6 Things To Consider Regarding Raising Backyard Chickens


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I often get the question "I want to get some chickens - what do you think I need to know?" I also get the question "I want to get chickens but my husband said no.  Can you tell him why we need chickens?"  Yikes!  While I can help with the first question, I really can't help with the second.

This post is a result of the many times I get the first question and includes a VERY brief look at things to consider.  We have a "chicken-keeping" tab full of all of the articles I've written if you would like to take a more in-depth peek into life with chickens. (spoiler alert - they are a LOT of fun!!)



There is nothing more enjoyable than walking outside and having a flock of coop girls excited to see you.  The chatter and excitement makes you feel a little like a chicken celebrity.  (they associate people with food which is the reason for said popularity)  And there is nothing more sweet than spending time in the coop listening to one of the girls softly singing the egg laying song and watching her prep the nesting box for the arrival of the egg.  Gentle cooing and lovingly moving straw from one side to another is part of the egg laying preparation.  And while not all of our chickens are so delicate in their process (some stand up and holler rather than coo), watching those who are is pretty darn neat. 

A while back I wrote a post titled "5 Reasons You Need Backyard Chickens Today" giving an overview of the joy chickens can bring.  And they absolutely can!  But, like any animal care, there's the reality side of chicken keeping that you must also factor in, preferably before you bring those adorable little fluff balls home.

P.S. we neglected to factor any of these points so I'm hoping you can learn from our mistake.....not that it has changed our minds (we have 27 chickens and 8 more on the way...) but it would have been good to have thought about these topics in advance.

Here are six factors to consider before jumping in:


1. Can You Have Chickens In Your Town/City?
If the answer to this question is "no", you may as well stop here.  It's just not worth breaking the rules of your town/city, bringing chickens onto your property, only to eventually have someone turn you in and you now have to get rid of them.

If the answer is "I don't know", please research this before bringing them home.  Many towns will allow a small number (usually 4 or 6) of hens and no roosters.  If that's the case, read on!

Related: Wait....You Don't Need A Rooster To Get Eggs?
               So You Want To Raise Chickens, Part 1
               So You Want To Raise Chickens, Part 2


2. Where Will Your Chickens Reside?
I know the answer is "a coop, of course", but have you thought about their needs both inside and out?  Inside = Space to roost, space to eat and drink, nesting boxes, etc. 

Will you allow them to free range in your yard?  Before you shout "yes!" remember that chickens poop.  A lot.  Like, everywhere. (see #5)

Will you have a designated outdoor space for them?  How will it be fenced in?  Will it be covered (for year-round enjoyment)?  If not, you should consider netting or something going overhead so wild birds and predators cannot get in.

How will you predator-proof their coop and outside space?  What types of predators do you have in your area?

Do you have a safe space for the chickens to get outside in all weather conditions?  How about enough space inside if your temp's dip into single digits?

Can you get into all parts of the coop in order to clean it or take care of a sick chicken?  I make this a point because there are some absolutely adorable coops out there that are not at all practical.  They have areas where a chicken can get into but a person cannot.

Related:   Chicken Coop 101: 13 Lessons Learned
                The Chicken Coop At Cobble Hill Farm
                All You Need To Know About Chicken Roosts


3. How Will You Deal With Any Chicken Illnesses, Including A Dying Chicken?
I told the story, years ago, about our first venture with chickens and we had not even given this a thought.  Within 3 weeks of new chicken-keeping, we had a coop full of girls (and one boy) coughing, sneezing, and disgusting liquid spilling out of their beaks.  What we were dealing with was upper respiratory infections (which we did not know at the time), and seems to have come with the pullets we had just purchased.  We had no idea what to do. 

We called our vet - she doesn't provide care for birds.  The only vet I could find that would see a chicken was an "exotic bird" veterinarian.  Do I need to even tell you how much she charges for office visits????  A lot.  So I took one bird, Lucy Lou, (who ended up missing for about 1/2 hour with the woman who was supposed to take her to another room for an exam) and the end result, after a whole lot of nonsense, was that the flock had an upper respiratory infection.  A couple hundred dollars later, we were able to treat them all.  And I decided right then and there to read all I could about chicken health.

(this put on their beaks and under their wings is the BEST natural upper respiratory preventative we've found)

We also had a mite outbreak.  Once.  Never again - we now do what it takes for prevention.  We've had egg-bound hens (you need to be able to put your hand into their vent and VERY carefully pull the egg out), a hen with a prolapse (you must clean off the exposed tissue that is hanging out of their vent, push it all back into their vent and then keep them calm and separated), worms (totally disgusting) once, as well as hens, dying from natural causes, that are being pecked to their death by the others. 

For us, when we've had a dying chicken, we've removed them from the coop and either put them in a box to die peacefully, or, if they seem to be in pain or it's going on for too long, we've moved it along ourselves.  It's never (ever) easy, but we hate to see any animal suffering.

Related: Why Do My Chickens Lay Soft/Thin-Shelled Eggs?
               Prolapsed Vent - How To Treat It
               Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
               Dealing With Worms In Chickens
             

4. Who Will Be Responsible For The Daily "Chicken Chores"?
Chickens are super easy, but they still need care.  For our coop, here are our "chores":

Morning:  Let girls out, feed "goodies" and scratch grains (scratch grains in winter only), do a basic cleaning of the coop (poop removal), re-stock food and water, egg gathering, and a quick inspection of girls.

Evening: Re-stock food and water, egg gathering, a quick inspection of girls, and lock girls in for the night.

Monthly: Clean coop - shavings, windows, and any surfaces they get onto.  Add straw to nesting boxes.

Seasonally: Put diatomaceous earth on walls, floor and in nesting boxesA Thorough coop cleaning.

Related:  Preparing Chickens For Summer
                 Preparing Chickens For Winter 
                 Fall Coop Clean-Up 


5. What Will You Do With All Of The Chicken Poop?
So, they poop a lot.  I once had a thought that I would just add all of the manure to our compost bin.  Well, we get way more than we could ever use.  You may have neighbors who would willingly take it, or, with a smaller flock, perhaps you will be able to use it all.

As mentioned above, you may also want to consider this when you decide about free-ranging.


6. How Will You Handle Neighbor Complaints Regarding Noise, Smell, Chickens In Their Yard, etc.?
It may never ever happen, but if you have neighbors that are reasonably close to you, you may want to consider how you will handle this.  Certainly, letting them know ahead of time that you've got a small flock coming may help diffuse some of the situations, however, no one knows how anyone will really react until the birds are already in your backyard.  And the problem with today's world (I feel like my grandmother when I say this, but it's so true.....) is that we are used to sharing our opinions with the world, many times anonymously, and are unfortunately getting away from having simple conversations.  So, your neighbors unfortunately may not tell you point blank that they have a concern.  You are more likely to read it on facebook, hear it from another neighbor, or have animal control show up on your doorstep.

Chickens can be noisy.  If they get startled or upset by something, they can chant in unison VERY loudly.  We had a random dog show up in our yard one day and our girls were incredibly upset.  The chanting went on forever and it was very very loud.  They do a moderately low chatter throughout the day, but, as mentioned above, sometimes egg laying can be a bit noisy as well.

If you keep the coop clean they do not smell, however, there are people that convince themselves that they do and you may have to deal with a neighbor who has done exactly this.

Chickens will wander in search of bugs.  They will fly, so if you have them free-ranging in a fenced in backyard, the fence is simply a speed bump in their journey to the front-yard, the neighbors yard, etc.  While some will be thrilled to welcome the feathered guests, not all will.


I sincerely hope this has helped some of you better prepare for a backyard flock.


I would love to hear from you if you have additional questions that I didn't cover, or if you have additional advice from your own experiences.  




3 comments

daisy gurl said...

Another helpful article. We are getting closer to our own flock.
When you say "a basic cleaning", exactly what does that mean?

So you can handle most medical issues with preventative care? That's the one thing I am concerned about, not being able to figure out what's wrong. Fortunately, I have several friends with chicken experience, so I could probably get help if needed. There is nothing like experience!

Flying V.S. Farm said...

When I moved to my current living situation, the neighbors weren’t sure about the chickens-especially my roosters. I had done my research in terms of city ordinances and have them printed in my chickens book for future reference (checking once in a while to see if they have changed) I share the info with my neighbors as well as allowing them to meet my girls and offered to sell them fresh eggs if they were interested. It’s seems to have helped ease their minds. Our only limitation on our urban farm is that we are only allowed to have a certain number of animals on our property at any given time.

B.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Awww, thanks Daisy! The basic cleaning I was referring to was removal of poop. Because they get on EVERYTHING and, therefore, poop on EVERYTHING, we scrape off all surfaces every single morning.

Yes, preventative care can be done with most things but it takes awhile to learn to identify issues early on. Because chickens mask symptoms for fear of the others attacking them for their weakness, the signs and/or symptoms will be very very insignificant.

That's fantastic that you have others around with experience. You will learn so much!!!

B. - what a great idea to allow the neighbors to meet the flock!! Thank you for sharing.