Are Fowl for You?

Pros and cons of raising backyard chickens

OHL Chicken Shoot 020
A buff Orpington struts her stuff. Photography by David Gibb.

Like just about everything, raising chickens has its pros and cons. We asked a couple of local chicken owners, Andy Pyle of Ashland and Aaron Musler of Jacksonville, for their advice.

The Downside

You can expect lots of poop. If you allow your chickens to run freely, droppings pretty much show up everywhere.

Your garden may suffer. Chickens can and will dig up anything they can get their beaks and feet into. Short of keeping your birds cooped up 24/7, the solution is to provide them with their own large space that is fenced in and away from the garden. 

Your social life may suffer. Chickens need routines and to be fed at regular intervals, which can make vacations and other trips a problem. The solution is to batten down the hatches to ensure the chickens’ comfort and safety, and to make nice with the neighbors so they won’t mind looking in to feed and water them.

You may get some unwanted company. Rats, for example, or other pests looking to chow down on food scraps you leave out for your chickens. The most natural solution is to adopt a free-range cat.

You’ll have startup and ongoing costs. Chickens require fencing, a coop, feed and more. 

You might face some tough decisions (and conversations). Chickens with relatively long lives ahead of them stop laying eggs at age 3 to 5. Unless you plan on running a retirement community for barren hens, you’ll have to decide what to do with them once they stop laying. The solutions include slaughtering them for meat yourself; taking them to someone who will process them; or finding folks who are happy to take them in as pets.

The Upside

Your reward is eggs. It takes roughly 26 hours for an egg to form from start to finish, so a hen can conceivably lay six eggs a week, but three to five is more likely.

You’ll have plenty of outdoor time, either alone or with the family. There’s time to be spent doing chicken-related chores, which, of course, means being outdoors (and away from the TV or other screens). But just watching the chickens is entertaining, too. They have personalities for you to discover and a pecking order for you to figure out.

You’ll have a cool icebreaker to engage the neighbors. Plus, you’ll be popular and enjoy a feel-good vibe if you have egg bounty to share.

You’ll be part of the homesteading trend. Working toward a goal of producing as much as you can to feed yourself and your family in the space you have.

You’ll be eating as locally as you possibly can. By controlling what goes into the chickens that produce the eggs, you control what goes into your family when they eat the eggs. And you’ll have a 0-mile commute to get it.

You’ll save money in the long run. Also, you could potentially make a little extra by selling the eggs to neighbors or at local farmers’ markets.

You’ll provide your children with real-life lessons. Raising animals teaches about food, nutrition, responsibility and a self-sustaining lifestyle. 

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Egg-cellent!

OHL Chicken Shoot 015

“If you don’t like cleaning up after pets, chicken-keeping probably isn’t for you.”

— Aaron Musler of Jacksonville, backyard chicken farmer

 

Photo: Adam, Matthew and Sarah Musler of Jacksonville.

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