For the past year, we've raised chickens in our city backyard- here are our thoughts
Ah, yes- our friendly, fluttering, feathered dinosaur-descendants- or as most would call them: chickens. These floofy girls have been a part of our lives for just over a year now, and we've got to say, they're (mostly) an absolute joy. With that being said, we've got some thoughts. Are you shocked? Me neither. We get a lot of questions about these egg-laying ladies, so we'll try and cover some of that as well as general recommendations should you choose (or if you are at least thinking about) letting them make a home in your backyard.
You will grow to love and care for them
Perhaps this is obvious, maybe it's not. If you're anything like us, before owning them, we didn't give them much thought. They were a farm animal we didn't run into that often until we found them in fajitas or the like. But now, they're much much more. They're pets, they trust us, and they're a part of our small family now. They even run to greet us when we exit the back door. We're not going to tell you to stop eating meat, of course- but we definitely think about eating chicken, and all animal proteins, a little bit differently now.
They're nature's favorite prey
This is perhaps the most unfortunate truth about owning chickens in a backyard and a pet-like sense: they're fragile. If something can eat them, it will try. Foxes, hawks, raccoons, your neighbors' dogs- they've all got their eye on your backyard birds. And to be fair, if they were a farm chicken, a human would consider them a meal as well. But when you are the one raising them, you have to take quite a bit of extra care to ensure their safety. If you've been following us for a few months, you'll probably remember we lost one of our four chickens, Sophia, to a peregrine falcon that nests in St. John The Baptist's church tower. It was unexpected and shocking, to say the least. In the city, these falcons are really our biggest threat and we've had to allow our hens some freedom only under supervision, and at times when these falcons are less active from our observation. So remember, just because you might be in a more urban area does not mean something won't come after your chickens.
You'll have to strategize with your garden
Do you enjoy flowers, vegetables, and fruit? Awesome, so does your chicken. For the most part, if it's pretty, your hens will try their best to peck at it, eat it, scratch around it, and more. In our first summer with them, we quickly learned that most leafy plants will quickly become lunch for the girls if they're able to get to it. We've had to wrap our vegetable gardens in chicken wire (the name is fitting indeed), as well as building barricaded flower beds with a lip of sorts- enough of a height barrier so that when these girls are scratching around, all of the dirt, mulch, and rock doesn't dirty up the rest of your yard. We have, however, had some success with few plants that it appears they're not fond of: rose bushes, azaleas, and anything bulb-based like daffodils, hyacinths, bearded irises or tulips. For whatever reason, they just seem to ignore these flowers and scratch around in the dirt instead. In conclusion, beyond just having a coop that is safe and secured, make sure the rest of your yard is prepared for them- if you're going to let them out, of course.
Overall, they require very little daily attention & maintenance
Chances are, your chickens aren't going to wake up up at 5am meowing for food- at least, I sure hope not. Jokes aside, our girls have been very easy to take care of- apart from the security aspect we've already covered. We use a solar-powered and timed coop door that opens and closes at specific times (it can open and close at sunrise and sunset, too), and their food and water are both gravity fed and can store up to a few days or even a week. If you need to go away for the weekend, nothing is really required of you. We usually ask someone to collect eggs every day (and they get to keep them as a bonus), but even that isn't completely necessary. Freshly-laid eggs left at room temperature won't even need to be refridgerated for up to a month, which is pretty mind blowing if you're an American and have only ever seen eggs stored in a fridge. But really, apart from egg collection, they're generally on autopilot!
The eggs really are better
I mean, it goes without saying, right? This is probably why you wanted backyard chickens in the first place. If you clicked the link above, you'll see the fun fact that most eggs in a grocery store are already at least a month old. Add in however long they sit on the shelf, however long they sit in your fridge, and beyond, and you've got some not-so-fresh eggs. Really, there's just something special about walking out to your backyard, collecting three or four eggs, and then cooking them for breakfast right then and there. On top of that wholesome imagery you probably just visualized, they really are better for you. The data is there- they're higher in many vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids, and lower in both cholesterol and saturated fat. It should make sense, considering your hens will get to scratch around, peck at things, and eat a varied diet, compared to factory farm hens that never leave an absolutely minuscule cage.
They're cute and sweet
This is probably the most basic of all, but... just look at them. They're fluffy and plump... and those weird little feets! Cuteness aside, you'll be shocked learning how affectionate chickens are. This can of course vary by breed, but our standard-egg-laying girls follow us around, jump in our laps, help us dig around in the garden so they can be rewarded with a worm or grub, and more. Personally, I expected chickens to have little or no personality. I mean, they're birds right? We've all seen a pigeon before and thought nothing of it, and you probably knew someone with a parakeet growing up and didn't think it was that special. But chickens, similar to cats and dogs, have been domesticated for thousands of years. As such, as long as you play a healthy part in raising them from chicks, they'll form a strong relationship with you that you possibly weren't expecting.