There are a lot of different things a homeowner can do with their backyard. You can turn it into a garden plot, a swimming pool, a playground for kids, or even an enormous zen rock garden if you want to. One of the most productive things you can do with your backyard, however, is raising chickens. Great for eggs, meat, and a surprising amount of companionship, chickens make delightful pets and a steady source of both protein and income. Whether you’re still contemplating your chicken coop design or have been keeping hens for decades, you’ve probably found more than a few chicken blogs and because chickens aren’t complex birds, most of the answers are the same. They tell you how to plan the coop, choose the right mix of feed, and build your range fences but every now and then there’s a gem of unique and valuable information that provides a more inside look into what it’s really like to raise chickens. For those still debating how to get started, it may help to have a more in-depth view of the experience.
Talk to Your Neighbors
First, while there may be thousands of chicken experts online, there’s no replacing a local expert to go to and someone to swap egg recipes with. Get to know your neighbors and connect with others who raise chickens in your area, along with a local vet who treats birds because you will eventually need them. This will give you a network of people around you with experience raising chickens and advice to give that will match your exact climate, local predators, and the breeds you’ll want to consider. You can also coordinate community efforts to sell off large collections of eggs by sharing things like a farmer’s market stall.
Be Prepared for Deaths
When you start raising chickens, it’s important to admit to yourself that they are the world’s ideal prey. Chickens are not particularly fast, smart, strong, or clever but they are delicious. They are also birds and occasionally die for no clearly discernible reason. A guest’s otherwise well-mannered dog might go wild and be driven by instinct to kill one of your chickens or a local predator might even sneak into your pen at night. Not to mention the fact that at some point, your most profitable decision will be to butcher a chicken that either turned out to be a rooster or has passed its laying years. If you have children, make sure they’re prepared for this no matter how cute the chicks are.
Get a Heated Water Bowl
Almost everywhere in America has the possibility of freezing overnight, though of course, some states are much colder than others. If you live in a region where the temperature can drop below freezing for longer than two or three hours early winter mornings, it’s worth investing in an electrically heated dog bowl. Keep your chicken’s clean drinking water here to prevent it from freezing and dehydrating your chickens.
There Will Be an Occasional Rooster
In the vast majority of cases, the chicks you buy should be female. However, because it is fairly difficult to discern the gender of a chick accurately, every now and then a rooster will grow up among your hen chicks. Unfortunately, this can not only disrupt your coop politics and cause chicks, in many places roosters aren’t even legal within city limits and you’ll have to act fairly quickly. Most of the time, your best bet will be to simply eat the roosters, as they won’t be egg layers and they will wake the neighborhood.
Know When to Make Stew
Finally, chickens aren’t just valued for their eggs and eventually even egg laying slacks off for most hens. When this happens, or if you get a rooster, or if one of your chickens is painfully injured, the best answer is often simply to kill, clean, and eat one of your backyard birds. The less sentimental you can be about this, the better. Chickens are beautiful, enjoyable to watch, and sometimes even sweet but they are not complex animals and they are made of healthy lean meat. If you and the family can have a good attitude about the natural life cycle of a chicken from chick to laying hen to dinner, you will have a much more enjoyable experience.
Backyard chickens can be a delight, a source of semi-passive income, and a great influence on your home-cooked diet but raising them is something every chicken owner has to learn on their own. If you’re ready to start with your first brood of chicks then we wish you luck on the feathery adventures ahead.