Since getting chickens four months ago, I’ve been surprised how many people ask the same questions over and over. I love talking about my chickens, but I’m by no means a chicken-expert. I can only share what I’ve read and experienced so far, and point you in the right direction to learn more. Here are a few of the questions I get asked most often…
1. Don’t you need a rooster to have eggs?
This has to be the number one question I am asked when people find out I have chickens. I regularly get the are you stupid-stare when I tell people I have six hens and am expecting eggs.
I promise you: hens will lay eggs without a rooster. Of course, the eggs won’t be fertilized, but unless you’re trying to propagate your own flock, that part doesn’t matter!
The short answer is: very likely. The price of eggs is going up right now due to an outbreak of avian flu, and if you compare your costs versus the cost of organic, free range eggs and don’t count the cost of your time invested, you might break even.
Chickens don’t have to be terribly expensive, but they’re not cheap either. There are lots of ways to cut your costs: Make your own brooder from a cardboard box or Rubbermaid container. Build your coop from wood pallets or other upcycled materials. (Pssst, here’s a secret — chickens don’t care if their coop is a Pinterest-perfect cottage. They just want to be protected from the elements and predators.) Offset feed costs by letting your chickens free range and supplementing their diet with chicken-safe kitchen scraps. (Find more ideas for cutting feed costs from Abundant Permaculture, here and here.)
Ultimately you have to decide if the little bit of extra money and your time are worth it to know where your food comes from. Buying organic/cage-free/free-range eggs from the store is great, but walking out to your back yard and getting eggs from your happy, healthy chickens is even better.
3. Don’t chickens smell AWFUL?
I heard this a lot before I got chickens. People told me their manure was horrible. I’ve noticed, as my chickens have gotten older, that it has a stronger odor and that the extremely rainy weather we’ve been having makes it worse. But in my experience so far, it’s really not any worse than any other manure I’ve been around. Poop is poop. Our current coop is near our house, not far from our fire pit and picnic table, and the smell isn’t noticeable at all. Having a good cleaning routine certainly helps, and doesn’t take a lot of time (see the next question).
At least chicken poo has an upside: really great compost. You can learn more about that here.
4. How much time does it take to care for backyard chickens?
Chickens are not time consuming livestock at all. Most days, I spend 15 minutes or less tending to them.
On a typical day, caring for six chickens looks like this…
Morning: Stumble out to the coop half-awake. Open chicken door and say hello. Do a head count to make sure everyone is there and looks healthy and happy. Put out their food. Check their water (if it’s low or dirty, hose it out and re-fill it). (= 5 minutes or less?)
Late afternoon (after work): Check chickens. Make sure food and water are full/clean. (= 2 to 5 minutes) Optional: spend time being entertained watching the chickens peck around the yard. (They’re pretty amazing to watch.)
Evening (sun down): Make sure all six hens are in the coop. Close chicken door. Carry feeder indoors. (= 3 minutes or less)
Once or twice a week (depending on how muddy and mucky things have been), add maybe 10-15 minutes to clean out the coop:
Scrape chicken manure off the board under the roosts into the compost.
Rake up dirty straw in the run and put it in the compost. Spread fresh straw.
Hose off roosts and scrub with a brush.
Do a “deep clean” of the water container (hose out and scrub).
I think that’s a more than fair time commitment for all the fresh eggs your chickens will repay you with!
5. Aren’t you worried about attracting predators/getting salmonella/[insert other fear]?
It’s true that chickens are pretty much the bottom of the food chain and a favorite of predators like weasels, raccoons, possums, birds of prey, fox, coyote, and about any other critter that eats meat. It’s also true that you should take some precautions when handling chickens to prevent salmonella infections.
But does that scare me? No. While I can be a hyper-protective mama at times, I also personally believe as a culture we go way overboard rubberizing and sanitizing and generally shielding ourselves and our children. I believe in using common sense, like thoroughly washing your hands any time you handle your chickens or work in the coop. I certainly recommend predator-proofing your coop and run. Use your head.
Humans domesticated chickens as early as 8,000 BCE. Families in this country have raised chickens for generations. In the past, humans didn’t have nearly the knowledge of sanitation that we do today. We have antibacterial soap to wash our hands and bodies. We have washing machines to clean our work clothes, and the wealth and utilities to wash them regularly. To help protect us from predators, we have electric fences, trail cams, elaborate traps and firearms if necessary. No one is sitting outside in the dark protecting their flock with a spear.
I feel pretty confident with a little common sense and work, chicken keeping is a worthwhile and safe endeavor.