While growing up, I remember singing along with the opening scene of Beauty and The Beast and giggling at the mother juggling multiple babies who sings, “I need six eggs! That’s too expensive!”
Fast forward to 20-or-so years later, I am that woman trying to keep four children from throwing snack cakes into the shopping cart while cringing at the sheer madness that is the skyrocketing price of eggs.
Having spent several summers working on a family farm in my youth, I had an epiphany: Why not raise my own chickens to collect my own eggs? You can buy fertilized eggs, chicks or even full grown chickens with a click, so why not?
Of course reality began to set in as I unloaded my groceries and realized that while I knew a bit about raising cattle, rabbits, dogs and hamsters, I knew pretty much nothing about chickens. If I was going to embark on this journey, I needed to change that. So I went to the least reliable, but most abundant source of information I could: The internet. And while the internet is good, nothing beats talking to actual people. So I followed that up with the most reliable but hardest to track down sources: My neighbors who were already backyard chicken flock owners.
With their help and some solid research, I compiled this list of the most basic, honest facts about raising chickens in the backyard.
Fact 1: You mostly likely won’t save any money (at least in the beginning).
Start up costs for a backyard flock are higher than most people expect. While that cute little chick in the farm store only costs between $3 and $10 depending on the variety, that chick needs at least one sister to thrive. In addition she needs a safe, sturdy coop outside, feed, water, and a heat lamp, among several other things not mentioned in this short list.
That chick will need to be raised carefully inside with her siblings until she’s old enough to handle the outside elements and become comfortable around humans. And if you think that eggs will come immediately, think again. Much like any other live animal, it takes time for chicks to mature into adult hens who lay eggs. As a general rule, she won’t start laying anything until she’s about six months old or so.
Feel overwhelmed yet? Chickens, like every living thing, have specific things they need in order to thrive in their environment and if they’re not thriving, they’re not going to produce the golden, brown, blue, pink, green, or white eggs you want.
Fact 2: The quality of eggs you get from a home raised chicken knocks store bought chicken eggs right out of the water.
The time and effort you put into your chickens will be paid back in full by the amazing quality eggs a happy and healthy chicken will produce for you. They taste better and are more nutritious for you because home raised chickens tend to get more fresh air, better food and good old TLC compared to the hens that are used for commercial egg production. You can literally see how much richer they are when placed side-by-side with their commercial counterparts. The eggshells themselves can also be added to compost to add to your garden, flower bed, or grass and improve your soil. A win-win all around.
Fact 3: There are many breeds of chickens with their own advantages, personalities, and unique traits.
Be sure to read up before you order or pick up a random peeper from your local farm store. Do you want a hen that is going to lay a lot of eggs (Rhode Island Red) or a chicken that looks really cool (Silkie Frizzle) strutting around your yard? Do you want colorful eggs (Easter Egger) or do you prefer bigger brown eggs (Barred Rock)? Do you have the space for a larger chicken (Australorp) or do you need to get a smaller variety (Bantam) to conserve your resources? Do you need a docile breed that is good with kids (Sussex) or do you have the spine to take on a more feisty breed (Leghorn)? These are all questions you need to ask yourself and decide on before you go to the store or hop online to order your backyard flock.
Fact 4: Chickens are a lot of work.
Chickens need to be fed and always have access to clean water. Their coop needs regular cleaning to keep it from smelling, and to keep your flock free of pesky parasites and diseases that are prone to pop up in dirty environments. If a member of your flock isn’t acting or looking right, a trip to the vet is probably in order. You will need a chicken sitter when you go on vacation to collect eggs, let the chickens out and back in their coop, and to feed and water them. Be sure you have the time to commit to the little feathered gold mines before you start building a coop.
Fact 5: Chickens are great for your backyard.
While researching chickens, I spoke to my neighbor who has what I jokingly refer to as the Chicken Hilton in her backyard. When I asked her why she kept them, she said that she loves that the food her picky eaters won’t eat doesn’t go to waste. She said that she feeds a lot of her kitchen scraps to the chickens, who then provide eggs and compost for her backyard garden.
Another neighbor I spoke with said that she happily lets her chickens free range during the early spring to clear out her garden plot and get a jump on pest control. She also mentioned that she’s seen much fewer Black Widow spiders in her yard and around her house since starting her backyard flock.
Long story short, if you just want to cut down on your grocery bill, you’re better off trying to grow something out of soil than raise chickens. However, if you’re ready for the rewarding challenge of raising an animal who will provide you with eggs for your family, compost for your garden, pest control for your yard, and feathery companionship, then backyard chickens are for you! Do your research. check with your city to make sure you’re doing everything legally, talk to your friendly neighborhood backyard chicken lads and ladies, join an online chicken group or three and enjoy the journey!