There are many reasons why people get backyard chickens- fresh eggs and a self-sufficient lifestyle are some of the most common.
Unfortunately, sometimes people who aren’t suitable to raise chickens rush into it and end up with chickens only to give them away after several weeks.
Sooner or later these people realize that chickens are a bit of a nuisance for them and promptly take them to a shelter, give them away, or simply release them into the wild.
Before you get your backyard chickens, make sure you ask yourself these 8 questions to find out if you are suitable to raise backyard chickens.
1. Why Do You Want Chickens?
Do you want fresh eggs? Do you want a ‘different’ pet? Parents can be guilty of buying children an Easter chick. It’s cute right?
Sadly, many places will still sell individual chicks and ducks around Eastertime. Chickens and ducks are social creatures that should not be kept alone.
If you want chickens for the eggs, remember that it takes five to six months until they start laying eggs, unless you buy started pullets (hens that are 20 weeks old). Once laying, a hen will give you an egg roughly every 26 hours or so. If you have a family of four, you will need at least four hens to keep your supply of eggs running.
If you do want a hen as a pet, remember they are social animals- two is best. There is an array of accessories for indoor chickens: diapers, toys, harnesses and leashes. I have even seen pictures of a hen being wheeled in an enclosed shopping cart! I am told they make great house pets and i have no doubt that is true since they are extremely friendly and inquisitive.
2. Are They Illegal In Your Town?
Many towns and villages have rules about ‘farm animals’. Be sure to check your local ordinances carefully. There is nothing worse than investing time and money in your chickens to find they are not allowed in your area. Always read the zoning laws yourself, do not rely on the zoning officers interpretation.
Several towns and cities have very specific ordinances regarding poultry. They will allow a certain number of hens but no roosters. The coop may also have to be kept at a certain distance from the fence line and may have to be tastefully ‘camouflaged’ to ensure it isn’t an eyesore.
Your neighbors may have concerns regarding keeping poultry- noise and pests being the two most common concerns.
Once your neighbors realize they are not going to be woken at the crack of dawn by a rooster, they are much less likely to complain about the noise factor.
The issue of rodents however, is a very real concern. You should have a plan in place to keep rodent activity at a minimum.
If zoning is currently against you, don’t give up! Check around the neighborhood- are there other people who want to keep hens? When was the last time the zoning was challenged? Would your neighbors be accepting of chickens? If you think you stand a good chance, start up a petition to change the rules.
3. What Type Of Chicken Do You Want?
Do your research. Be clear about what type(s) of chicken you want. Find out which breeds of chicken do better in your local climate. For example, a Mediterranean breed such as a Fayoumi, will not perform as well as a Rhode Island Red in colder climates.
If you want an ‘egg laying machine’, Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds and sex linked chickens are prolific layers and will keep you well supplied just about all year round. Make sure you read our advice on the best 10 breeds that lay lots of eggs!
If you want meat birds, choose accordingly. One woman I met recently was very irate with her chickens- she had bought Leghorns expecting them to be meat birds. Whilst Leghorns certainly can be dual purpose meat birds, they will not put on weight as quickly as a Cornish cross. Because she had not done her homework she was disappointed and frustrated and the birds were still costing her money.
Dual purpose breeds are hens which lay eggs and can be used for meat later on.
If you want a pretty chicken like a Silkie or Polish, bear in mind they lay pretty well but have a tendency to go broody. They also can be bullied by other birds- especially the Polish top hats!
4. Have You Worked Out The Expense?
Your initial dollar lay out should be your only large expenditure.
The cost of chickens can vary wildly depending on the breed. Common birds will cost less to buy than the more unusual breeds. For example, a Rhode Island Red will cost you around $3-4/bird, whereas a Cream Crested Legbar can be in excess of $20/bird.
Make sure you buy them from a reputable source. You want to be able to ask questions- now and in the future. A good breeder will be only too happy to answer your questions and be a resource for you.
Also before your chickens arrive you will need to have feeders, waterers and a coop. I recommend one feeder and waterer for up to eight hens. If you are going to be using second hand equipment, ensure its’ thoroughly cleaned before use.
Check out the prices of coops. Are you going to build your own? Be aware that ready built coops are usually optimistic about how many hens it will hold. Most books will tell you 4 sq. ft./hen for space requirements. While this is an average, it is a reasonable number to keep in mind.
The current price of coops built for 3 – 5 chickens is around $700. If this isn’t in your budget, perhaps you are handy enough to make your own? I have built both my coops and it cost under $400. You can find free coop plans here.
If you do build your own you can build to suit the number of chickens you plan to get. And then make it a bit bigger, just in case you are struck with Chicken Math (aka Morehens Disease)!
Some people have re-purposed a child’s play house to accommodate their chickens. This is an excellent use of resources. Since they are usually plastic construction, all you need to add are roosts, nest boxes etc. and you have a ready- made hen house!
5. Do You Have The Time?
Whilst chickens don’t require much of your time, they still require a daily commitment. At the very minimum, an early morning visit to let them out, check the feeders and waterers, and see that all is well.
Then another visit in the late evening (dusk), to collect the eggs and lock them up for the night.
If you think that this minimum commitment sounds like too much effort, then chickens probably aren’t for you.
However, you’ll find once you get your chickens you won’t want to stay away! Talking and interacting with your birds has an extremely calming effect.
The more time you spend with your birds, the more you will see personalities shine through. Through careful and frequent observation you will notice when a bird is sick or not feeling well.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that your time commitment will increase over the winter months. Unless you invest in a heated chicken waterer, you will be walking back and forth to the coop to replenish fresh, drinkable water at least two or three times day. If chickens are deprived of water for just a few hours it will cause problems with their egg laying schedule.
6. Scoop from the Coop
Hen houses have a certain fragrance. Yes, chickens are adorable, but did you know that aside from the daily egg, a chicken can produce just under two pounds of poop a week? That’s great news for your garden, but meanwhile what do you do with it?
You hen house should be cleaned of poop at least once a week so that it doesn’t become a filthy, fly ridden mess.
I clean mine out daily and use a thirty gallon trash bin. At the end of each week I wheel it to the compost area. If you have neighbors that are close by, you may have to cover the poop layer with a layer of straw/leaves to keep the flies down. However, if you compost properly, you should not have any issues with smells or pests.
7. Illnesses and Disabilities
This means you – not the hens! Recently, I have been unable to do daily chores following surgery. I have the luxury of a very understanding spouse who took on these chores.
What is going to happen if you are suddenly sick or incapacitated? Is there someone who will take over for you? If you are serious about taking on chickens and their welfare, you have to look ahead and try to prepare for all sorts of problems.
There are many disabled people out there who keep chickens. If wheelchair bound, there is no reason why a coop cannot be modified to accommodate access to the coop and run.
If there is someone who can help you, make sure you have a ‘daily sheet’ of the things that need to be done for your birds. If you anticipate being unable to do things for a lengthy period, typing up a sheet of daily chores and weekly maintenance stuff is worth its weight in gold.
If you are someone who enjoys their vacation with a couple of weeks away from home, don’t forget your chickens!
They will need to be cared for daily, so you need someone reliable to tend to your feathered friends.
The ‘daily sheet’ is invaluable here too. Don’t forget to add the name of your veterinarian to the list, just in case…
Raising chickens can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do! However before you rush in and get your own, make sure you really think over these questions.
Are you able to make the time commitment these girls need? Does the breed you want thrive in your local climate? Have you checked your town’s zoning laws to make sure you can legally keep chickens?
If you find you have answered more yes’s than no’s to the questions above then maybe it’s time you got your own backyard chickens!
Research and preparation are the keys to success with any project and so with chickens. If you take the time to plan ahead, you will be enjoying your girls for years to come.
We’d love to know what questions you asked yourself before you got your own backyard chickens…