Living with chickens
I spent about three years planning to get chickens, but somehow I could never quite get myself set up to do it. So this year, I gave up on getting myself ready (where getting ready means building a chicken coop), and I brought ten little chicks home from the Co-Op Country Store.
Having ten little chickens living in your bathroom is a really good incentive for getting ready to be a chicken keeper. I got that chicken coop built in no time. Okay, not in no time—in fact, I got it built in a lot more time then I originally thought it would take and my bathroom looked like a hazardous waste dump before I finally got the chickens out of my home, and into their own.
And that’s the first thing I never quite came across in all the reading I did to prepare myself for having chickens (and I did a lot of reading). Chickens poop a whole lot more than what you think they do. In fact, chickens are regular poop machines and while all that manure is great for the garden, it’s not so great on your bathroom floor. Oh, and if you put plastic down to protect your floor, the chickens will manage to push it all aside.
The second thing I learned is something that kinda sorta gets mentioned in those books for new chicken owners, but I personally feel it’s not emphasized enough. And that is: everything on this God’s green earth is going to try to kill your chickens, and some of them are going to be successful. I’m talking granddaughters, stray dogs, hawks, wet weather, improperly installed fencing... chickens, especially young ones, are rather fragile and their world is full of risk. And when they die, you cry. A LOT. In fact, you cry so much that you feel a little bit ridiculous because, you know, they’re chickens, but the tears still fall. And then your kids will buy you a whole bunch of replacement chicks and then some of them will die, too, and then you’re crying again, even though you swore to yourself that, “this time, I won’t get attached.” And then you yourself will order even more chickens, because some of the second batch lived and it seems kind of silly to only have a flock of three, especially when you fix eggs for breakfast practically every single day.
Speaking of eggs (which is the primary reason most of us get into the backyard chicken thing, after all)—chickens mature fast, but they don’t mature that fast and by the time you get your flock refurbished a few times, so to speak, your chicks will become laying hens right about the time the days get really short, which is also the time when hens’ laying slows way down. So far I get white and green eggs from my two chickens who are actually laying (out of seven), but they might as well be gold, given the return on investment so far. Of course, they taste pretty darn good, so there is that.
The books also tell you that you need to provide an outdoor run for your chickens, well fenced and covered for their protection, with about four square feet of space per chicken.
What I didn’t see mentioned was that chickens, unlike me, are not particularly fond of hot, sunny weather so if you build your run on the south side of the coop (figuring that we have about 8 months of winter, it seems, and solar gain is important), then you’re going to have to build them another run for summer.
Or just let them free. Because according to my chickens, four square feet each is not nearly enough room and what they really need is most of my almost acre of land.
The cats didn’t like it when I started locking them in the house in order to let the chickens roam the yard, especially when the chickens quite enjoy sitting on my porch and looking in the windows to make fun of the trapped cats. Nonetheless, the cats stayed inside until the chickens were big enough to fend for themselves—about the time they grew to the same size as the cats.
And by the way, you’ve never seen anything until you’ve seen a chicken chase a cat around the yard. I can hear all the chickadees in the neighborhood cheering when that happens.
You might be under the impression that chickens are a fearful animal—after all, we call people “chicken” when they express fear—but they’re actually quite curious, inquisitive birds. They might startle a bit, like a horse when it gets spooked, but for the most part, my chickens will venture into anything, even the house if the door is left open, which I discovered just today. Chickens don’t particularly care for a downpour, and mine decided that the house was warm, dry, and the place where the treats live, so when I turned away from the sink, there they all were in the kitchen.
While my chickens don’t seem to be overly fond of being held and petted, they’re quite the social creature and will come at a run when anyone comes out the door of the house. They then demand treats—demand them quite loudly—and they really prefer any kind of nut at $9 a pound. Even without treats, however, the chickens will follow me as I make my way around the yard, and quite happily “help” with any chore I might be attempting to undertake. (And poop on it. Don’t forget that part.)
Before you know it, you might find these goofy birds have crept so deeply into your heart that you love your chickens, much in the way you love your dog, your cat, or even your kids.
I have only eaten chicken once since those first baby birds arrived in my life, and my plan to expand my flock to include meat birds didn’t last past the first month. I’m enjoying the eggs though.
But I can tell you, I won’t be bringing a cow home anytime soon.