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It’s Time to Get Chickens

Apr. 29, 2020Having backyard chickens is inexpensive, simple, and full of rewards — like daily, farm-fresh eggs produced right from your home.



Puppies are hot right now. Who couldn’t use a little extra distraction and affection these days? 

Which is why you should get some baby chicks, too. Not only are they little bundles of adorable joy. They are really easy to care for, too. And, eventually, they might become a bit less cute, but when they do, they’ll provide you with delicious, fresh eggs every day. 

I never thought I would be a chicken owner. But when my wife and I bought a home that had a large coop, we knew we had to try. 

Chickens are really common where we live, in a rural enclave 15 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Backyard chickens have grown in popularity throughout the country, as trends like locavorism increase, along with skepticism toward traditional food sources. Even urban areas, like Portland, Oregon, where I used to live, are full of them. Most cities have ordinances that might restrict roosters, but allow hens. 

Photo by Michael Anfang on Unsplash

Raising chickens turned out to be pretty easy. We wanted a particular breed of bird — silkies and Columbian wyandottes — so we ordered a flock from the Cackle Hatchery, a family-owned farm in the Midwest, but most local feed stores (which are essential businesses in most places) have oodles of cute baby chicks this time of year.  

Somehow we ended up with 14. That was a lot. A few of the chicks didn’t make it. Six turned out to be roosters, which we gave away to save the hens from getting pecked at, and three more died later (two, sadly, by a couple different dogs). Now we have four, which seems like a good number. As a group, they lay two to three eggs a day, spring through fall (they lay infrequently in the winter). They’ll stop laying around age 6, at which point they’ll become pure fertilizer machines.

But back to the eggs. When they first started laying — about six months into their life — I felt a profound sense of connection from achieving just a little food independence. I feel similarly about our garden. It’s food that is as local as it gets. The eggs didn’t have to be packaged, trucked across the country, or refrigerated in a store until I drove there and picked them up. I just walked to the bin where they lay, grabbed them, gave them a good rinse, and cracked them into the skillet. Simple, fresh, delicious. 

Plus, the chickens are hilarious. They don’t exactly enjoy our company — these are not affectionate creatures — but they’ll sprint toward us at the sound of a seed refill. They’re like strange little dinosaurs, scaly feet and long talons. Ever seen a silkie after being drenched in rain? They turn from puffed out furballs with horrible peripheral vision to glam-punk rockers. Dolly, our golden, lone silkie, always manages to give us a good laugh.

Of course, it’s not all bucolic idylls and glorious omelettes. We have our frustrations with the birds, too. We let ours roam our backyard all day, before they dutifully return to their coop at dusk. So there’s poop, which can attract flies. And they tend to scratch at our plants, especially when they are new and receive a lot of water, sometimes digging them up to the root. Cleaning the coop isn’t exactly a joy, but it’s not hard. We just toss straw and poo into our compost bin, which is, ultimately, great for our soil. The whole thing would make a great educational project for your kid to manage, with inherent lessons about biology and health — especially if they’re stuck at home. 

It should be said that chickens are far lower maintenance than, say, a dog. While traveling, we’ve left them on their own for a week at a time. As long as they have a tightly secured coop and run to protect them from predators, and access to food and water, they’ll be fine. Chickens are also incredibly hearty. Ours have withstood temperatures below zero. 

Photo by Hassan Rafi on Unsplash

We learned a lot along the way. We have happy chickens now. They have an acre to roam about. They spend the day hunting for worms and bugs and giving themselves dust baths, which is their awkward way of cleaning themselves. But we’ve also had sick chickens, hurt chickens, lost chickens. Between helpful neighbors and this indispensable BackYard Chicken blog, answers and support are at the ready. Once, one of our bigger hens had an egg stuck halfway inside of her, which can be deadly. We didn’t really know what to do about that, but the vet did. 

And that’s ultimately the point of trying new things. You learn, you figure it out. You grow. What at first seems daunting or scary becomes mundane. To be so intimately connected to a food source, especially in an otherwise industrialized food system that’s often unsafe and ethically dubious, is an adventure that’s full of lessons and rewards, for just a very small amount of work.

 

Have backyard chickens of your own? Share your tips to raising healthy and happy chicks with us on social @AvocadoMattress using #AvocadoGreenLiving

John Davies

By John Davies

 —  John is the copywriter at Avocado Green and a longtime outdoor journalist. He lives in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife and two dogs.

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