As spring nears you might be tempted to bring home a box filled with tiny baby chicks because the kids will love them, and the locavore movement convinced you that a few backyard chickens are the way to go these days.
Well is that true? Is it a good idea to keep a small flock of chickens in your backyard? Experts like Christine Heinrichs, author of “How to Raise Chickens,” now in its second and updated edition, says yes and no. Heinrichs also authored “How to Raise Poultry.”
Here are 10 reasons why you may or may not want to bring home those adorable baby chicks this spring.
- 1) Raising backyard chickens is a good experience for kids who don’t live on a farm.
- 2) Fresh eggs from your hens are the best tasting eggs ever-plus you know that your hens are cage free.
- 3) Are you ready to provide a secure coop for the chickens? “Almost anyone can have chickens,” Heinrichs begins. “But don’t start out like I did. Have a plan first…Chickens are prey birds. They need security,” Heinrichs emphasizes. “You might not see the raccoon, opossum or coyote, but believe me, they will find your chickens.” A totally enclosed cube is your poultry’s best defense. The least expensive runs about $120, says Heinrichs.
- 4) What will you do when there are one or more roosters in your new batch of “hens?” “Yes, you will likely get a surprise rooster with your batch of chicks from the feed store or poultry supplier.” Many city ordinances allow hens, but not roosters-for obvious reasons. Your neighbors are not likely to appreciate his pre-dawn crowing.
- 5) Your backyard flock will eagerly await scraps from your kitchen. That’s a win-win for the environment and your chickens. Heinrichs writes, “Chickens are omnivores-they eat all kinds of food, both plant and meat….(but) like all critters, they do better on a diet that meets their nutritional needs than one that falls short. They lay more eggs and are more resistant to illness if they are getting a good ration.”
- 6) If your flock can roam the backyard, they’ll dine on bugs and seed, but don’t depend on your backyard for their entire food source. Your chicks “…will need a starter mash, and then graduate to scratch feed and other feeds blended for your region and the purpose of your flock,” advises Heinrichs. Feed is not inexpensive.
- 7) Chickens can be messy, noisy and require additional work on your part. For instance, What will you do with their waste? Heinrichs lines her chicken coop and run with wood chips. The chips absorb the waste which she eventually adds to her garden. “I like wood chips for the climate where I live.”
- 8) A hen’s best laying years are her first three years. She can live to be 12-15. So, is she a pet or a food source? Are you willing to put her in the pot? Some animal shelters are concerned about an overabundance of unwanted aging chickens left at their door for rescue.
- 9) Chickens are sensitive to extreme heat and cold. This requires proper housing, clean and abundant straw and fresh water available at all times.
- 10) What if your hen is sick? Is there a veterinarian that can diagnose and treat your prized hen? Are you ready for a $50 to $100 vet bill?
Home raised chickens are not “cheep.” The eggs that you fry in the morning are literally and figuratively golden when you factor in the cost of a secure coop, feed and care.
But on the other hand, your backyard chickens are part of a self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle, it teaches the circle of life lessons to your children-all reasons why, as Christine notes, “Chickens are the mascot of the local food movement.”