If you like eating organic, enjoy growing your own vegetables and are conscientious about things like sourcing your food and cooking from scratch, chances are you’ve considered keeping chickens. Wouldn’t it be fun to go out to the coop in the morning, say good morning to the hens, and gather fresh warm eggs for the ultimate locally sourced breakfast? And it is fun! However, before you welcome the ladies to your urban farmstead (aka your backyard), be sure you’ve taken the time to consider some of the pros and cons of city chicken keeping.
First and foremost, know the local laws regarding chicken keeping, which is still a controversial subject in some cities. Being a chicken-rearing rebel may be the ultimate in cool, but it’s impossible to keep a coop full of chickens hidden for long, and you may face fines or sanctions if you violate city ordinances. Worse, you might find yourself with 24 hours to dismantle your coop and rehome your chickens. Learn your local laws, and abide by them.
Once you’ve got the legal all clear, spend some time considering the realities of chicken keeping – both pro and con!
It’s the Eggs, Silly!
This is the number one reason most people get backyard chickens. The eggs are supremely good. The yolks are bright yellow and they stand up nicely. A basket of fresh eggs on the counter is a beautiful sight. The colors of the shells are lovely and picking them up, warm from the brooder, is the most positive sign of freshness one can imagine. Eating fresh eggs is a sublime culinary adventure. For this reason alone, you should get your own chickens.
Backyard Chicken Television is the Best
You will not have chickens for long before you realize how wonderfully entertaining they are. Chickens are full of personality and are often very funny. They push each other around, fly up and down, scratch and peck, roll in the dirt, etc. And the clucking! They have a wide range of vocalizations and listening to them “talk” to each other is endlessly interesting. Something about watching chickens makes people happy. It’s relaxing, it’s fun, and it reminds people of simpler times. A flock of chickens makes a yard a home.
A chicken is not a seed packet. It’s an animal and a responsibility. And unfortunately, that means taking the bad with the good and facing the difficult along with the fun.
Chickens are Dirty and Smelly
Chickens are cute, fun, and full of personality. Chickens also poop everywhere, and they poop A LOT. And the poop accumulates and smells. You can put down straw, or diatomaceous earth, but these are bandaids. Prepare to do a lot of particularly gross cleaning to keep the coop and yard in an acceptable state.
Something Bad May Happen
A raccoon, an owl, the neighbor’s dog, an unexpected illness – eventually, something bad is almost sure to happen to at least one of your chickens. For all the fun times and idyllic evenings spent watching your chickens at play, there will be sad, difficult and potentially ugly moments as well.
You May Get A Rooster
Chicken sexing is quite reliable, but nothing is 100%. You may think you’ve bought all hens, but the day may come when you realize that “Penelope” has started to try out a little beginner crow. This is a problem. Roosters are beautiful, noisy, often aggressive, and probably illegal in your municipality. And there are the neighbors to consider – people who may be happy to live next to a flock of burbling hens won’t be quite as happy to be awakened at 5 am every morning by the full-throated crow of a rooster, no matter how gorgeous. You will need an emergency plan in the event that one of your hens is actually a rooster.
The Eggs Don’t Keep Coming Forever
A continuous supply of fresh eggs requires a continuous supply of hens of laying age. A typical hen starts laying at around 6 months of age and tapers off by age 3. By age 4 most hens are no longer laying. However, a well-kept city chicken in a safe location can easily live to age 8 or 10, leaving you buying chicken feed, doing chores twice daily, and cleaning just as much poop as ever for years while purchasing farm-fresh eggs from the co-op or farmers’ market the whole time. Bear in mind, too, that there is likely a legal limit to the number of hens you can own at one time, so non-laying hens will be taking up the “spots” you could otherwise fill with new young egg producers.
Before you embark on your chicken-keeping project, you MUST decide how you will handle this fact of life because it WILL become an issue. You may choose to keep your well-loved hens as pets for as long as you can and count the money and time spent with them as a natural cost of pet ownership. Or you may decide to take a more pragmatic approach and face the reality of culling your flock regularly to make room for replacements. Cull your birds or care for them all the way through their chicken Social Security years; it’s a difficult decision, but it must be made.
And there you have it. Keeping chickens in the city may be tough at times, but there are many rewards that go along with it! Take some time to consider all the implications of beginning your own backyard chicken adventure – and maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that it’s time to dive in!