I had the hair-brained idea a few years ago to keep chickens in our backyard. My husband thought I was crazy but he played along. He’s probably used to my crazy ideas by now.
Or maybe not?
Either way, we got to work and built a simple chicken coop out of used fence boards and bought a couple of chickens. Here is a picture of my first two girls.
7 things nobody tells you about keeping chickens
1) All of the neighbor kids will be enthralled with the chickens! Just about every child who comes over to play with my kids LOVES the chickens. They love to watch them, feed them, and check for eggs. One little boy was here when a hen was attempting to laying an egg. He kept checking every 3 minutes to see if there was an egg…he was so excited! I love to send any eggs they find home with them so they can experience the joy of home grown food.
2) People will ask “Don’t you have to have a rooster to get eggs?” This is by far the question that I get asked the most. From adults and kids alike. The answer is “No, you do not need a rooster to get eggs, only to get fertilized eggs.” I usually explain it like this. In humans, women ovulate every month which is like the chicken laying an egg. You only need a rooster if you want to have fertilized eggs and hatch baby chicks. Although I have figured out a way to have baby chicks without a rooster too. Tricky!
3) They will become pets if you name them. Before we got our chickens I had done enough reading/researching to know that naming them would be a bad idea. My favorite concept came from “Animal Vegetable Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. She says that most people know animals as either wild animals or as pets. But there is a third category that most people have never experienced and that is “livestock.” Livestock animals are not wild animals but they are definitely NOT pets. Keeping this distinction is very important.
My friend down the street let her kids name their chickens when they got them and it has been very hard on the kids when they die or get sick. And they WILL die or get sick. My goal when I got chickens was to keep only hens that are laying. This means we keep them for 3 years even though they can live for 8 years. Feeding them for 5 non-laying years? No thanks. But if you choose to have your hens as pets, I promise I won’t judge you…to each their own!
5) They will get out of their cage/run/coop. Just like any kind of livestock, they will occasionally get out of the confined area they are in (assuming they are not completely free-range, of course). The other thing to know is once they get out, they are VERY hard to catch. Usually we just open the door and chase/herd them back in. Another alternative is to leave them out and they will go home at dusk to roost where they feel safe. Sometimes, however, we actually need to catch them. A couple of videos on the internet showed us an ingenious way to catch a chicken easily. Brilliant!
6) They make the best compost. Everyone raves about fresh eggs, and yes they are really, really good. But the thing I have been most grateful for is the manure…oddly enough. Before the industrialization of food, people kept animals AND plants. The reason is because the plants feed the animals and the animal’s waste products feed the plants. A beautiful, complete, symbiotic relationship. I learned that part of the problem with our modern food system is that we have separated the plants from the animals. The plants become undernourished and need outrageous amounts of chemicals added to keep them growing. The animals don’t get enough fresh food to eat and they produce a lot of manure that becomes a huge pollution problem. The solution? Put them back together!
Our chickens live underneath our raspberry plants which provide shade and protection from overhead predators. They simultaneously fertilize the raspberries and keep them weed free. Their manure from the coop goes into the compost pile which feeds the rest of the garden. The chickens get any bugs, worms, weeds, and any food from the garden that we don’t need plus food leftovers from the kitchen and of course any used egg shells. Recycling doesn’t get much better than that!
7) They will bring a lot of joy. When the chickens come running whenever they see me, hoping for a treat, it makes my heart sing. I love watching them dig around in the dirt for worms and grubs, watching them steal food from each other then run away, and watching them raise their adopted babies. There is nothing quite like going out to the coop, collecting a still-warm egg, bringing it in the house and cooking it for breakfast.
It feeds more than your body…it feeds your soul.
I’m curious, what are YOUR favorite things about raising chickens? Tell me in the comments below!