Besides the fundamentals such as, if you are actually allowed backyard chickens where you live (I’m with you, Mr. Owen!), and making sure you have a good place to raise baby chicks (we used an upstairs bathtub) and a safe, secure coop, here is some frank advice coming from my children, most of whom can’t stand the chickens. As in, they really really hate them, until breakfast.
Let’s be clear: we got chickens one year when our oldest daughter was accepted to Emma Willard in the Fall, and we re-routed our summer vacation dollars to her tuition. What can we do that will be an adventure- that will teach our kids about responsibility, and have them help put food on the table?
I’m not sure if that has happened or not. At least not the way I hoped in that moment of glorious parental imagining. What has happened is that although I have a real job, I have been dubbed the Chicken Lady, or as my youngest used to pronounce me, the Chicken “Wady.”
As I said a few weeks’ back, I love our chickens. One of my sons (pictured) is a total animal whisperer, and also loves them. That’s pretty much it. The remaining seven members of the family tolerate them, at best.
Here is what they want you to know:
- Where there are chickens, there is chicken poop, because that is essentially what they do all day. They eat too, but mostly they poop. All day.
- Say goodbye to your lawn. Yes, the bug eating thing is great, but chickens scratch the ground to find those bugs, and they will eat the flowers you painstakingly planted and all, ALL of the seeds you spent all day planting. Anyone who has chickens knows why they cross the road- to eat your neighbors’ plants and seeds (See advice below…).
- Chicks are cute and cuddly, but chickens are not as cute, nor are they cuddly. Okay, I think they are cute, but most people don’t. If you play with them and hold them a lot, they will be more domesticated and friendly.
- Chickens don’t live a long time. In fact, once you have chickens in your yard, every predator in the surrounding three zip codes will pack up and move closer to your home, all in an effort to eat your chickens sooner. Hawks have built nests over our coop, we have a fox mama in the woods who has kits every year and feeds them our chickens, and raccoons will bring their entire extended family over for a reunion, and work in partnership to extract chickens from the coop using a dexterity and problem-solving fortitude unmatched by most human adults. Snakes, unidentifiable weasel looking things, dogs, neighbor cats- you name it, everyone wants a piece of your chickens. Even if you keep them safe, they still only live a few years. Which leads me to the truth about roosters.
- You need a rooster. They protect the chickens. They also make a cubic boatload of noise. I thought roosters crowed once in the morning like in that cartoon I can’t remember the name of, but no, they crow all day. Constantly. They can be grumpy and mean. And that’s good for the hens, because it is their way of protecting them.
- You are not going to save money on eggs. In fact, you won’t be saving money at all. Chicken feed is expensive (even if they free range some or all of the day), chicken coops are expensive, as are the watering troughs, fencing, netting, stakes (you need to sink the fencing around the coop and stake it in for safety), etc. Eggs are cheaper at the grocery store. Farm fresh eggs, however, are unmatched in deliciousness. I eat more a day than my doctor would permit- but I eat them knowing that they came from animals who are eating healthy, and who are cared for by my family, and who have grown by my own hand.
FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE: Give as many eggs to your neighbors as possible, because you will likely have some making up to do. Bake them things with eggs, save them up and give them a bunch at Easter.
All that said, backyard chickens are pretty amazing creatures. There is truth to the whole pecking order thing, and they unfailingly come home to roost after sundown. When I close up the coop at night, I pat each one and thank them all for helping care for my family. I love my chickens, and if you come to terms with all of the above before you get yours, you will too.
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Remember: Lower the bar, and drop the guilt (today).
This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.