Raising backyard chickens is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America. Interest in the hobby was revitalized by the farm-to-table movement. Legions of would-be backyard farmers are excited by the prospect of an endless supply of farm fresh eggs.
Up until the 1960s, it was common for families in small towns and rural areas to raise their own chickens for meat and eggs. A chicken dinner was a rare treat reserved for Sundays and special occasions. The introduction of industrial farming made chicken and eggs cheap and plentiful, turning them into prepackaged grocery items. We’ve lost the connection between the food we eat and the animals they come from. No one thinks twice about it.
Rachel and I both grew up around chickens. There are many benefits to tending your own flock of laying hens, but it’s hard work. Owning an animal is a major commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. They require daily care and attention.
Before you purchase those cute yellow chicks at the feed store, keep this in mind – they’re your responsibility for the rest of their lives. This is a subject that most people shy away from, but if you’re going to raise chickens, you should know what you’re getting yourself into.
If you suffer from asthma or allergies, you might want to reconsider raising hens. Unlike many birds, chickens don’t take water baths, they take dust baths. Dusting is an important chicken behavior. Flinging loose dirt over themselves is how they rid their feathers and skin of excess oils and parasites. Poultry dust contains fragments of bird droppings, feed particles, feathers, viruses and mites. Breathing it in can make you sick.
Domestic chickens are defenseless creatures. A coop must be a well-maintained fortress. Possums, raccoons, skunks and snakes find chickens and their eggs just as appetizing as we do. Chicken feed attracts mice and rats. Airborne predators include hawks and owls. Even the most vigilant chicken keepers will lose hens to predators. The only thing worse than finding a preyed upon carcass is finding a mortally wounded bird.
Are you prepared to cull a wounded hen? Get over your squeamishness. To let her suffer would be unfair. Your family pet vet won’t treat your sick chickens and poultry specialists treat entire flocks, not individual birds.
Keep this in mind as well – hens lay eggs for only two or three years, but they can live for as long as a decade. Most municipalities limit the size of the flock you can keep. Many cities ban or limit roosters. Some of those cute chicks you purchased will turn out to be roosters. What’s more, your non-laying hens will gradually take up your legal quota of birds. Then what? Culling your flock is never easy, but it’s your responsibility. No one but you knows whether you can carry out this difficult task. There are two acceptable ways of humanely euthanizing a bird – cervical dislocation or decapitation. These are important skills to learn if you choose to keep chickens. Slaughter is a necessary part of raising any animal for food.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org