5 Things We Wish We Knew Before Getting Chickens
This is it. It's what everyone wants to see, what you all came to hear about- the chickens. These little backyard chickadees have brought a lot of joy into our lives during quarantine (and other interesting situations, but we'll get to that later). So, what's it really like to own "farm" animals in the city? Well, read along a little bit further and we'll get into those details.
1. The Internet Isn't Lying- Chickens Are Smarter Than You Think
Yes, it's true. If you search "chicken intelligence" on Google, you'll be sure to discover plenty of articles detailing the unsuspecting wit of these feathered mini-raptors. My favorite claim, now seemingly substantiated, is that chickens are smarter than human toddlers. Indeed, you read that correctly. More specifically, this relates to something called "object permanence"- a trait that chicks possess at only a few days old, but takes human toddlers a few years to develop. Basically, chicks and chickens understand that even if something isn't immediately visible to them (i.e. in front of their face) they know it still exists. Conversely, this is why peek-a-boo provides such endless surprise to a human baby. On top of that nifty trait, there are a few other... interesting claims- my favorite being that chickens understand structural engineering (???). I'm not even going to begin trying to expand on this one, but you're welcome to read further at your leisure. But back to the point- why do we wish we knew chicken intelligence beforehand? Well, frankly, it's because I used to never feel bad about consuming chicken. I (wrongly) assumed that they were just another dumb bird like a pigeon (which is also incorrect). And while we had cut back on mammalian meat consumption in our household, chicken meat eating levels remained quite regular. And while we still haven't given it up completely, it's certainly been reduced, and we're now more holistically conscious about our meat products no matter the source.
2. They're Good (And Bad) For Your Garden
No doubt, chicken poop is great fertilizer- and it's free, and there's a lot of it. Can confirm. However on the flip side, chickens love your garden and what it grows just as much as you do. And we don't just mean admiring the flowers. They eat them. Anything you're growing is potential chicken food, whether it's a sunflower or lettuce or grass- they'll eat it. And this is isn't all bad, they're definitely great at weed and pest control. But if you're trying to avoid all of your garden-work being pecked away at, you'll probably need to fence off your produce areas.
3. They're Diggers
Bird baths are cute. We all enjoy watching a chirping little finch dart in and out of a small puddle or trickling fountain, wetting its beak and shaking its shimmering feathers. Chickens, however, take dirt baths. They get clean by getting dirty. Counterintuitive, right? Tossing around in the soil helps exfoliate their skin, shake off loose feathers, and smother any insects or parasites that might be crawling around. What does that mean for you? Holes, essentially. If you have a pristine back lawn of Kentucky Bluegrass that is your pride and joy, it's probably in your best interest to keep the chickens off of it. If you're more lax about the general aesthetics of your yard, let the girls roam. It's good for them and will help rid your yard of ticks and other pests. And besides, grass upkeep is pretty environmentally unfriendly with little reward besides appearance anyway.
4. Trash? Composter? Psh, You've Got Chickens!
This isn't a lecture, but we all remember the three R's. Chickens help with reducing food waste. Have extra produce or inedible scraps? Give 'em to the girls. They're basically flying garbage disposals (or maybe gliding). Bonus points also go to our neighbors who feed them leftovers as well. If you do also have a composter, your chicken-coop cleanings can got straight into the bin as well. It'll be great fertilizer for (hopefully chicken-proof) garden next year!
5. They Really Do Have Personalities
Although they were near-identical when we first brought them home, the girls have all come into their own in regards to personalities. While one is skittish, two are quite welcoming and enjoy being petted and picked up, and another routinely enjoys a short hop a short fence into our neighbor's yard. And they do treat certain individuals differently. Chickens can recognize around 100 faces, so they'll know who their parents are (you), who your neighbors are, and who visits frequently.
We could probably have a much longer listicle, but we'll keep this one short and sweet- just like our girls. We know not everyone in the city has space to contain chickens, but if you've ever thought about or considered owning a few feathered friends, consider this article an upvote on that idea. Every day is a new adventure with our chickens, but our their kind, mischievous, and ditzy personalities provide us with a lot of laughs, especially when those seem to be in such short supply these days.