They’re cute, cuddly, and all the feed stores have them in stock. ‘Tis the season for chicks.
A few weeks ago, I shared about the loss of our chicken Zorro. A week later we lost another chicken to the same mysterious symptoms. The loss of two hens triggered major cleaning and disinfecting in fear that a disease may be running through our flock. We watched the remaining hens closely over the next week. Thankfully, all is well and the six remaining hens are healthy and strong.
With the death of two hens and Spring around the corner, the question of adding to our flock was discussed. The idea of cute, cuddly hens made the little farmer girl living inside, giddy. The romantic idea of having baby hens chirping in lush grass ran through my head. But, after much thought, the practical side came calling. A voice of reason. Important questions needed to be asked before taking the plunge to bring more chickens into our home. Questions which, truthfully, were missed when we first took on the responsibility of backyard hens. The romantic idea of bountiful, fresh eggs and chickens running through the yard outweighed any practical questions. This time around I wanted to make sure we asked ourselves a few practical questions before taking on more hens.
After much thought, we decided to take the plunge and bring in three new hens. Starting as chicks means 6-9 months of raising babies, extra work, and no eggs, with the end result being hens which will lay for years, without question of age or background.
Piper celebrated the big “4” last week and a few baby chickens equaled the perfect gift. Chicks are the gift that keep on giving. (Eggs, anyone?) Don’t worry, he received “normal” gifts too. Piper happily helped pick the new chicks from the local feed store. The chicks we chose are sexed, meaning they are checked to guarantee the chicks won’t turn out to be surprise roosters. Sexing can be controversial, but since we aren’t allowed to keep roosters, sexed hens are important for our backyard flock. Piper chose two black sex links and one golden comet, good egg laying breeds.
Since Spring is the time for new chicks, today, I’m sharing three questions to ask yourself before taking on the responsibility of backyard chickens.
Three Questions Before Getting Backyard Chickens:
1. Am I ready for the responsibility? Bringing chickens into your backyard is a huge responsibility. They’re pretty easy to care for, but take work. Early morning feedings, regularly changing the coop bedding, coop maintenance, late afternoon/evening feedings, and locking the hens in the coop at night. While most the activities become routine, the added responsibilities are just that, responsibilities, which must be performed daily. Our family takes a yearly vacation which means we must find a “chicken sitter” to stay at our house and assume the responsibilities while we are gone.
2. Can I financially afford chickens? When people find out we have backyard hens, one of the first comments we receive is, “Wow, it must be great to have free eggs”. Here’s the truth, keeping backyard hens is a financial commitment. Having a daily stock of fresh eggs is a huge benefit (and the reason we keep chickens), but they are not free. For our family, it’s important to feed our chickens a non-GMO feed. A fifty pound bag, bought monthly, costs around $40. On top of feed we also buy pine shavings or hay, costing around $20 a month. In the evenings our hens receive greens or table scraps, such as leftover veggies. Our hens free-range in a large fenced area of yard, so they also enjoy a daily helping of bugs and natural finds, which brings the food cost down. Eggs aren’t free and neither is keeping chickens. The fact is keeping a backyard flock takes financial commitment. If you’re looking for cheap or free eggs having a backyard flock won’t meet your need.
3. What’s the long-term plan? The romantic idea of getting backyard hens or chicks can often blur the long-term idea of keeping a long-term flock. Hens can live around fifteen years, but only lay eggs for about five years. That’s ten additional years a hen can live, without providing any additional benefit, other than being a pet. Chickens aren’t pets in our home. They are enjoyable and fun to keep, but they are kept for one purpose, eggs. Before taking on new chickens it’s important to consider your long-term plan. What will you do with your hens once they stop laying? Kill them, donate to a local farm? Five years from now will you still want to clean a coop and wake early in the morning to feed the ladies? Think long-term.
There are many details to keeping a backyard flock, before welcoming those cute and cuddly chicks into your home it’s important to have a plan and be prepared for the responsibility. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read, practical guide to keeping backyard hens, my favorite resource is “Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally”.
What questions did you ask before bringing chickens into your backyard? What’s your best advice for a newbie chick(en) owner?