Thinking About Getting Your Own Chickens?

Updated: Jun 28

So you're thinking about getting your own chickens so you can have fresh eggs and the entertainment and companionship of these quirky birds. What a great idea! Well... Maybe not. Let's think this through a little. And I hate to be the one to throw cold water on you when you have such aspirations of fresh omelets and hours watching your hens go about their days but we really need to remember to think of both the pros and the cons of your chicken endeavor. It could, after all, save you heaps of grief as well as money.

Most folks with a yard think having a little flock of hens is going to be real fun. And it could be. But let's talk about reality for a minute. When you go to the feed store or wherever you buy your birds from, maybe even a mail-order hatchery, you're only going to buy hens, right? They are the ones who lay the eggs. The other ones, the roosters, are illegal in most urban and suburban areas because they crow. A lot. Loudly. A neighborhood of crowing roosters is not where anyone will want to live. Trust me on this one. They don't just crow at dawn, like a handy dandy alarm clock, they crow ALL the time. During the night, during the day, in the afternoons. Hearing another rooster makes them all start crowing in a cascade of crowing. Did I say "loud"? Yes, and guess what? You're likely to end up with at least one little fella in your new little bunch of puffy peepers.

Speaking of puffy peepers, OMG you have never seen anything as cute as a baby chicken! They are absolutely precious. You could spend all day watching those little things dart around looking for something interesting to peck. They are an incredible joy. Way more fun than social media or YouTube! Do you know why you're going to end up with a boy or two mixed in with your girls?

You can YouTube videos of how chicks are "sorted" at the hatcheries. It is not pretty, in fact, it’s pretty horrifying. How anyone could handle innocent little helpless balls of fluff the way they are handled, is mind-blowing. They are not coddled, pampered, or given any kind of treatment from the time they hatch until they arrive at your home. And the speed at which they are "sexed", it is impossible for any human being to do such a thing so fast. They may LOOK like they are sexing little peepers but they are mindlessly going through the motions and tossing their expected percentage (50%) away. Yes, throwing them away. Literally like trash in bags or into a grinder. As in meat grinder. Alive... There's your look into those little, tiny, peeping creatures' first hours.

Next, they are boxed up like widgets into boxes and shipped out in all weather. If the weather is good when your order ships, yippee! If not, your babies could arrive sick or dead. So be prepared. If you pick them out at the feed store, your luck at picking out hens, though you pay more for them, will be the same. You're going to end up with a rooster unless you know how to sex them yourself so be prepared and know what you're going to do with that little guy when you realize he's a Henry and not a Henrietta. Sanctuaries get calls regularly from folks just like you, hoping to send their beloved little boys off to a place where they'll live a great life. It's not going to happen for them, there are too many needing help and not enough places for them to go. So, now what? Many will take them out in the country and dump them. Don't do that, what a terrible way to die. And he will. You may be faced with humanely euthanizing your roosters so, be ready.

You're all excited and you buy this beautiful coop or coop kit and then you have to put it together, what a great family bonding experience that is! If you're handy! If you're not, this could be the project from hell. ALL of those pieces and screws and wire and ugh! If you're smart, you'll buy one already put together from a local chicken coop builder. There are a lot of them these days since backyard chickens are so popular. Try to get one made by someone who uses quality lumber, it will cost more, but it will be worth it. Most of the kits you buy at the store use wood the quality of a popsicle stick. They are made to look good enough to sell and not hold up to use.

You've got your coop, you've got your peepers, what else will you need? Well, those little peepers don't have a mom to cuddle up with and keep them warm, so you'll need to get them a brooding or heat lamp or pad. There are many varieties. Do NOT, DO NOT buy a cheap heat lamp and hang it up or clamp it onto something in your coop. Those things are extremely dangerous and could burn your whole investment up one night. Spend the money and get something safe, economical, and easy to put up securely. Keep those babies warm and give them enough space to be as close to the warmest spot as they like.

Now, I'm sure you've done your research and found the best possible feed and treats and cute waterers and feeders. So, let's talk about something that you've probably not thought about. The one thing that I see the most coming from new chicken keepers is the devastation of a predator wiping out their flocks. You see, putting your birds out in your yard is like having someone put a Taco Bell near your home. It's quick, convenient, and cheap food. That's what you're doing for the neighborhood predators: raccoons, opossums, snakes, owls, hawks, bobcats, and even the neighbor's dogs and cats! There are a host of animals who will see your little flock as quick and easy meals. And once they know, it seems like they share the information with the rest of their companions in the neighborhood and before you know it, they're all coming to check out the situation. Then, one will get the courage to act and from there, it's all over. Once you lose one bird, you're going to lose them all in a painful murder spree. Or you could lose them all in a night.

You don't see them, but the predators are there, and they know the area very well. It's their home too. So don't be that person whose birds get mauled and eaten by predators. Buy a secure coop, preferably with good, small square, snake-proof wire on the bottom and all around. It doesn't have to be like Fort Knox but the more secure you make it, the less likely you're going to come home or wake up to a murder scene! It will be worth it. Trust me.

There are great products on the market to help keep varmints away too, do your research. Make sure your neighbors know to keep their pet dogs and cats in their yard so they don't discover your flock. Now snakes... This is a tough one because they can squeeze into the tiniest of openings and your baby chicks will be very vulnerable to them. Once your girls are grown, snakes won't be a problem unless you live in S Florida and have boas and pythons slithering around. In fact, we would regularly find rat snakes, who enjoy eating eggs more than you do, curled up under a hen after eating an egg. And there's another topic. Rodents. They will be thrilled to find the buffet of feed you keep out for your flock! They're going to come to the party so make sure you have a plan for what you'll do about them. We liked to use the live traps, it’s fun to catch them and relocate them. They are super cute and after all, just like us, they're looking for an easy meal. But two mouses or rats will become 100 quickly so you must take action sooner rather than later! Snakes are great at keeping them away and they'll become quite tame too if you can tolerate them and don't mind letting them have an egg or two on occasion.

If you take good care of your birds, expect them to live 10+ years. That's another thing you need to be ready for. Once the cute wears off, and it will, and the enjoyment of feeding, caring for, and watching them wanes, and it will, are you going to be responsible enough to continue to give them the care they need? If not, who will take them? And this leads to another good point. It is not the most fun way of getting chickens, but it is going to be the best as you’ll KNOW if they are hens or roosters, but how about looking through the classifieds and getting a flock that is grown and already producing the eggs you are so excited to get fresh from a hen's booty? There are plenty of folks who've lost interest in their hens who are looking for the next beautiful dreamer to take away their bad dream for them. If you still have to have babies, then you can get a couple instead of a flock.

I hope I've given you good fodder to chew on as you ruminate on getting a flock of chickens. I hope your experience is awesome and everything goes right for you!

That's my two cents, from someone who has been around and seen most of it when it comes to caring for chickens or any farm animal.

God Bless,

Elaine West, Founder


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