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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An Honest Story About Owning Backyard Chickens

Top Ten Things You Should Know Before Getting Chickens

1. They don't really stink if you have four or less even in the heat of summer.
2. You have to lock them up every night and let them out every morning. If you are on vacation someone has to do it for you.
3. They will die and if your kids (or you) can't handle the circle of life and possible carnage this may not be your cup of tea. Don't become too attached to them.
4. They stop laying eggs in the winter (or dramatically decrease production)
5. They don't lay for at least six months if you raise them from chicks
6. If you let them roam around your yard the poop will get everywhere and they will mess up your flower beds
7. They won't really save you any money, but if you sell the eggs you might break even.
8. It is easy to relax when you look outside and see chickens pecking around.
9. There is a big difference between eggs you buy at the store and eggs from your own chickens.
10. Don't spend a lot of money in the beginning. Try to do it on the cheap before making a real commitment.

Eleven years ago I told my husband I wanted chickens. My husband is not a gardener, a farmer, or a lot of other things for that matter. He is THE BEST dad, Blazer fan, teacher, and deal finder. Anyway, it took eight years of begging, but I finally convinced him to let me get some chickens. In fact one day he said, "Why don't we go get some chicks today?" I was in the car before he finished the sentence.
Three years ago we purchased our first batch of chicks. They were cute, cheep (haha), and not too much work. Here is the nitty gritty of chicken rearing:

The Purchase- We bought four chicks from a local farm store for $2.99 on April 2nd. I wanted Americaunas (they lay green and blue eggs). We kept them in the garage for the first month or so in a big Rubbermaid trough. We put wood pellets (the kind you use in pellet stoves) in the bottom of the trough. We also purchased a little chick feeder, waterer, chick food and a few other chick supplies. All told this part of the investment cost us about $40.  They had to have a warming light for the first few weeks. The kids loved to hold them and play with them. They were angels. We cleaned the trough out about once a week (more often when they got a little bigger).

Moving Out- After about six weeks of living in our garage they got too big. We moved them outside to their first coop. I picked up a plastic Rubbermaid doghouse off of Craigslist for $10 and rigged a roosting bar inside. We placed the coop inside a cyclone dog kennel we had purchased for $50 on clearance at Fred Meyers. In hind sight I wish we would have purchased a taller one. The one we have is only four feet tall. We covered the top with corrugated metal I picked up off  Craigslist. At first this worked out well, but lets just say bending down to get into the coop on a regular basis was a bit annoying. When my back wasn't feeling great it was a plain old hassle. The chicks grew quickly and by July we were looking for eggs. Guess what? They don't lay them for a good six months after they hatch. We waited and waited and waited. Finally, in mid-October they started laying. The eggs were delicious and the chickens were fun to watch and care for. We learned that cleaning out the coop once a week was fine, but we could go two weeks between really good cleanings. We also learned it was a pain to go on vacation because someone had to come over and let them out in the morning and put them away at night. Guess what? Not everyone is a fan of chickens.
We are blessed to have a half acre in a Suburban neighborhood. We also are lucky to have an in ground pool. This is kind of a big thing in Oregon where it rains A LOT. Soooo, in the summer we have a constant flow of visitors. When chickens run around they poop. When they poop on the grass it gets on your feet. When it gets on your feet it gets in the house, or the pool. As a result the chickens are cooped up in the summer and we let them "free range" in the fall, winter and spring. I enjoy watching them run around the yard. It is even better when I walk outside and they begin following me.

 Delia is a chicken chaser and catcher extraordinaire.
 Howie can heard them pretty well too...

The First Winter-  One morning after a big party I went outside to find carnage. I won't go into details, but lets just say I ran into the house screaming. My husband jumped out of bed and ran outside. He thought one of the kids had been killed or something. He soon figured it out and retrieved the bodies of two ladies and buried them. The first tough lesson is don't get too attached to your chickens. I had forgotten to lock the coop up and in the middle of the night two chickens left the coop (Maybe they heard a sound? We are still not sure) and were killed through the fence. I have never forgotten to lock the coop again. Fortunately our kids were spending the night at grandmas and didn't see the crime scene. After this I keep an emotional distance from the chickens.

Year Two- In March of this year I purchased a new wooden coop. I also moved my coop and kennel to a new location. I devised a better roofing system and area for the ladies. We knew now we were in this for the long haul. I guess that is sound advice. Don't spend a bunch of money at first; wait a year to see if chicken farming is really up your alley. After a year you will know and if you decide to invest more great. If not, you haven't spent a ton for kicks and giggles.

Here is the current location of the coop...

 Different view. No one sees this except for us. It looks a bit trashy, but it was cheap.

After the loss of two ladies we decided not to get chicks since they take so dang long to begin laying. Instead we bought two hens who had recently started laying. This time we bought an Australorp and a Plymouth Rock Barred. In May when we opened the pool for the year the hens were again cooped up much to their dismay.

Taking a dust bath next to the house...

They love my rose bed for some weird reason.

 Here are some eggs...

It was in the fall of this year we began to see a coyote. My son was scared to go out after dark. One night we arrived home around 5:30. It was dark and I told him to go lock the chickens up. He started to complain. I got mad. "Drexler just do it!". He didn't budge. This conversation took place on the deck stairs. He started crying as I finally decided to do it myself. Then, he started yelling, "No mom don't". I got to the coop to find only one chicken. On my walk back I saw feathers and carnage. One body was left. My son actually saw the coyote and was trying to warn me, but couldn't put it into words. We now had one lady left. We purchased two chickens to keep her company.

This year- We made it through last summer with three ladies. One of our original Americaunas, Irene, a Plymouth and a Rhode Island Red. This fall the Rhode Island started acting funny. She was holding out her wing and walking sideways. I researched and found a few different things it could be. All of the possible diagnosis were serious and in my opinion not much could be done for her. I wasn't going to pay my vet $35 for a visit to tell me that. A new laying hen costs $12. Do the math. I had my neighbor euthanize her and we buried her.
We made it through the winter with two ladies. Irene and Dottie. They stopped laying for three months (this is normal in the winter), but recently started up again. They have a bad habit of finding new places to lay eggs. Their current nest is under the deck in a pile of leaves. We are planning on getting two new ladies (maybe three) in a few weeks. My goal for this summer is to move the coop closer to house. I have realized in the winter it can be freezing at 6:45 when I go let them out of the coop. I want to build a new surround for the coop that is covered and safer. We go out of town on weekends a lot and this would make it easier while we are gone.

There is a lot I have left out. I can certainly address the day to day basics of chicken rearing. Is it easy? Yes. Is it money saving? Not really. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Feel free to shoot me questions. I love to talk chickens.


  1. My daughter takes chickens from battery farms and rehabilitates them. Many go to homes in residential areas. It's not easy to keep them safe on her farm and she has had the kind of carnage you speak of. I think it's great that you are telling people about the realities! ~ Maureen

  2. Chicken stories! Love em!! We are sooooo lucky (knock on wood) we leave our coop open every night! Our only carnage was from my friends dog :-( and we have 1 transgendered chicken. But that is so Portland it is worth one less egg a day. You are right that you don't save $ ;-)

  3. So you don't have to have a rooster when you have chickens? Just hens are ok? I know nothing about chickens but my daughter really wants them and we live in the country so I am in the "fact gathering" stage. I found your blog very insightful, Thank you.

    1. You only have to have a rooster if you are breeding chickens. That way they can fertilize the eggs and turn them into baby chickens instead of just eggs for eating. Kind of like humans, women will ovulate and release eggs regardless, but it takes a man to turn them into babies. You see, when a man and a women love each other very much... HAHA!

  4. I found your post very informative. I've wanted chickens for a long time but am not really sure if I want the chickens or the cute chicken coops that are out there :).

  5. We are getting a second flock of chickens tomorrow. I am so excited. We are getting pullets so we won't have to wait as long for them to start laying. Love eating the eggs and know that they are so much healthier for my family.

    We had two flocks last year and a pack of dogs got them. My boys were very upset but thankfully didn't see the attack.

  6. As a 6 year veteran chicken keeper, I can attest to the truth of everything in your post! I'm hoping we can revamp our whole coop set up this summer so we can reclaim the use of a good bit of our backyard free from chicken poop and destruction! Very good and informative post.

  7. We can't have them in our neighborhood, but I do wish I could. We had chickens when I was a kid, and it was so gratifying to collect eggs each morning before school. Now, I have to live vicariously through other backyard chicken keepers!

  8. I live in Oregon too and I'm glad to hear your honest review of keeping backyard chickens. I need this!

  9. I'd love chickens but too many predators - hawks and raccoons - and I'd go nuts if they were killed darn it.

  10. Thank you for the honest information! We are not allowed to have chickens where we live, but we are hoping one day to live somewhere where we can.


  11. I appreciate the honesty in this post. You are absolutely right in what you say. I grew up on a farm, and one of my jobs was to put our few chickens in at night. No clipped wings, so they would fly up into the trees. What a pain! Now living in town, and our neighbors have four hens and a duck. They have gone through their carnage, at the hands of possums, chicken hawks and stray dogs. You are right about not getting too attached because sometimes they will die, but you are also right that it's fun to have them out with you, because they will hang out with you and follow you around, and the eggs are great, but not a money-saver.

  12. I have day old chicks coming on May 23rd. We have ordered 12 Rhode Island Reds. We have never had chicks/hens before....but we are very excited {perhaps myself & the kids, more then my husband lol}
    I have done so much research on laying hens now, that my head hurts from all the information I have taken in! Thanks so much on the reality of them! Since I will have so many hens, I am looking forward to selling the eggs at my fathers Market....and just having something relaxing to look at in my backyard. They won't be roaming the backyard...they will be fenced in because we have a Bull Mastiff that would probably love to "play" with them! We have started on the coop yet, since they will be in a brooder for awhile at first...but I am having fun looking at all the different options!