About a month or so ago I put a call out on my facebook page for people to send me their questions because I thought it would be amusing to do an advice column. Naturally, my friends thought this was tremendously funny and sent me a bunch of questions that were either (a) obviously a joke or (b) were questions but not of the advice-y nature. Then Dear Abby died and a friend of mine PMed me and said she was going to spread a rumor that I offed her so I could reign supreme over the advice column world. I postponed any advice giving so any rumors of a hostile advice column take over could die down.
So now, I would like to introduce what I hope will be a re-occurring segment: What Would You Do Wednesday
or (Potentially) Bad Advice for Good People. I haven’t quite settled on a title.
My very first question comes from someone who hates having a lawn and wants an expensive fix for it.
I have been thinking about getting chickens and I saw that you have them. How do you like them and what advice do you have for those of us sitting on the fence?
I love my chickens and keep meaning to do a post about my experience being a suburban chicken keeper. They are fascinating creatures and they have quickly wormed their way into our hearts. That being said, they are messy, messy beasts who will destroy your lawn and crap on your patio furniture. If you have one of those lovely, decorative backyards and you want to keep it lovely and decorative, then do not get chickens. Chickens are feathered wrecking balls that live to destroy. They will suck your time, your energy and your money, and will reward you with eggs…sometimes.
If I had it to do over, I would have liked someone to tell me that the phrase “up with the chickens” is not an exaggeration These ladies get up early, and so will you. Gone are my days of lazily sleeping in until 7. The girls are up and at em early, and so am I.
To keep chickens you first most importantly want to make sure you can legally keep them. Many cities will allow hens but no roosters. If this is the case do yourself and your neighbors a favor and follow those rules. Once you know you can legally have them you will want to identify what kind of structure they will live in. Our hang out in the yard during the day so their coop is on the smaller side. If yours will be in the coop (or in a coop/run combination) then you will want something larger. Happy chickens lay better, so be nice to your girls and give them the most space you can. Research the different breeds and take your lifestyle and family situation into account. We went with breeds known for being docile because we knew we were going to have small children around (supervised, of course), and were known to be good layers. You will want to figure out how many chickens you want to have, we went with three because I had read this was the minimum needed for them to maintain their social structure. For a family of 2.5 this has worked out well for us. You will want to make a schedule for their care, I do a deep clean weekly and smaller clean ups during the week. Its not a lot of time, but it is a fair amount of mess. Lastly, you will want to figure out where you can take them if they get sick. Find out if there is a vet near you that will work with chickens. I know it seems strange, but these birds live for many years and will in all likelihood need medical attention, better to know in advance where you will have that done before a crisis.
Chickens are not machines. If you get young birds they may not be laying yet, or if they are old enough they may be annoyed or even traumatized by the move and will stop laying for a bit. They will stop laying if they are not feeling well, if they are molting or of they are stressed (or for a multitude of other reasons). They may not lay in the nest box, our girls like to rotate where they lay and will nest under various plants in the yard. Its not a big deal but it is something you want to keep an eye out for. Chickens love your leftovers (although there are foods they should not be given) and can help reduce food waste and their poop is great for your compost.
I am a fan of chickens and I love that we have them, although I do miss having a nice lawn sometimes. If you are seriously considering getting your own backyard flock please do your research, one of my favorite websites is backyardchickens.com. Also check out meetup, some places have chicken keeping groups and its really kind of fun to meet chicken nerds in person.
Edited to add (because I was writing this with an infant sleeping in my lap and it occurred to me this morning I did not really wrap this up): lovely readers, have you also jumped on the chicken bandwagon? What advice would you give to a newbie? Chicken advice aside, is there a burning question you would like to see addressed? Let me know