Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Is Keeping Chickens Right for You?

So you're considering raising a small flock of hens in your urban or suburban backyard, and you're wondering what it's really like. Is it a good fit for you? Here are a few things you might want to consider, both pros and cons.
  • Chickens poop a lot. The poop stinks (the runny kind - they make little round pellets that dry quickly and aren't so bad, and they make little stinky miniature cow pies). It's great for compost - I find the balance of nitrogen to carbon in the poopy shavings you get out of the coop to be just about perfect. It's fairly easy to spray the poop off the patio with a hose (get a sprayer attachment), and the grass likes it. It's not as gross as cat or dog feces.
  • They scratch. They love to demolish compost piles, mulch beds, garden beds, you name it. When we let our chickens free-range, we can count on needing to rake and sweep the pathways clean afterward. I contained my compost pile in wire mesh after having it flattened numerous times.
  • Chickens are curious. They aren't brilliant, but they aren't really dumb either. Leave open the backdoor or the garage door and they will go exploring. And they poop wherever they explore.
  • Egg production drops in the winter. There will be times when you will want to supplement with grocery store eggs and they just aren't as good - you get spoiled pretty fast. And there will be times when you have to give eggs away to friends and neighbors. We have four hens and we eat a lot of eggs, and that seems to be about right most of the time. We bought two dozen additional eggs a month this winter.
  • Chickens peck at the color red. So don't put a red shirt on your child when she goes to play with them. They will also peck fingers that are held out to them. And tiny toes.
  • Chickens are dusty. They take dust baths, they have shavings and hay, and they scratch in the dirt.
  • When they lay eggs, or when they want to lay an egg and another hen is in the box (you need one egg box for every six hens, although two doesn't hurt), they BAWK really loudly. So far the neighbors haven't cared. But you can't really keep them secret. Also, every child in your neighborhood will know you have them.
  • Chickens make sweet crooning noises when you talk to them. They have their own personalities (chickenalities?) and dispositions, just like any animal. Some will like humans, others will not. Ours are fine with our cats (the cats don't like the hens, though - but they don't go after them now that they are big as they are).
  • Hen care needs to be part of your routine. Every morning they need letting out and feeding and watering; every afternoon you need to check for eggs; every evening they need locking up and possibly feeding. You need to clean out the coop frequently. With out flock of four we do it once or twice a week. The deep litter technique of stirring it and letting it compost in the coop doesn't work well for our small coop.
  • When you go out in the morning to feed them and they make sweet curious crooning noises and you dump their litter in the compost, life is good. The garden is balanced. You've brought the country into the city. All is well.
Need more information? Check out mypetchicken.com and backyardchickens.com. Great websites with lots of information!

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