It all started when Lily was 1 and I had the sudden urge to get backyard chickens. My parents were about to replace their coop with a new one and offered to give us theirs. It was the perfect opportunity.
backyard chickens | how it all started
Rather than chatting with my husband first, I decided to “surprise” him with the “news” that we were getting chickens. (It’s easier to ask for forgiveness later, right?)
My parents and I schemed for a couple weeks. They were able to pick up three hens for us and bring them down, along with their old coop.
The night before they came, my husband and I were sitting on the couch after Lily had gone to bed. I looked at him and couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Me: “I have a secret.”
Grant: [eyebrows raised, look of slight concern in his eyes, along with a cute smile] “And what would that be, my love?”
Me: “We’re getting chickens tomorrow.”
Grant: [starts laughing]
In attempts to justify my decision, I rattled off some of the things I had learned about chickens.
“My dad says they practically take care of themselves.”
“Their eggs are healthier than store-bought.”
“They’re quieter than most dogs.”
“They’ll help teach Lily where our food comes from.”
He just kept laughing.
Two years later, I like to think we’ve hit somewhat of a rhythm with the creatures. We’ve also learned quite a bit along the way.
If you’re considering starting your own backyard chicken “farm”, here’s my advice.
backyard chickens | tips and suggestions
- Ask your spouse before deciding. It’s nicer. Plus, if you get his buy-in, you’ll be more likely to get his help in caring for them. (Lucky for me, Grant still jumps in to help despite having nothing to do with the decision to get them.)
- Review the laws about backyard chickens in your city. You may discover that hens are allowed, but roosters aren’t. Or, that they need to be housed a certain distance from a residence.
- Be prepared to sift through conflicting advice. About a year ago, one of our backyard chickens got worms. I’ll never forget seeing those long, white, string-like parasites wiggling around. We had to figure out how to de-worm all three of them and determine when we could eat their eggs again. Despite the web saying this is a common problem, none of my chicken-raising friends had encountered it. It took me a couple hours to figure out what my plan of action should be. Then, I had to find de-worming medicine (Amazon to the rescue, again), figure out the dosage (not an easy task, considering the only medicine I could find was for horses), wrangle each hen (thankfully, sweet Grant was willing to help me) administer it without losing an eye. (just kidding. sort of.)
- To save yourself the headache of conflicting advice, you might want to invest in some reading material that doesn’t involve reader comments. 😉 I found this book very helpful.
- Keep an eye out for pests and predators. With backyard chickens, you’ll find that you are a new target for pests like rodents (who are after their food and sometimes their eggs), as well as raccoons. One night at around 10pm, we heard one of our chickens crowing loudly (VERY strange at that time of day). We went out and found feathers everywhere, two of our three chickens out of their coop, pacing anxiously. One chicken was missing. We looked everywhere that night and figured she had probably been taken. We were shocked to find her the next morning behind our garbage bins. Our best guess is that a raccoon crawled into their coop, grabbed one of them by the tail feathers, and then fled when we came outside.
- Be prepared to gift some of the eggs to your neighbors. People say chickens are quiet, but they can actually be noisy at times. It’s true that they’re quieter than most dogs, but I kinda think the sound of a dog barking next door is less noticeable than the sound of a chicken squawking at 6am. Maybe that’s just me?
- I like keeping a few of these egg cartons on hand for easy gifting.
- Expect to get a little spoiled with the quality of your eggs. Even the organic eggs we buy from Costco aren’t as good as ours. The shell from a backyard chicken is harder, and the yolk can be a beautiful rich yellow if the hen is well fed.
- Don’t let your backyard chickens have free range in your yard. Unless you’re prepared for the consequences:
- poop everywhere, waiting to be stepped in (or licked up by your dog)
- spoiled chickens that will squawk every morning to be let out for their daily greens.
We built a large “chicken run” that fits the technical definition of free range. The coop is inside the run, so the girls can get out and stretch their legs without eating all our grass and pooping on our patio. Win-win.
- Don’t just throw new hens into your existing flock without introducing them at a distance first. They have a definite pecking order and any newbies will likely get bullied. I’ve heard of some people using a smaller (and cheaper) rabbit hutch to house the new hens while they all get acquainted.
- You’ll have to learn how to clip their wings. Otherwise, they’ll fly onto, and possibly over your fence. And then your sweet, 90-year-old neighbor will have to shuffle over, ring your doorbell while you’re trying to get the kids down for a nap, and let you know that your chickens are grazing in their front lawn. (By the way, chickens don’t come when they’re called.)
- Their poop attracts flies. Be prepared to either be on constant cleanup duty, or invest in a fly trap.
- Don’t expect to save money. The coop alone probably costs at least $100 (unless you can get it used or gifted). We go to a local feed store for their food (much cheaper than Kahoots or Amazon), which costs around $10/month for three hens. We also spent money on the “chicken run”, a big storage container for their food. We get about two eggs each day out of our flock of three (production can drop in winter months). Since we eat a lot of eggs, we still buy the big packs from Costco.
backyard chickens | my conclusion
At one point, I was pretty convinced we were going to get rid of our backyard chickens — especially in my quest to declutter our home and lives. But now that we’ve hit a rhythm, I am so happy with them. I love that Lily and Wyatt can see where eggs come from and become familiar with a different kind of “pet”. Despite all the little challenges (and the learning curve), our hens are here to stay!
What interests you the most about having backyard chickens? What intimidates you?