As a frequenter of social media, I often times see people talking about the benefits of raising a small number of chickens at your own home. It is apparently a movement that has become pretty popular among people in my area. After doing some reading and consulting with my wife, I decided last spring to take the plunge and try out the farming life. I bought a book off Amazon about raising backyard chickens and did a lot of research before coming to this decision. Now with the benefit of a year of hindsight here are a few things I have learned along the way in this process, many of which surprisingly no one mentioned in the literature I consulted.
The first thing that I was surprised about was the initial cost. In online reading, the cost was usually estimated at $2-$5 per chick depending on the breed and whether they were straight run or not. For those of you that are not familiar with that term, through selective breeding many types of chickens can be broken up by sex at a very young age based on characteristics of their gender. These are usually more expensive because you get to determine which sex of chick you want to purchase up front. Since I have always been a little afraid of roosters, we went with already sexed chicks and chose 3 hens. What I hadn’t budgeted for was how high spay and neuter fees were at this location. I’m not sure if it was just this particular site but they said it was there policy to not let anyone take the animals home until they were fixed. I had no idea chicken population control was that big of an issue but I didn’t make waves and after $100 dollars in fees and expenses, I was able to take my 3 new hens home with me.
Prior to making my purchase of the chicks, I went to the local Tractor Supply and picked up all the items I would need for new chicks. I bought a heat lamp, a feeder and water dispenser. From the reviews on the heat lamp I purchased, everyone saw positive results. In my experience though my chicks didn’t respond well to the heat lamp. Often times it was almost like they didn’t like the light and heat, so much so that they just tried to get away from it. It got so bad that I stopped using it within a couple days. I also purchased some special formula “grower” food specifically made for young chicks. They were reluctant at first and were much more interested in a bowl of milk as opposed to the grain. In all of the resources that I could find, no one suggested milk for young chicks but it was a lifesaver and really helped their growth.
One concern I had going into this experiment was the reading I had done about how stinky and messy raising chickens can be. Surprisingly with our 3 hens, they were very clean animals. I didn’t even have to clean out their coop very often because they were perfectly fine using a litter box. From stories and guides I had read, many people said you need to clean out their coops every couple of weeks to keep it sanitary and to prevent common diseases. There were many times that our adolescent chicks would lay in the sun, self-grooming. Honestly, I was very pleased with this because it made less work for me. Another concern, that I have now realized to be unfounded, was keeping them in my backyard coop in close proximity of my neighbors for fear of the noise factor with them crowing in the early morning hours. Our chickens, even now, make very little noise. Every now and then when they are spooked or hungry they might make a slight whimpering, almost meowing, noise but nothing like the crowing I expected. This may be a result of not getting our chickens to really take to roosting in our coop. No matter how many poles or posts I added to the coop, they would never roost on them. Maybe roosting and crowing go hand in hand for chickens?
There were some unanticipated benefits to owning chickens. Our chickens have been very good at killing rodents and pests. Sometimes we let them out to graze in our yard and 9 times out of 10, one of our chickens will kill a mouse and place it by the backdoor. Who knew that chickens could be so good at pest control? They are also very affectionate to my kids. They are almost like indoor pets. Our two older kids are pretty good with them and the chickens will come up to them and walk back and forth between their legs, rubbing against them. It’s really cute to listen to the purring sounds. Our youngest though is pretty rough with them and doesn’t know how to handle them. The chickens have pretty sharp talons and will scratch her when she tries to pick them up and carry them.
At the end of this year long experiment, I have to say I have been pretty pleased. Many of my early concerns, brought up from months of research, turned out to be false for us. Everything from eating habits to cleanliness turned out to be unforeseen positives. I have to say though given our initial cost and the fact they will only eat cans of Fancy Feast, they have not been real cost effective to this point. We are actually still waiting on our first egg to be laid and it’s been over a year. Maybe next time I’ll go with something other than calico.