Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Truth about Keeping Chickens

Chicken keeping has spread from rural farms into subdivisions and urban areas in the last few years.  While I can't argue with people who want to control where their food comes from, there's a lot of BS out there about how easy keeping chickens is.  I'd like to address some of the things I've read and heard recently.

  • Chickens are quieter than dogs and your neighbors will never know you have them in your backyard.  In fact, one of our most recent acquisitions is a hen who cackles so loudly after she lays an egg that the neighbors in the subdivision she lived in threatened to call the city.  So, she's living with us now and I can verify that she's got some powerful lungs.  Chickens cluck quietly while eating, a little more loudly when they are excited about something, but let out a powerful yell after pushing the egg out.  Imagine going through the birthing experience every day.
  • Chickens create very little waste.  Fact is, chickens poop everywhere they are allowed to roam.  If you truly allow the hens to free range in the yard, they will poop all over it and all over anything they can climb on.  I had a person ask me how to stop their chickens from pooping on the lawn furniture.  The answer is easy, confine your chickens to their coop.  Her answer was "I want my chickens to have freedom".  My reply -  then give up sitting on your lawn furniture without squirting it off each time. 
  • Chickens stay close to their coop and can't fly.  When chickens are young and light, they will fly - over fences, on top of your patio covering, and into your neighbor's yard.  In that case, you will have to learn to clip their wings.
  • If the chickens are in my backyard, they will be safe from predators.  During the winter when food is scarce for any predator, they find very creative ways to get their meals.  Hawks that can pick up and carry small dogs won't have any problem nabbing a chicken.  Wild cats and stray cats that are hungry will find a way to have a chicken dinner.  Domesticated dogs don't even have to be hungry to kill a chicken.  If they have enough of a prey drive, it's instinctive for them to stalk/chase/grab/kill a chicken.  Snakes are often attracted to chicken coops to steal eggs and rats and other rodents can be attracted to spilled chicken feed. 

I don't want to scare anyone away from keeping chickens, but a reality check is in order.   Yes, they are a lot of fun to watch, they help keep bugs in check, their poo is good compost material, and best of all, fresh eggs can't be beat.  However, I'm already seeing the results of unrealistic expectations being promoted by the "chicken movement", so before you dive into chicken keeping, ask questions and do your homework.  Talk to someone that doesn't want to sell you something.

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