Get Real: Pros and Cons of Backyard Chickens
**This post is part of the Get Real series. Please remember that this is meant as a learning community. We know that many of you are passionate about what you do and we want you to express that, just please do so in a way that will be an encouragement and aid to others making a transition. We want this to be a “safe space” for participants to learn. For that reason, we reserve the right to delete any comments that are not handled in this manner.
Our post today comes to you from our blog partner for the month Gudrun from Kitchen Gadget Girl. Not only does she have first hand experience on how to raise your own chickens, she has a wealth of great recipes, tips and kitchen tricks for you on her blog!
Top 4 reasons against having chickens in your backyard
Chicks are so cute when they come home with you! Bubbly little balls of fluff, they just scream to be held and cuddled. However, they don’t reach egg-laying maturity until about 6 months of age, which means you need to feed, water and house the little poop machines until they start contributing to the household bottom line.
Food: If you are trying to go organic with your chickens, you can certainly feed them the leftover food scraps from your dining table (assuming you eat a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits and meats, and here is a good list of acceptable foods for chickens) but you will also need to purchase feed, starting with organic chick starter and crumbles and moving to layer pellets. These feeds are high in protein, which the chickens need to keep their feathers healthy and lay good eggs. And this feed costs money, organic or conventional, about $25-30 a month depending on how many chickens you keep.
We rehabbed our old playhouse to create a chicken coop, and added on an outdoor, enclosed run. The automatic door, which was expensive at the time, was IMHO one of the best investments made, as it controls the door to the outside with a timer, letting the girls out in the morning and making sure they are snug inside at night. If you are handy, or have access to a handy person, you can probably whip up a pretty good chicken house. For those of us less talented, purchasing a chicken coop is the way to go, and you can certainly spend money there. Meet the Eglu Cube, the cutest chicken house I have ever seen, with a retro trailer feel that would certainly look right at home in my backyard!
Oh, wow, can my girls be noisy! And at all times during the day. Astrid, the head hen of the house, has decided she must also take on the role of the rooster, absent in our flock. At 7:30am, or 12:23pm, or 3:33pm, she is known to let rip with a very loud and repetitive “Cock-a-Doodle-Do”, which to the uninitiated, sounds exactly like a rooster. I fiddle with the timer on the automatic door to keep them inside until a reasonable time, which sometimes delays her exuberant outbursts, but never for long.
Every time they lay an egg, chickens sing a song, and a couple of the girls are so proud about their achievement that they use their very loudest, outdoor voices. Sometimes, when they are feeling frisky, one chicken will goose the other, and that sends up squawks. No neighbors have complained, yet, but I do make sure to take eggs around to our closest neighbors just as a precaution.
I touched on this above, but the poop is a big deal. You will need to be comfortable with the amount and odor of chicken poop. When the are little, and living in the house or garage until old enough to go out to their coop, you will be amazed that such little things can produce so much poop. When they move to their hen house, you will now need to set aside time in your schedule to clean the house, often, unless you like the smell of barn in your backyard. And if you let them out to roam around the yard? Be prepared to find their poop everywhere, in the lawn, on the porch, on your favorite loveseat pillow.
The biggest con of raising chickens, and the one I start to worry about as we enter year 3 with the girls, is that they only reliably lay for 2-3 years, and then they become garden ornaments for the next 10. By the time they stop laying, you will be so enamored of their presence in your garden that you cannot imagine getting rid of them, whether that is sending them to a “farm” or otherwise relocating. But then you still have to maintain their quality of life in your backyard, plus you are now back to buying organic, pasture-raised eggs, which helps increase your monthly food costs.
Top 4 reasons to consider a backyard chicken flock
Having backyard chickens allow you to bring your family closer to the process of growing and producing their own food. Sure, you can get through a backyard vegetable garden, but chickens allow your children to see up close and personal the intricacies of food production. And since backyard chickens really become pets, children learn the joys of caring for another being and depending on the age, can provide a large chunk of the support for the hens including daily feedings, collecting eggs, cleaning out the hen house and chicken wrangler.
The eggs that come from your own flock of chickens are truly magical! The first time my girls laid an egg (and I think it was either Miss Lemon or Ruby who had the honors), I was beside myself with excitement. Very proud of the girls and their achievement and feeling more confident in my chicken raising skills.
Eggs from your chickens are going to be more nutritious that a regular grocery store egg, just because of what you are allowing the chickens to eat. You will feed them good quality feed, and supplement with tasty table scraps. Plus, you will have them roam the yard from time to time, eating bugs, grubs, weeds and lots of other tasty treats that are full of nutrients and help provide a wide-ranging balanced diet. The eggs will have less cholesterol, less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids than commercially produced eggs.
Compost and garden extras
I may gripe and complain that the chickens do not pull their own weight around the yard, especially when they are molting and not laying, but the manure coming out of the hen house is precious to the urban gardener. You cannot pay for a compost additive as rich as chicken manure! Chicken manure, once composted properly, adds nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to your garden, better than cow or horse manure.
Straight out of the hen house or chicken run, the manure is too “hot” for your vegetable garden and flowerbeds. I clean my hen house out once a month or so, and dump all the material, manure, shavings, and dry leaves, into my compost box and toss it with the existing compost. Visit Seattle Tilth more details about composting chicken manure, including a detailed explanation about hot composting.
Unique pets with personality
The best part about having backyard chickens is the immediate access to pets with unique and quirky personalities. When we first embarked upon our journey as chicken keepers, I was rather sanguine about what would happen when the hens stopped laying eggs (typically they lay 2-3 years) – we would just “re-home” the chicken and replace with another.
After two years, I am not sure I can say the same thing! The hens have become part of our world and their funny antics provide humor and light in our daily lives. Astrid, a Blue Andalusian, is the boss of the hen house, she definitely rules the roost. Miss Lemon, a Buff Cochin, has a huge butt and waddles around the yard with a jaunty step. Penny, a Welsummer is the quietest of the bunch and great for kids to cuddle. And Ruby, a Ameraucana, is the most reliable egg layer of the bunch, even if she does look more masculine that most.
As you consider bringing chickens into your own lives, keep in mind they may have a greater impact on your well being than just providing great eggs – these girls also support an emotionally positive lifestyle and help contribute to your individual mental health!