Fuzzy chicks, free range beauties and dozens of fresh eggs. These are the pleasant dreams of many a family that longs to have a little flock of backyard birds. Don’t misunderstand me. You’ll have those things. But there are some other surprises that await you. Here are 5 things no one told me about chickens when we first got started nine years ago.
They stink. The first batch of chicks we received in the mail was SO adorable! You could fit all twenty of their fuzzy little bodies on a paper plate. Hanging out next to the brooder with a cup of coffee quickly became my new pastime, and the smell of fresh wood chip bedding was actually quite pleasant. Fast forward a few weeks. The bigger they got the worse they smelled. The first thing I wanted to do in the morning was not grab a cup of coffee, but change their litter ASAP, because the odor was so foul. We were all so relieved when their new feathers came in and it was warm enough to transfer them to the outdoor coop! Of course, then they started stinking up the coop…
They have a death wish. I’m going to say this as charitably as possible. Chickens have small brains, and that results in less-than-stellar decisions being made on a daily basis. One of our chickens managed to drown herself in 2 inches of water in a bucket. Another refused to go into the coop like all the other birds every evening, preferring to roost in random and weird places, until she finally fell prey to a predator. Our rooster wedged his head between the chicken wire fence and the ground; we found him like that the next morning – expired. And whenever a chicken is even slightly injured or ill, she will simply sit down and give up, letting the others peck on her and literally walk all over her until she dies. Chickens have no will to live, and everything on God’s green Earth loves to eat them. So you’ll have to think about 10 steps ahead of your girls and build the most secure coop possible.
They are entertaining. My husband and I spent many hours sitting on a bench in our backyard just looking at those chickens. They became so tame we could hand-feed them. And chickens do really amusing things like wiggle their bottoms around in the dust to get clean, jump in the air to catch bugs on the fly, and squawk really loudly when they get pecked. One memory that stands out is watching twelve chickens trying to steal a dead mouse from my cat.
They are destructive. I’m still a bit miffed about all the plants and vegetables our girls have ruined over the years. And it doesn’t take long; a gang of the girls can wrap up a hit job in about 10 minutes flat. So this is just a heads up if you are going to free range: chickens get into everything and their beaks and claws are sharp. When ours started coming onto the deck of our house, devouring all the cat food and pooping everywhere, we confined them back to the chicken yard. Just last week, our chickens found a way to get out of their cage. In about 5 minutes, they had ripped all my perennials out of the front flower bed by their roots. So much for planting stuff that was supposed to come back on its own this spring!
They won’t make you rich. Before getting started, we had visions of some lucrative side income selling fresh eggs. And while we did sell some eggs, it didn’t even come close to making a lot of money. There are several reasons for this. You’ll obviously want a lot of the eggs for your own family. Secondly, most hens slow down or stop laying during the cold months. And finally, it’s hard to compete with organic, free-range eggs at the big box store that cost less than $5 per carton. Unless you have a humongous flock of birds, or can corner a niche market of city-dwellers who will pay a premium for fresh eggs, you’ll be lucky to get around $3 for a dozen of your beauties. It helps pay for a bag of feed, but it won’t make you rich. So don’t count your chickens before they hatch. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
Have YOU had any surprises raising backyard animals?