10 Things to know before you get chickens

1.Chickens Can Live For Years

The average-ish age for backyard hens are around 5-8 years. However, they can live longer The record age for a hen is over 20. So, there is a chance that you’ll have these chickens for a long time. Raising chickens isn’t really a fly-by-night kind of thing. They aren’t a fad. If you get tired of having them around, you need to think of a plan for what you will do with them (thinking through this stuff before you get them is a good idea).

2. Hens Won’t Lay Eggs Forever

Since we’re talking about the age of chickens, it might be good to insert that the best laying years are a hen’s first 2 years. After that, she will still lay eggs, but less and less as she ages.

People deal with this situation differently. Some cull (kill and eat) their older hens. Others let them live out their lives in leisure. Again, deciding how you will deal with this BEFORE you get chickens is a pretty good plan.

3.They (Probably) Won’t Lay Eggs In The Winter

Most hens stop laying from late autumn through early spring. They might lay here and there, but not nearly as much as they do from spring through early autumn There are some breeds that lay well through the winter and also, the first year you have your hens they will lay all winter. But expect that generally your egg production will slow way down in the winter (unless you put a light in the coop through the winter–as they need 14-16 hours of daylight to lay eggs).

4.They Will Lose Feathers

Don’t panic if you go into the chicken coop one fall day and see what looks like the remnants of a pillow fight. Feather loss happens for a variety of reasons but the big loss will happen in the fall when they molt. Molting is just their way of shedding their worn out feathers and growing in some new ones so they’ll be toasty warm for winter (your first year chickens probably will not molt the first fall).

Other feather loss can occur when they’re sick, frightened or picking them out because of bugs.

5.They Poop (A LOT)

How much, you might ask? Well, enough to produce 1 cubic yard of compost PER MONTH (per bird). That’s a lot. The good news is, you’ll never have to buy compost again. The bad news is, you’ll become obsessive about checking the bottoms of your shoes after you’ve been outside.

 

6.You (Probably) Won’t Save Money

So many people talk about how much money they’ll save if they have their own chickens. I hate to break it to you, but you probably won’t save anything. In fact, it will most likely cost you MORE than if you purchased eggs at the store.

You WILL receive other benefits besides eggs, though, and that should count for something. Like free fertilizer, entertainment, and bug eradication. The list goes on and on Of course, it goes without saying that you will also have fresher, better tasting eggs than you can get anywhere else. Laid by happy hens (not in a battery farm). Bonus points: the eggs are actually better for you, too.

7. Sometimes You Will Do Everything Right (and It Will Still Go Wrong)

Chickens are both hearty and fragile at the same time. They can live through incredible adversity and fall over dead without warning. They’re also mysterious. They don’t want you to know they’re sick. And even if you notice, so many of the things that can go wrong with chickens all look the same. And even if you figure out what it might be, there may or may not be a treatment and it may or may not work for you if you try it.

8. Some Food is Toxic to Chickens

Just because we eat it, doesn’t mean they can. For instance, while they love tomatoes, the tomato plant itself is toxic to them.  So are avocados, raw potatoes and chocolate, among other things. 

The same is true for medicine and essential oils for your flock. Be very careful and do your research before applying any product to your chickens (and when you do, remember that they are TINY compared to you so adjust your dosage accordingly).

9.Chickens Will Change the Way You See Food

You bring home a chick. And keep her alive for weeks while she grows feathers and gets big enough to move into a coop without a heat lamp. She goes through her gangly ‘teenage’ weeks/months where every day looks like a bad hair day (and only you, her mother (or father) could love her). She grows larger still. And you wait. And wait. One day, 5, 6, 7 months later (whenever she gets around to it), she lays an egg. The household celebrates. You whip out your phone and take a photo of her first egg. Then carry the egg around like a trophy. Finally, you post it on Facebook for everyone to see.

It’s a big deal. Because before then, if you wanted eggs, you hopped in the car and drove to the store and bought some. Now, however, you are connected to the source of eggs. And you nurtured that source for many long months, feeding, fretting, caring for her, before she gave you food.

I can tell you after years of egg collecting, it’s still amazing. I still marvel at the miracle of food and don’t take it for granted. I’m pretty sure it will change you, too. Slowing down and connecting to our food has a way of doing that.

10. You Will Fall in Love

Consider yourself warned. Your pre-chicken self might not believe it, but it’s true. Chickens are endearing and delightful. And they make breakfast. Owning chickens has changed my life (for the better) and I can’t imagine living without them.