maintenance animals you can have, period. Okay, maybe a Betta fish beats them, but does a Betta make eggs? I mean, probably, but I can tell you they don’t make eggs you’d want to eat.
Here’s what we’ve learned about this pros and cons of taking the plunge to have chickens.
Eggs! The eggs from our chickens started off a little mild, but now that they’ve been laying for more than a year, the eggs are fantastic. They are also very pretty, which is a plus for those of us who care. Breeds like Easter Eggers (Ameraucana) lay beautiful blue eggs, Welsummers lay dark brown, and you can even get fancy olive green egg layers.
Farewell, ticks! It’s no secret that New England has a tick problem. Lyme disease is no joke, and ticks can be the size of one of those tiny metal pinheads – very hard to spot. We let our chickens free range, and have noticed a precipitous drop in the number of ticks we find on ourselves pre- and post-chicken. Here they are above, hopefully eating up all the deer ticks. Obviously this isn’t a scientific study – but in our case, it’s made a difference.
Convenience. The eggs your chickens lay are fresher than fresh, and because they haven’t been washed they still have what’s called a ‘bloom’ – a protective layer that keeps them fresh for several weeks. This means you can have pretty eggs sitting out on your counter and just grab one whenever you need it.
Built-in presents. We distribute a lot of eggs. Our ladies are serious layers, and we almost always have an egg surplus. People are shockingly enthusiastic about getting a basket of fresh eggs when they have you over for dinner.
If you have kids. Kids like animals (for the most part), and our kids have a lot of fun feeding and helping out with – and especially petting! – our chickens. Having chickens has also been a surprisingly healthy way to gradually introduce our kids to the cycle of nature and death. We free range our chickens and have experienced a number of losses. Even my two year old understands that a fox will take a chicken to feed her own baby foxes. They understand that we eat chicken (though not our chickens!), and so there’s a cost to eating meat. For most of human history children were introduced to these concepts by necessity very early, and I think they’re healthy things to understand.
Of course, as with any animal, there are cons.
The poop. Oh, the constant, never-ending poop that is absolutely everywhere (if you free range). Pretty sure this is the #1 ‘con’ for literally every animal, except maybe cats (#1 drawback there has got to be shedding, right?). We use pine shavings to line our coop, and I shovel it out every other week. You need space to be able to dispose of the pine shavings. Above are our pullets mucking around in the pine shavings (and pooping everywhere). If you want to start a compost pile, this will actually be a pro (chicken poop and decayed wood are an amazing recipe for compost), but otherwise, you have to have a place to dispose of chicken droppings.
Death. Above was all we found of one of our Plymouth Barred Rock chickens one evening. It was a little like CSI: CHICKENS around here as we found the first clutch of feathers under this chicken’s favorite blackberry bush, then spotted tufts of gray fur from the culprit on the brambles and finally tracked the trail of feathers off into the woods until they disappeared. Verdict? Coyote. Yes, everything eventually kicks the bucket, but chickens are certainly more likely to have health issues than lots of other pets, and most folks aren’t willing to make a vet trip costing hundreds for an animal that cost $2. You’re going to have to get used to the dark side of farm life, especially if you free range them, like we do, which allows for loss to a red tail hawk or coyote (or even a neighbor’s dog), not just illness or age. But, as noted before, this cuts both ways if you find introducing your kids to life realities a benefit, like I do.
The uncomfortable and unexpected situations. Once I let the chickens out, forgetting that no one was going to be at the house before we left for vacation. This resulted in two hours of lost packing time while I attempted to lure them back into the coop. More recently, I found myself holding a (highly unwilling) chicken butt in steaming water, sticking a gloved finger up said butt to diagnose, and then attempting to make said chicken eat Tums. Why? Because she had an egg stuck (called being ‘eggbound’), and I tried nearly every trick in the book (or more accurately, on the internet) to get her to pass it. She finally did and I felt triumphant for getting WAY out of my comfort zone … but that was the same day we lost the Barred Rock to a coyote. You get the idea. With animals, you never know what’s next.
Upfront work. As anyone who has ever raised a dog from a puppy knows, so many animals are a ton of work at first, then the work tapers and the payoff starts. Chickens are no different. Raising them from day old chicks, to pullets and finally to adults who lay eggs is about a six month process. You also have to prepare a brooder for the littles and the coop for when they get bigger.
Cost. You are NOT going to be saving stacks of cash by having chickens for personal use. Eggs are dirt cheap in the store, and the amount you’ll spend on feed alone will outweigh any savings on egg purchases! Accept this up front.
Safety. Chickens poop, constantly, and sometimes on their eggs. You need to wash your hands after petting them, cleaning the coop, and before you boil eggs. This has been pretty simple for us, but something to keep in mind! No one wants a side of salmonella with their breakfast …
Hope this helps you with your own decision-making. One of my favorite things about the chickens, strangely enough, is just seeing them wander the property. It makes our home look so much more alive and productive!