“Chickens have become the new black,” I often joke with the people in my chicken workshops. What I mean by that is that having backyard chickens has, all of the sudden, become very trendy. It seems that everyone is interested in getting a flock started.
While I applaud the desire to raise clean unadulterated food (eggs and meat), I want the students in my classes to understand the benefits of chickens, I also want them to clearly understand the often not so attractive side of having chickens.
Chickens need daily care – oh sure, it’s not much care once they become old enough to live in a hen house but they do require fresh water, and food every day. And don’t forget mucking. That hen house will need to be mucked on a regular basis. It’s not the most glamorous job but it has to be done.
Eggs need to be collected – You’ll need to check for eggs throughout the day. An egg left in the nest can be an egg that gets pecked and as many of us chicken owners know, once an egg-eater, almost always an egg-eater. Even though egg production goes down in the winter, the hens will still lay. An egg not gathered in freezing weather will frequently burst turning it into nothing more than a waste.
Chickens poop – A lot. Many chickens will poop every 30 to 40 minutes. I’ve also seen estimates that a flock of 3 chickens can create up to 5 pounds of waste a week. That’s a lot of poop. Chickens will poop all over your yard, your driveway, and maybe even your porch. It’s one of those things that you’ll just have to accept and learn to deal with.
Chickens curtail vacation plans - Although it doesn’t take much work to care for an established flock, they still need to be released, fed, watered, have eggs collected, and be locked in their coop at night. Since we’ve gotten our chickens, our vacation plans have changed from overnight stays to local day trips with our kids. It is possible to get “chicken sitters” who will do a fine job but just know that a certain amount of vacation spontaneity disappears when you have a flock.
Chickens get sick – Chickens scratch in the dirt, they eat basically anything that is not nailed down. As a result chickens can get sick and they can get parasites and bacterial infections. Chickens can also get injuries and have egg laying problems. You need to know how to monitor your flock by checking poop, chicken bums, and behavior. If a chicken is found to be ill, it is your obligation as the owner to do your best to help it. Sometimes this means medication and injury care, and sometimes it means making the decision to put the bird down.
Chickens die - There is a trend right now to name chickens and give chickens human characteristics (I’m guilty of it myself with some of my favorites.) The truth though is that chickens are livestock, they were never intended to be domestic pets. This past winter was particularly harsh and we ended up losing 4 from our flock. There was nothing we could do about it. One day they were alive and the next they weren’t.
Chickens also get eaten – And sometimes it’s not by the owner. If you are going to free-range your chickens, you are going to lose a few from predators.
Chickens (thankfully) also live – A well maintained chicken can live for a good 4 – 7 years. This means that if you decide to get chickens, you’ll be involved in their care and management for some time. Raising chickens requires a long term commitment. Please don’t even consider getting them if you are one of those people who wants a flock simply because it’s a current trend.
You might not know what to do with your birds next year when llamas become the next big “thing.”
I write about lessons learned living with children and chickens in New Hampshire. You can follow our family's stories at my blog: Lessons Learned From the Flock.