One cold Saturday morning in February, my good husband paused in his usual Saturday busyness to remind me that this was the evening of his annual Christmas work party.
I was just getting over a nasty cold, and all I really wanted to do that evening was to take a long, hot, Epsom salt-infused bath, and then fall into bed for a good ten hours of blissful, dreamless, sleep-of-the-dead sleep. I had been thinking hard about it, in fact, already, though it was only morning. I had been planning it, thinking that if I could only just get through the day . . . that the epsom salt, hot water, early bedtime, sleeping Zombie-ness would be waiting for me.
Hoping somehow to alter the course of the next twelve hours by focusing all my mental energies on it, I blew my nose for the hundredth time, closed my eyes, and concentrated. Hard.
“Christmas Party? Christmas Work Party?” I stammered. I coughed. I winced. I blanched. I shook the cobwebs in my head.
Because it was February. Christmas parties are generally, you know, held around Christmas. Perhaps Bryan had it wrong, and there was no work party to go to, but just a cozy well-appointed bed into which I was soon to plunge. For a good ten hours. Or more. Sleep of the dead, and whatnot. I possibly just misheard my husband’s mention.
That’s probably what he meant to say.
But–alas–no. The party was that evening, and so I had to dress up (yes, that means panty hose) and carefully pack an evening’s worth of tissues for my dripping nose into my purse, and brace myself for an evening of polite chatter with pleasant people (many of them also in panty hose) I didn’t know. (I’d rather be out in the chicken coop, honestly, Gentle Reader, scraping crusted manure off the perches <–don’t tell my hubby this! ) But. (Wait. He already knows. Ha!) Cold or no cold, my strong introverted tendencies or no–I wasn’t going to wimp out on Bryan, when he asks so little of me and besides, there was a good meal to look forward to, and it had been quite a while since we’d been to a real restaurant. Like, I couldn’t even remember the last time.
Just the two of us. Oh, well, and forty or thirty or a hundred of his people from work, of course. *Siiiiigh*
The people who work with Bryan are all the super-nicest people, of course, and they were all very polite and sweet to me as we met, and then they naturally moved on to topics of conversation which were work-related and thus totally out of my range of caring. My husband’s a therapist. Either he can’t talk about what’s going on at work, or he just doesn’t want to. It’s all confidential and intense. Brow-furrowing matters, you know.
So, feigning disinterest, to allow the confidential and intense conversations to ensue, I moved to our table with a sigh, and sat down next to a young couple who were sitting quietly there. I dug delicately into my purse for a tissue. I smiled at them in a demure manner. I adjusted my dress. I dabbed at my sore nose. I sighed again. Let the evening begin, thought I, a bit gloomy, glancing at my watch. And where’s the food, anyway?
And then. And then, the lovely young woman–the wife of one of Bryan’s co-therapists– sitting next to me, asked a question about chickens. She wanted to know all the pros and the cons of keeping chickens. She had already raised meat chickens, so she wasn’t a total chicken newbie, but she had never taken the plunge into year-round chicken ownership, and she really wanted to know the scoop (no pun intended). Mercy. I perked up. I blew my nose with more gusto. I smiled, this time with genuineness. My evening was saved.
We started talking. I clung to her as I would have clung to a lifeboat, in a stormy sea filled with . . . boats full of . . . um . . . intense therapists talking confidential business, in hushed tones, no less. She and I talked chickens, and gardening, and kiddos, and the evening just flew by.
It was delightful.
On the way home, it struck me that I had been involved in a lot of conversations lately about chickens. Apparently (for good or ill) I am becoming locally known as the “Chicken Lady.” I don’t mind this. I don’t think I mind this, anyway. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I guess I could be called worse things. Let’s just leave it at that.
I guess I’m also getting to the point in my life where I’m known for “having been around the coop a time or two.” 🙂 Figuratively speaking, and literally. I know things about keeping chickens. Lots of things, borne out of years and years of experience. Yup. Plenty of things. Enough to fill a small book, probably. But we’ll start with this blog post.
We ordered our first batch of day-old chicks twelve years ago, and we’ve kept chickens ever since. It’s not a difficult process, but you do really need to go into it with your eyes wide open. There are absolutely wonderful things about keeping chickens, and there are things that will make you cry. I’m going to write them all down, now, just for you, my Gentle Reader, just in case you are contemplating taking the plunge into a chicken-blessed 🙂 life.
So, without any further ado: Here we go!
Let’s start here: the Pros of Keeping Chickens, or the Things that will make you Smile, or Laugh, even, possibly:
- There will be manure, lots of manure. And did you know that chicken manure, once composted properly, adds nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to your garden or compost pile? Some folks think it’s even better than cow or horse manure, and will keep chickens just for the manure. “Manure: My Garden’s Secret Weapon!” That could be on a bumper sticker! Hey!
- Baby Chicks. Cutest. Things. Ever. And you can hold them, and love them, and cuddle them.
- Freshest high-quality food you can get. It happens to me quite often: I’m out in the chicken coop, picking up eggs, and a hen lays an egg right then and there, and I catch it in my hand, and it’s still warm and dampish from her body. And I know that I’m going to have the freshest breakfast ever, that day. I never tire of eating eggs. There are so many ways to fix them, and the eggs from your own backyard chickens are going to be the best and the freshest eggs that you will ever eat, bar none! Also, when and if you butcher the old hens, the soups and dumplings and pot pies and so forth that you make from them will be, in a word: legendarily delicious. (Oops, that was two.)
- And that brings me to . . . in the case of (God forbid) Zombie apocalypse or the untimely collapse of your economy, or even an unexpected sharp downturn in your income, as long as you keep chickens, you and yours will never go hungry. (Unless the hungry neighbors sneak in and take them.) You’ll have daily eggs, and meat, and bones and feet for delicious and healing broths, and you’re more than likely have a broody mama (or three) who wants to hatch out more chicks, and more roosters than you need, so the cycle can continue. When I read particularly bad news about our economy, or the state of the world, this is a comfort to me.
- Chickens are fun to watch. Yup. We have our share of named chickens. Named chickens, you know, are a Protected Species at our place. We will never, ever eat them. Babes. Little Red. Steve Brody. Colonel Klink. Butterscotch. Sir Galahad. Spock. There are days when I linger longer than I should out at the chicken yard, just because I know that I have a lot on my plate that day, and it’s relaxing to just stand and watch the chickens for a few minutes. There’s always something going on out at the chicken yard and I like that. 😉
- Your kids will learn about life. And death. And that “a righteous man cares for the needs of his animals.” (Proverbs 12:10) You can teach your children lots of life lessons naturally, in the chicken yard. Little Mack has shed bitter tears over the demise of a favorite chicken, and also has enjoyed a daily relationship with his favorite hen Babes. We all rejoiced like crazy people, that happy day when she reappeared after disappearing for a few days. Experiencing drama in the chicken yard, I believe–new life, death, illness, good and bad times–will help prepare your children for drama and all those events in their lives, too.
- You’re not supporting the factory chicken farms, which I deem are cruel to chickens. Click here and look at this photo and see if you agree. Who knows, maybe if enough people raised their own chickens, some day these places would go out of business, or at least would have to change their practices to be more humane to the poor birds.
- Chickens will keep you active. Maybe you’re not, but I’m getting older (sloooooowly) and if I want to stay as healthy as possible, I want to avoid a dangerously sedentary lifestyle. If you’ve got chickens, baby, you won’t have a chance to be very sedentary, and that is a good thing–honest! Busy and active people live longer, and are healthier. Chickens will help to keep you busy and active. (Add a garden, and you’re set!)
Okay, to be fair: Here’s the “Con” side of the equation:
- It costs a bit to get started. This, of course, depends on how many, and how big a flock you want. Your chickens will need housing, and feeders, and waterers, and bedding, and whatnot, and that’s before you buy the actual chickens and feed. So there’s an initial outlay of cash that is not small, unless, of course, you already have all this stuff. We had some of it: we had a couple of feeders, and a bit of whatnot, but my husband and sons built our little coop. Of course if you want to start small, with just a few hens, they won’t cost you much at all, especially if you’ve got a small tool shed or a little chicken tractor to use. I guess backyard chickens are becoming more and more mainstream: I saw a small chicken coop for sale at Sam’s Club the last time I was there. It was just big enough for half a dozen hens, and was “cute as the dickens” as my Dad would say, and not very costly.
- You never get a day off. Every single day, you have to take care to feed and water your chickens, to let them out of their coop, and to pick up their eggs, and to shut them back into their coop at night. Even if you’re sick. Even if it’s blizzarding outside. Especially if it’s blizzarding outside. There are things you will learn, of course, to make this process easier. And you can ask others for help, natch’. Especially those who will benefit from the chickens, which is to say, anybody who gets eggs or veg from your garden. 🙂 Although I would estimate that all of this takes me less than 20 minutes a day, still. Also: since I wear a pedometer, actually taking the walk out to the coop two or three times a day I jot firmly into the “Pro” column. It gets me out walking, so it’s a good thing. Just so we have that straight.
- When you take a trip, you’ll need somebody to take care of your flock. Since I pay in fresh eggs and garden veg (and we’re getting about two dozen eggs a day right now) I usually don’t have any trouble finding somebody who will take care of things while I’m gone. Also, we don’t leave our place often. It may be different for you. Not everybody lives under a rock, after all. 😉 Also: the folks who care for our chickens when we are gone, always thank me for the opportunity to putter around on our place. One person’s chores are another person’s fun, I guess. 🙂
- Sometimes chickens get sick and/or die. Sometimes a hen will get an egg stuck in her, um, well, you can read about it right here. Chickens don’t get sick very often (in my experience) but occasionally you’ll be faced with unpleasant decisions to make. Or a rooster’s spurs will get dangerously long and you’re the one who will have to do something about it. Lots of things to contemplate and deal with, though with great resources available online (cough) you are never really alone in this. We are, after all, in this together.
- Predators can be a real pain-in-the-neck. We had a historically awful predator a couple summers ago. He was so cunning and so effective at decimating our flock, we named him: The Dreaded Varmint. We’ve installed taller fences to protect our flock; we keep them safe within their yard until afternoon; we’ve purchased live traps; we’ve installed better screen on the windows and doors of the coop; all this in reaction to predators getting at our chickens. There are things you can do, of course. One main reason we don’t have more predator pressure, actually two: our dogs Ollie and Bea. They keep the predators wary.
- You’ll have to decide what to do with hens once they stop laying, not to mention annoying, dangerous, or superfluous roosters. That is, you may have to make a Permanent Decision concerning them.
- Chickens can be messy, too. You’ll likely need to either provide them with their own fence, or fence in the areas of your property where you don’t want them. Or possibly, both. My hens really go to town, especially, in my flower beds or any place that is nicely mulched :(. They love the worms and bugs and loose dirt, and if I let them have constant free reign, they’ll dig craters anywhere they suspect there are worms and bugs and loose dirt. Not that I blame them.
- There will be manure. Lots of it. I use a pitchfork about once a week to toss the manure and bedding about in the coop, since I use the “deep litter” approach to coop management. (I will get around to writing a post about that some day, I will!) Once or twice a year (usually very early spring, and sometimes late fall, too) I clean the coop out, either applying the manure and bedding mixture to the garden or the compost pile, depending on the time of year. It’s a messy, time-consuming chore, and not for the faint-of-heart. Just sayin’. Although I still consider the manure firmly established in the “pro” column, there are those who consider the manure a tiresome thing.
So there you have it, my Gentle Reader. There’s my list of the pros and cons of keeping chickens. Of course I could add to it at any time, and probably will. If you feel like it, I’d love to hear your own additions in the comments below, if you are fortunate enough to be able to keep chickens of your own.
Once again, thank you for reading! I love you all, I really do. (smooch) <3
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