Keeping backyard chickens is a continuous learning process. If you are like us, you have probably researched many websites, and read a lot of books about raising chickens before bringing them home.
You may finally think you are ready. We did too. We soon discovered that book knowledge and research didn’t explain everything. Here are 10 things about raising chickens that surprised us.
10 Facts About Raising Chickens Not Found in Books
Before we brought home our chicks, we researched for months. We’d read every book we could get our hands on and scoured the backyard chickens websites for information. We thought we knew everything there was to know about chickens. We were wrong.
1. People will think that you’re insane for keeping chickens
You will encounter quite a bit of negativity about your new hobby. Of all the people I’ve talked to about our experience raising chickens, the vast majority have been positive, but there have been a fair share of negative comments. Mostly people balk at the idea of butchering your own birds. Some of them balk at the idea of raising chickens in general.
You’ll hear a lot of comments like this: “Why would you raise chickens when you can just buy eggs and meat at the store?” “But, won’t you get sick from eating their eggs? They aren’t approved by the FDA!” “Aren’t you afraid someone will steal them?” “But what about the poop?!”
While some comments are just outwardly judgmental, others can be downright destructive to your chicken raising lifestyle. I’m talking about neighbors here. While we are very lucky to have understanding neighbors who don’t have a problem with our chickens (the free eggs don’t hurt), I’ve heard of many chicken keepers whose neighbors started an all out war over their new feathered friends.
On the other hand, chickens can be a great conversation starter with acquaintances or strangers. Bring up the fact that you raise chickens at any party and you’re guaranteed to have some questions to answer. These people will still probably think you’re insane, but at least you have the chance to educate them on the hobby.
2. Chickens are addicting
Any chicken keeper can tell you that raising chickens is like eating potato chips, one is just not enough and you won’t be able to stop yourself from collecting more.
You will end up with more chickens than you originally planned on getting. You may not even do this on purpose. Extra chickens see that rockin’ coop and smell your tasty chicken treats and they just come a knockin’ at your door! At least that’s what I tell my husband whenever our chickens mysteriously multiply.
3. Chickens are unstoppable destruction machines
Our chickens have torn our backyard to shreds. I was never told that they would dig up every last plant, turn the yard into a mud pit, eat everything in sight, and poop on anything that’s left.
Our first summer of free ranging, we let the birds out all day, every day. By the end of the summer our yard was a mud pit and the only survivors in our garden were the toughest, woodiest plants, and even they weren’t looking too good.
Chickens scratch at everything, and if they only have a small space to range in, they will destroy it. Don’t let this factor deter you from getting a flock of backyard chickens, you can do several things to keep them from destroying your property.
4. Chickens have unique personalities
Each breed has its own demeanor, quirks, and characteristics. Just like dogs or horses, each breed differs greatly from others. Each chicken within that breed comes with its unique personality as well.
Some chickens are friendly and will be constantly underfoot, some are skittish and shy, some are mean. They are all different little souls and once you have them frolicking about in your backyard, you’ll quickly pick up on their individuality.
5. The chicken pecking order can be brutal
When we read in the books about pecking order, we were thinking it would be more…shall I say, civilized, than it is. I imagined chickens giving a swift poke here and there to those underneath them. While that does happen, the reality of it is much more war-like.
We have some chickens that are so eager to hang onto their title as head hen, they’ll straight up jump on their flock-mates. I’m talking screaming, tackling, pulling feathers, scratching, and biting. The sweetest chickens can turn into vicious animals if their status is threatened. I just hope they never turn that brutality to the kind-hearted soul that feeds them everyday.
6. Chickens will make you into a paranoid freak
Raising chickens has a way of turning you into a paranoid freak. It starts when they’re tiny fragile babies and entirely in your care.
You’ll walk to the brooder one day and see three babies lying on their sides, unmoving. Your heart will stop and you’ll start squealing that you accidentally killed your babies. All of this racket will wake up the peacefully sleeping babies, and they’ll look at you like you have two heads. This is the only the beginning.
Every time you hear them squawking in the backyard, you’ll run to the back door expecting to see Godzilla stomping through the yard, eating chickens left and right.
Whenever the slightest little thing looks wrong with one, you’ll obsessively check them all to be sure this devastating and mysterious chicken disease hasn’t spread to all of your birds. Then when you start talking to your friends about bumblefoot and poultry lice over dinner, you’ll really know they got to you.
7. You will become your flock’s human servant
You’ll feel guilty when you sleep in an hour on the weekend and you know those little feathery faces are standing at the door of their coop, desperate to go out, just waiting for their servant to come and open the door.
If you run out of chicken treats you’ll find yourself driving to the country store at 7:50pm to get them some more before they close, then realize that you’re spending more money on their treats than you do on your own.
You’ll find yourself giving them baths and manicures. Their coop will be cleaner than your home. You’ll soon realize that you’re bending over backward for the happiness of your chickens, and wondering how these little rascals went from being egg providing livestock to pampered pets with a higher status than your cat.
8. Chickens are escape artists
Some say chickens are dumb, and they certainly can be, but they can also be brilliant little escape artists.
Our Dominique, Dee Dee spent a whole summer finding new ways to get on the other side of the fence. She would use a wheelbarrow propped against the fence to climb and hop over. She would find gaps under the chain link just big enough for her to squeeze through. She would hop from limb to limb on trees along the fence line until she could get to the top and lunge to the other side.
If there was a way out of the yard, Dee Dee would find it. She even remembered from day to day which spots worked and which didn’t. Since it would always take me a few days to catch onto her tricks, she could get away with the same escape tactics over and over. I’ll tell ya, it’s very frustrating being outsmarted by a chicken.
9. Chickens will eat practically anything
I’ll never understand why goats got the reputation for eating everything in sight. It really should go to the masters of devouring inedible garbage, the chickens.
This can be a blessing and a burden. If you ever have food that’s about to go to bad, let your chickens take care of it for you! If you have an abundance of weeds growing in your yard, your chickens will be delighted to lend a hand, or rather a beak. Bug troubles? Once again chickens come to the rescue to gobble up ticks, flies, and garden pests.
This helpfulness can be just as horrible as it is good. Chickens aren’t particular about what they eat, and you’ll see them sampling every bit of trash that’s blown into your yard, picking at tin foil and stray nails, trying to gobble down plastic bags, devouring styrofoam and chomping on newspaper.
10. You’ll get attached to your chickens
You can tell yourself that you won’t. You can refuse to name your birds and claim that they’re not pets, but when their little individual personalities start shining through, you’ll be hard pressed to resist them.
When it comes time to say goodbye, whether through culling, selling, or death by accident, don’t expect it to be easy just because they’re livestock. When we got our chickens, I broke all the rules of livestock within a month. I started talking about them as if they were my children. “Oh you wouldn’t believe what Taco did the other day…” Before I knew it, they had wormed their way into my heart.
So yes, before you bring chickens home, read the books to learn about their basic needs, such as which breeds to consider, how to keep them safe from predators, and when to expect eggs. Just remember that research cannot replace hands on experience.
Our experience just goes to show that the best way to learn about anything is to just jump in and do it. No amount of research can prepare you for the wonder that is raising chickens, but hopefully you’ll leave this post feeling a tad bit more prepared for what lies ahead.