Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person on the planet who is not raising chickens. Everywhere I look are articles about raising chickens, plans for chicken coops, chicken tractors, chicken feeders, pictures of chickens, and people talking about how wonderful it is to have really fresh eggs.
That last part is what comes closest to hooking me. I love eggs. We eat eggs for breakfast twice a week, and use them in cooking. We'd eat them more often if they weren't getting so expensive. I read that the commercial egg farms have been hit hard by avian diseases that required them to kill off significant amounts of their flocks. That kind of thing will drive the price up, and when this sort of thing happens, the prices generally do not come back down. It's like the delivery services adding fuel surcharges because fuel was so expensive, but when fuel costs came back down the surcharges stayed in place. We will just be eating fewer eggs in our house now. Unless I raise chickens.
I've given it some thought too. I could build a coop on the back side of the little barn that serves as storage for garden tools and lawn equipment. I could fence in the garden and let the chickens run free in there, while keeping the dogs and rabbits out. I could do that.
But … (here it comes) we live in a forest. A forest that is populated with raccoon, possum, bear, and snakes. Big black snakes, king snakes, copperheads, and (supposedly) rattlers (although I have yet to encounter a rattler on our property). The egg-eating snakes may not be such a problem now because the newest arrivals are a growing flock of red-tailed hawks. But if they tire of snake bouillabaisse and hasenpfeffer for dinner, they will surely turn to chicken dishes.
Then there are our dogs. We have two 90 pound permanent residents: an American Bulldog and a Yellow Lab/Pit Bull mix. Both love chicken — although I'm not sure what they'd do about a chicken dinner on the hoof, so to speak. But they like to chase the doves and wrens, I suspect they'd chase the chickens too. And probably catch them. We also play host to an ever-changing herd of foster dogs who come here for training and healing. Some are big mooshballs, but many have been running loose long enough to know what a live feast looks like.
A perimeter fence around the garden might keep the chickens in and dogs out, but not the hawks. I'd need to build Fort Chicks (with a mesh roof) to keep all the local predators out.
There are also the practical issues of caring for a flock of chickens, keeping them warm in January and February (no power in the barn), and keeping them fed and healthy. My friends who have chickens do admit that keeping the coop clean and the run from turning to mud is a challenge. One fellow says, “Chickens is flat-out stoopid, ya gotta do all thar thinkin fer em or they'll jes kill 'emselves.”
Then there is the guy who says he built the coop, bought the equipment and feed, bought some hens and … they're just not laying. Doesn't know why. That would be the ultimate slap in the would-be chicken-farmer's face.
No: as much as I like eggs, I don't think we're ready to launch into that. Maybe I'll just buy some eggs off of the folks who ARE raising chickens.