Anyone who knows me, knows I love my backyard chickens. What’s not to love? The happy clucking of a small flock as they peck around the yard or the delightful squawks as an unlucky worm is spotted for a midday snack. Then there’s the bliss of fresh eggs with their orange yolks and wonderful flavor.
However, raising chickens is not all wine and roses; there are some distasteful aspects you should consider before jumping into backyard chicken farming.
While we tractor our chickens to different places and feed them table scraps, we still have to supplement their diet with organic layer pellets. More costly than traditional pellets, organic will set you back about $20 for a 50-pound bag. With a flock of 10-15 hens, this will last about a month during the summer. In the winter, when fresh pickings are scarce, expect to double the amount. We prefer knowing their food is pesticide free making organic our only choice. Chickens are what they eat, so consider that before making the choice between organic and conventional laying pellets.
Throughout the different stages of their life, chickens need specialized diets. Without the proper nutrition, they will develop health problems like soft shell eggs or breaking feathers. I urge you to buy Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow and The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow and Jeanne Smith DVM. These books are great reference books for beginners and experienced backyard chicken farmers alike.
Have you heard the saying, “up with the chickens”? Chickens are early risers; going to bed willingly at dusk while rising at first light, eager for their daily foraging. Since they are easy prey for predators, you must close the chicken coop door closed each night at dusk and opened the first thing each morning. If this cramps your style, consider getting an automatic chicken coop door opener. Just set it to open at dawn and close at dusk.
Many backyard chicken farmers let their flock free range. It produces healthy and nutritious eggs and meat, while giving you happy chickens. When free ranging, they forage for food just about anywhere including the garden. Besides mowing your lawn, they love to scratch through mulch to uncover hidden treasures underneath. Chickens can decimate a garden in a matter of hours. I suggest directing them to your compost pile as they are great for turning and stirring up your mixture. My best advice: anything you don’t want eaten, fence in.
For being so small, it’s amazing how much waste a small flock of chickens produce. It’s necessary to clean out your chicken coop weekly. So what do you do with all that chicken poo? With a NPK rating of 1.1-.80-.50, chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer when composted for 8-9 months before using. Using raw chicken manure will burn your plants when not composted.
Natural Mothering Instinct
Whether you have a rooster for fertilized eggs or not, hens have the innate need to nest; known as being “broody”. When not nesting, hens display a phantom motherhood with fluffed feathers and protective attitude. In their protectiveness, they often lay eggs in hidden places making egg gathering difficult at times. Your chickens may even develop an egg eating habit so it’s important to look for eggs twice a day more often if your egg production declines.
Easy Dog Targets
Dogs are a chicken’s worst enemy; with a born preference for killing chickens, dogs rarely eat their kill but do it for the sport. Having a fenced yard or watchdog is important for keeping neighborhood dogs out.
Egg Laying Strikes
Sometimes it seems like your hens are on strike with few to no eggs laid as they lay around in cool patches, not producing. I guess when you think about it, laying eggs is hard work and everyone deserves a break every once in a while. This is common for most chickens and laying resumes after a day or two. However, in the winter months or hot weather, your hens may not lay at all.
Regardless of these reasons for not raising chickens, I can’t imagine not having such wonderful creatures share our homestead. They provide our family with nutritious eggs and meat, are a natural pest control, great composting and fertilizing machines, and provide hours of entertainment. The good we get from our chickens outweigh the bad.
I urge anyone considering a backyard flock to fully weigh the pros and cons of being a backyard chicken farmer. It’s vital you know ahead of time what raising chickens actually entails.