Everyone seems to want to do their part to help the environment, become sustainable, treat animals more humanely, eliminate the dependence on corporate farms, etc. So, more often than not, I hear someone at a party talking about how they are going to get chickens in the Spring.
Then they begin to illustrate to me the benefits of having your own chickens. About how they will add to the fulfillment of their lives. Fresh eggs every day. Great for teaching the kids responsibility. “My pet poops food.” etc. When they start down that path, I tune them out and all I can hear is a QVC schpeel for Gweneth Paltrow’s GOOP or Essential Oils or some other thing people convince themselves is going to make their lives perfect.
Also, I have had backyard chickens in a suburban environment. There are magazines out there that celebrate urban chickens. A grassroots, back to basics approach that reconnects us to our food and the land. They feature exotic breeds and cute pics of kids holding them in their laps. You’ll be the talk of the neighborhood!
After years of this, I know what they are all about. I can honestly say that yes, there are some rewards to having them, but there is also a good reason they are considered farm animals, and maybe they need to stay on the farm.
When you get your chicks, you start off with a kit. Heat lamps, shredded newspaper, starter scratch and feed, cute little Mason Jar water troughs, and some sort of enclosure to keep them in. They are tiny and go “Peep! peep! peep! and you can pick their fuzzy little selves up and pet them. Well, then they hit their chicken teens, and by now you can tell for sure if they are going to be hens or roosters. Hens are what you want. The peeps became “bonk bonk bonk” and outside they go. Hopefully none of them turn out to be the kind that goes “ER-ER-ER-ERRRRRRRR!!!!” when the sun comes up. That would go under the Cons.
Chickens are fun to watch. Their entire existence is based on finding food. Whether it is the scratch and feed you put out for them or whatever bugs, plants, and bits of whatever they deem edible they are pecking at all day long. It’s actually soothing to watch them at it. Their fluffy bodies and bobbing heads. Quick pecks on the ground. Sometimes fussing and fluttering at each other. It’s like watching a cotillion of 18th century women dancing. Because their sole purpose in life is to eat stuff, this is why you can never let them roam your veggie garden.
They are soothing with their “bawwwwnk bonk bonk bonk” all day long. It’s like observing a fish tank and adds time to your life. Of course it just adds exactly as much time as you have spent watching the chickens. Conceivably you could live forever watching chickens. But you probably have better things to do.
The kids like playing with them. For about a day. Or until they get pecked in the eye by one.
The eggs are like little gifts you pull out of the coop every day. It’s weird but it triggers something deep inside that makes you happy. Like “Hey! Look! An egg! This is food. Thank you, food, for making food!”
Fresh eggs are amazing. The rich color, the variation. The flavor! You don’t even need to refrigerate them. The FDA requires that eggs be refrigerated. Because of mass-farming, disease control, and because of money. Eggs you pull out of the coop will likely have some poop on them. Just give them a gentle wash with soap. Bleaching removes the coating that keeps them fresh. Chances are you’ll eat them way before they go stale.
With all that eating and foraging and $30 a month in feed and scratch, it has to go somewhere. That will be in the form of big globs of green and white shit. If you let your hens roam the yard, it will be in your yard. Yes, it does break down and feed the grass, making it green (it is considered a “hot” fertilizer, which grass loves), but until it breaks down, it will be everywhere. So your grass will be green, but you won’t be able to walk around in it in your bare feet.
Your dogs will also track it into the house. Oh yeah, chickens trigger something primal in dogs. There’s a good chance even the most docile of chocolate labs will snap and want to kill all the chickens. So, the two probably won’t be hanging out in the yard together. Eventually, good Ol’ Jeb will rip them to shreds and bathe in their blood.
Sometimes all of that stuff they eat, which you have zero control over unless you keep them penned up all day and keep close watch on what they eat (which goes against the idyllic life of chickens fluttering around your yard like the magazines show). If they eat slugs, grasshoppers, or other stuff they find in the yard, they are at risk for getting parasites. Tapeworms being the most common. They will appear in their droppings, looking like someone rolled the poop in white rice. Only the rice is moving. And very difficult to kill once they get inside the chicken. Or you.
Tape worms will send you to the internet for research and to either the vet (for an expensive dose of medicine–since it’s technically a “pet” and the vet charges a lot of money for their services when you aren’t a farm) or start you on the path to DIY veterinary work when you have to dose your stupid wormy bird yourself. Good luck with that.
It probably won’t get rid of the tapes, and eventually it will kill your pet chicken.
They will not teach your kids responsibility. Your kids, your spouse, all of those traitors will abandon the sustainability revolution, just like they did the goldfish, the dog, the hamsters, and all the rest, leaving YOU to muck out their coop, clip their claws, feed and water them, and everything else. And a handful of large birds that squawk all day, eat/waste $45-60 per month in food, medicine, etc. all so you can get a couple dozen eggs each month.
The mess and destruction are astonishing. The area your hens congregate will become a hard-packed land of denuded earth, packed in with discarded food, shit, and feathers that turn into concrete. Years after you abandon your dreams of being an urban farmer, the grass will still not grow here. They waste most of the food you give them, kicking it all over the place and ignoring it.
The noise. It isn’t just the roosters that make noise. The hens go from peeps to contented bonks to BAAAAAAWWWWWKKKKKK!!!!! at about 110 decibels, which happens literally from an hour before the sun comes up until sundown. Sometimes they flap and freak out. Once in a while you’ll get a confused hen that actually crows.
Molting. When they molt, they stop laying eggs. They get bitchy. They loose lots of feathers and eat, eat, eat.
Running out of eggs. No, you are probably not going to eat the chickens when they stop laying. So, you will have a bunch of freeloaders eating all the food and giving you nothing in return. Hens can run out of eggs within three years. Meaning it will take six months of this to begin laying, and for a while you’ll give about five eggs a week. Then one day, they will stop. Eventually, you’ll have to take them to the “Farm in the country”, or just wait out the next 15 years they can live. Or eat them. By then, they will be tough and disgusting. And you will be a heartless murderer of pets.
The goddamn mice. A hen is a better mouser than a barn cat. It is impressive to watch. Until they get sick of killing them and keep them as pets. All that food they wasted is there for mice, which multiply exponentially. There were days I could set ten traps, and by the time I got the last one set, two had already popped and I could tart all over again. This infestation will soon come into your house. And your neighbors’.
You’ll be the talk of the neighborhood!
Honorable mentions on the list of Cons:
- Vicious, aggressive, goddamned flapping birds
- Very stupid
- Your neighbors’ dogs also want to kill them
- The police
- Noise complaints
- You can only compost so much chicken shit
- Why is everything covered in shit?!?!!