I love chickens. Love, love, love, LOVE them.
I had never considered having chickens as pets until I did some gardening and landscaping work for a friend (who is a Master Organic Gardener). She had this mobile, A-frame chicken tractor that she moved around the yard. The chickens clucked and scratched quietly. They were adorable and their sweet little noises made me feel so peaceful.
I wasn’t in love yet, but I knew I wanted chickens. So, when my Herban Cowboy and I bought this house almost 3 years ago, we started planning for chickens. Here’s the Green Goddess Gardens Guide to Getting Chickens.
Step One (THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP!): Neighbors.
Talk to them. I told mine I planned on having a few chickens in the backyard and asked how they felt about it. No roosters, and the girls would be confined to the yard. I reassured my neighbors that if they had ANY problems (noise, bugs, smell) that they could contact me and I would take care of it immediately. Even now, two years later, whenever I’m chit-chatting with folks I make sure I ask if my girls cause them any trouble. Neighbors can make or break an urban homesteader. If you don’t think you need to keep civil relationships with your neighbors because you’re within your legal rights to own chickens, I urge you to open another tab right now and google “Roswell Chicken Man.”
Step Two: Research!
I checked out stacks of library books, watched endless YouTube videos, and browsed several websites and forums. I researched coop designs and prices, comparing the costs and approaches (pre-fab coop? DIY?). I gathered information about where and when to buy chicks (local breeder? feed & seed store? online hatchery?). I also had to find out if it was legal for me to keep chickens in my backyard in the city limits (it is).
Step Three: Spend money (but not too much!).
We found a pre-fab coop on sale online for a fraction of what it would cost us to gather materials and build it ourselves. This was awesome, because I LOOOOOVE putting together furniture. I sat under the carport for two hours, happily sorting hardware and deciphering instructions and sweating. We found some week old chicks at the local feed & seed store, so we grabbed a handful of baby chickens, an automatic waterer, and a big bag of feed. We also bought a roll of chicken wire to make a pen to keep them in during the day. The entire initial set up cost about $250, and most of that was the coop.
Step Four: Protection.
It turns out that almost everything eats chickens. Feral cats, stray dogs, hawks, possums, raccoons and snakes — and that’s just here in town! If we lived out in the country, there would also be foxes, bobcats, and scores of other hungry critters. During the day, chickens need protection from hawks while they’re in their yard. At night, the coop needs to be a fortress, keeping out persistent varmints, some of whom have hands to open door latches and others that love to dig under fences. No matter how vigilant you are, you will lose some. The very first day we had our chicks, a feral cat figured out a way into the pen and stole one of the new chicks. We didn’t even get a chance to name her. And just recently, a red tailed hawk found an opening to dive into the chicken yard, killing Little Boy’s favorite hen Betty. We have since taken greater precautions to protect the other girls, but nature eventually finds a way. It’s only a matter of time before some other varmint finds a way to get at them that we haven’t thought of. This is a downside of owning delicious pets, but it is, after all, just the way life is. Nature is an ever-escalating arms race between predator and prey.
Step Five: Flock maintenance.
Chickens are easier and cheaper to keep than cats. In the morning, I let them out, throw down some feed, and make sure they have water. In the evening, I close up the coop after they’ve gone in for the night, and I collect the day’s eggs. That’s it. Done. Of course, that’s the bare minimum. We end up hanging out with “the girls” WAY more than that. I keep a bowl on the kitchen counter that I toss chicken snacks into. Leftover scraps from a meal, wilted produce, vegetable/fruit peelings and cuttings, stale bread, stuff that dropped on the floor– we collect it all and then go throw it to the girls, who turn it into fertilizer within 24 hours. When we’re working in the garden, we let them out of their yard and they go NUTS eating bugs and weeds and scratching around in the compost pile. Sometimes I sit on the glider bench and knit while the girls give themselves dust baths in the dirt behind me (they’ve dug up huge chicken wallows back there, but they’re so adorable kicking dirt up on themselves that I don’t care).
A Few Words of Caution.
Chickens themselves are irritating varmints. As much as I love my girls, I have cried and cursed them more than once. They will escape their enclosure, tear up your garden and landscaping, eat all the grass in your yard, and poop everywhere you walk barefoot. They can fly higher and run faster than you think (even with their wings clipped). They have sharp eyesight and hearing and, contrary to popular belief, they are clever and have amazing memories. They are also annoyingly persistent. We are always plugging fence holes, repairing netting and fishing line barriers, and trying to figure out how Daphne and Mavis managed to get out into the back lane AGAIN.
I’ve had chickens for two years now, and I now cannot imagine living without them. I can’t imagine having a garden without them, either. Food gardens, composting, and backyard chickens are such a fabulous mini-eco-system. Our waste, the compost, makes nourishing soil in which we grow our food. The chickens give us 2-4 eggs a day, aerate the soil, turn the compost pile, and eat the insects that attack the crops. The garden provides food for us, the chickens, birds, squirrels, butterflies, and bees. I love being out in my backyard with all the buzzing of insects and clucking of chickens. It’s peaceful to sit in my little patch of green and unkempt nature, tucked away in this shabby Savannah neighborhood. Add my knitting bag and a glass of wine and I am one happy Cowgirl.
Picking Up Chicks.
Since I’m clearly addicted to having chickens, AND we’re down to 4 chickens from our original 6, AND it’s springtime — we totally got new chickens yesterday. Two white Ameraucana pullets, bred and raised locally. They are plain white girls, but their eggs will be bluish green. They’ve got their grown up feathers, but they’re still making the baby chick peeping and cheeping noises. It’s disgustingly cute. We’re keeping them separate from the big girls for a week or so, until everybody gets used to being around each other. Then we’ll integrate the flock, and in another two months or so, we should start seeing blue eggs show up in the nest boxes. I’ve been so excited about the new chickens that I keep squealing like a little girl out of nowhere. It’s REALLY embarrassing, but I can’t seem to stop it. I blame Minerva Louise and Pearl for being so adorable.