It’s the New Year and one of your resolutions may be to get chickens. So, let’s discuss the pros and cons of keeping chickens so you can make the right decision for your family.
First and foremost, chickens make awesome pets! They are fun, social, cute, and each has their own personality.
Chickens are also wonderful gardener helpers! They eat bugs and grubs, weed the garden, and generate nitrogen fertilizer. See “gardening with chickens”.
And they lay eggs! Well, the hens do... And they are probably the most “humane” eggs you will ever find (see “egg labels”) because you fully care for them from the day you bring them home to the day they peacefully pass away in their coop.
So, what’s not to like? Show me the chickens!
Well... here are some other things to think about before you decide.
Most importantly, chickens are a long-term commitment. They usually live 8 to 10 years, so if you are looking for a 2-3-year project, they are not it. Also, if you get them for their eggs, know that as a hen ages, she will lay less, and there is no other option than to keep her. See “best home for an older hen”.
Chickens need some of your time each day. Not much, about 30 minutes or so once the coop is set up. Someone needs to open and close their coop, clean it, ensure they have enough food and water, and check that everyone is doing fine. Who is going to take care of them when you are out of town? Is your family onboard with the chicken keeping and ready to get their hands dirty too? Who will look after them when your whole family is going on vacation?
Keeping chickens is more expensive than you think. Don’t get chickens to have cheap eggs, they will be more expensive than any you can buy. In addition to the fixed cost of their housing (a coop can range from $500 to $5000+) and gear (waterer, feeder... $50-100), there is the variable cost. To give you an idea, we spent $185 per chicken per year over the last 3 years:
• food: $45
• bedding + miscellaneous gear: $30
• vet + medication: $110 (not every chicken needs to go to the vet, but when one does, it becomes quite expensive)
Chickens don't require a ton of space. See “my ideal coop” for the minimum requirements. But the more space the better, both indoors and out! Chickens are foragers, and the more foraging they can do, the healthier and happier they will be.
Last but not least, check if your town allows you to keep chickens. Every city has their own rules, so call them. Many do not allow roosters and have a maximum number of chickens you can have, some require permits... While you are talking to them, also check the regulations related to waste disposal, the minimum distance required from the coop to the property lines...
Are you still all the way in?
Next step is to gear up before bringing the chickens home! Here is a detailed checklist.