One of the biggest trends in America’s movement to self-reliance is the popularity of chickens in residential settings.
Pet and feed store owners say backyard coops for at-home egg production is as popular as any trend they remember. Major media has chronicled this for years, including The Oregonian, Arizona Republic, Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press, and Washington Post.
Reported one blogger at Sunset.com, companies like Murray McMurray Hatchery, which sells 100,000 chicks each month, are seeing more family coops crop up across the country. Nationwide, families are raising chickens in their urban backyards for food and products.
But buying a few cute chicks and raising some hens for fresh eggs is not at simple as it seems. Elizabeth Lica of Apartment Therapy wrote about the problems caused by the chicken trend.
A hen lays eggs for about two years, but can live 10 more than that. Is Esmerelda still fun when she’s not laying bright-colored eggs for you?
Apparently not, because hundreds of urban chickens are winding up on Craigslist or in animal shelters when their owners realize that keeping chickens is a lot of work.
“Many areas with legalized hen-keeping are experiencing more and more of these birds coming in when they’re no longer wanted,” Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, said to NBC. “You get some chicks and they’re very cute, but it’s not as though you can throw them out in the yard and not care for them.”
Mary Britton-Clouse of the Chicken Run Rescue told NBC that she had 50 chickens surrendered to her chicken rescue back in 2001. In 2012 she got nearly 500.
“It’s the stupid foodies,” she said. “We’re just sick to death of it.”
“People don’t know what they’re doing,” she continued. “And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”
Britton-Clouse is pretty harsh about it, but getting 500 chickens dumped on them in a single year would annoy anybody. Of course, there’s always the traditional solution for non-laying hens. But a lot of backyard chicken enthusiasts balk at the idea of wringing their hens’ necks.
Several chicken rescuers say that chickens actually make really good companion pets, but it’s important for prospective chicken owners to realize that they are not low-maintenance animals.
The Chicken Primer
So, are you on the self-reliance train and looking for a great food source? If you’re considering chickens, read on.
More and more people are bringing farm animals into their homes; some apartments even allow small livestock like miniature pigs or chickens to reside in their buildings.
Chickens are not songbirds, though they do produce a lot of sound. The constant clucking can be a major nuisance by some people. In fact, in some areas where backyard flocks are legal, chickens are the second most complained about noise from neighbors, after barking dogs.
There are not many solutions to this problem, other than perhaps making a more insulated house so the noise will not travel as far. If the birds are outside, however, there is no solution other than buying more land to further separate the animals from neighbors.
Foul smelling fowl
The smell of the chicken coops is another issue, though it is a little easier to manage than the sounds. A big factor in cleaning is how many chickens are in a backyard flock. It is important for owners to keep in mind their schedule and how much time they can dedicate to cleaning up after the birds to determine a reasonable number to keep in their flocks.
Cleaning the bird’s houses and removing the fecal matter is recommended, not just for managing the smell, but also for keeping the chickens safe from biosecurity risks.
Bacteria and birds
Speaking of diseases, several foodborne illnesses can be spread by chickens to humans, even from live birds. Salmonella, avian influenza and campylobacter are a few diseases that can come from chickens and children are especially susceptible. This is mostly because kids like to touch their face and mouths often and this is dangerous behavior after playing with chicks or handling eggs.
Proper hand washing is vital for keeping bird handlers safe, but owners should also be aware of biosecurity practices such as cleaning shoes before and after being around the chickens. This will help prevent viruses and bacteria from spreading.
Chickens can be destructive to terrains because clawing and pecking at the ground is one of their natural instincts. Hens will root in the ground and take dust baths as part of their daily routine. Like cats, they can also eat house plants or garden vegetables which can make them a nuisance to farmers. Having a strong fence can keep the birds contained within a property, but they need a lot more equipment than that.
A good chicken coop can be costly, and owners can find themselves spending thousands of dollars a year on feed, equipment and medical bills for their birds.
Not all veterinarians accept backyard chickens as patients. It is important to know where the nearest help can be located in case of an emergency.
It is important to know that roosters and hens are very different in temperament.
Though each bird has its own personality, roosters can be very aggressive. They have been known to attack small children or even adults. Curbing this behavior may be difficult or even impossible; it is in a rooster’s instinct to protect hens and show dominance over the flock.
One aspect missed by the poultry trade publication is the threat from predators in an urban setting.
Dogs, cats, and other varmints are loose in many cities and all of them love feasting on chicken. Cities are host to buzzards and owls, along with other winged marauders.
Also, children are as dangerous as the hungry critters. A kid with a good wrist rocket can kill a chicken easily.
And let’s not forget the human threat. A thief in the night looking for a food source is even more dangerous than the varmints. Be aware and plan accordingly.
A renewable food source is great for any self-reliant family. But research and forethought are critical to its success. Like anything worth its while, chickens are a longterm commitment, but the benefits should outweigh the drawbacks.