Your Own Nest Egg: Keeping Backyard Chickens

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So, you’ve been thinking of backyard chickens, a few fluffy little chicks, a sweet coop, fresh eggs every morning- what’s not to love? Well, like any other decision involving living creatures, choosing to raise chickens is not something to be taken lightly.

Doing your research beforehand will ensure that you are prepared at every stage of the process, making your poultry project run much smoother.

Backyard chicken

Backyard chicken. Image courtesy of Scott Woods-Fehr.

Checking local bylaws about keeping backyard chickens is an essential first step. Many municipalities have recognized the growing desire for small-scale sustainable food production and have green-lit the keeping of backyard chickens, but it’s a good idea to double-check the specifics.

There may be regulations about the number of hens permitted, minimum and maximum coop sizes, noise regulations, etc. It’s also a good idea to check in with your neighbors, as they are the ones most likely to be make any complaints. Being crystal clear on the rules means you’re far less likely to run afowl of the law (sorry).

Do the math. If your desire for chickens is primarily so that you can save money, it’s worth it to do some rough budgeting to find out if and how much you’ll actually be saving. Work out how many organic free-range eggs you would typically consume in a week, and price out the cost of buying them from a farmer’s market or grocery store.

Compare that yearly expenditure with the cost of a coop, fenced enclosure, food, bedding, and possible veterinary care. Everyone’s experience will be different, but one article suggests that backyard chickens only become profitable after about four years.

If your motivations aren’t purely financial this information might not factor as highly into your decision making process, but being honest about the resources and effort required might mean that choosing to support a local farmer is a better option than doing it yourself.

Free range chicken eggs

Image courtesy of Nomadic Lass.

Search out local experts. The internet is a fantastic thing, but real people are even better. Searching out locals in your community who are already raising chickens means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Find out what’s working for them, what kind of precautions they take to protect their chickens from local weather conditions (e.g. extreme heat or cold), and where the best local supply sources are. Creating this relationship means you can keep them on hand for troubleshooting as your chicken adventure progresses, and share your successes and setbacks with someone who’s been there.

Be honest with yourself. Some hens can live for up to ten years after they stop laying eggs – are you prepared to continue the care of a chicken for that long, or alternately, make the decision to end its life? This can be an unpleasant reality when raising agriculture animals, one that we don’t have to consider with other pets like cats and dogs. It’s also an issue that increasingly, some urban chicken owners are simply sidestepping altogether. Animal shelters are reporting huge increases in abandoned chickens from owners who were unprepared or unwilling to continue caring for them, which is very unfortunate for everyone involved.

Raising your own chickens can be an incredibly rewarding venture, and making a successful go of it means being prepared to take the bad along with the good. You will have a constant supply of fresh, healthy eggs, some fluffy backyard companions, and the knowledge that you are now responsible every aspect of a creature’s life – and death.

Feature image courtesy of Adam Jackson

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Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.