Tuesday, September 17, 2013

12 Truths about Backyard Chickens.

They're sweet. They're fluffy. Their little “peeps” will quickly steal your heart. Honestly, how can you not become enamored with cutie-patootie little chicks, especially when they will ultimately provide fresh eggs for frittatas?

Two years ago, we took the leap and joined the backyard chicken craze, which you can read about here.

It's been an—interesting—experience.

In May, we welcomed our latest chicks: Tinkerbell (Buff Laced Polish), Sprite (White Crested Blue Polish), Willow Wisp (Blue Andalusian), and Pixie (Silver Laced Polish).

Everything went well with the newest chicks. They grew, they thrived, the kids became smitten with their newest pets. 

Even integrating the new girls into the existing flock went fairly smoothly.

 And then, Pixie crowed.

Yes. Crowed.


When we began our chicken adventure, we knew the odds. Although we ordered pullets—female chicks—the hatcheries very carefully explain on their websites that sexing is not an exact science. In fact, there's a 10% chance that your order will contain a rooster.


One in ten.

Every year since our adventure began, I've warned the kids that if one of the chicks falls into that 10% error-margin, we cannot keep a rooster.

(For those of you just joining us: we live in a subdivision. On less than an acre. With a Homeowners' Association.)

Each year, we've held our breaths—and we've been lucky.

Until now.

“Third time's a charm” apparently didn't apply to our third flock of chicks.

Truthfully, we knew before Pixie announced it. While Polish possess an unmistakable “hairdo,” Pixie's plumage appeared significantly different than his sisters' feathers as he grew. Kristen suspected Pixie's “roo-ness” before he ever uttered his practice crow.

As I searched the Internet, images of young Polish roosters appeared that looked just like Pixie. When I cautioned the kids that Pixie would need to leave if and when he began to crow, they began researching ideas about how we could keep him. Kristen, my animal lover, even researched surgery for roosters to remove their crow. 

My sweet, animal crazy girl lost all reason.

She also plotted to paint his nails pink, put a bow in his feathers, keep him inside the coop so the neighbors wouldn't hear his crow, and basically LIE to anyone who asked if we owned a rooster.

I must admit, I actually thought of a few of those ideas, too.

But we parents must set aside our own emotions and help our kids make good decisions. We weren't going to subject Pixie to potentially fatal surgery, embarrassing hair-bows, or pink nail polish.

And we certainly weren't going to lie. (Tempting...but no.)

Instead, I reminded the kids that if we were inconsiderate neighbors, the entire flock could be at risk. Who knew what could happen if a neighbor complained? Instead of finding a new home for Pixie, we could potentially lose all of the girls.

The kids cried harder. 

It was a fine parenting moment.

So, when I heard Pixie's first crowing attempt, my chest tightened. The second attempt was also rather pitiful—but unmistakable.

The third time sounded almost like a real rooster.

It was time to make a plan.

Truthfully, it was past time to make a plan. The plan for Pixie's theoretical home should have been in place BEFORE we added chicks to our home. After all, we're not the only people who try to re-home a rooster. I remember reading Theresa's account of re-homing her rooster on her blog, Living Homegrown. I even sent her a sympathetic message, praying that we'd never be in the same boat. Silly me.

In the excitement and emotion of selecting chicks, most of us never really properly plan. Although Kristen read more than a dozen books about chickens, we attended a seminar about raising chickens, and I spoke with several farmer friends, we learned some things the hard way.

I hope you can benefit from our experiences.

12 Truths about Backyard Chickens

1. Tiny Chicks = Big Chickens.

Those cute little fluff balls at the feed and seed store will grow into large eating and pooping machines. Do you have the time and space to provide a good home for them? A Rubbermaid container in your house might hold chicks for awhile, but then what? Did you check with your Homeowners' Association, city, or neighbors to make certain chickens are allowed? Check your local ordinances before those cute fluff balls follow you home.

2. Cute Coops vs. Safe Chickens
The adorable coops you've pinned on Pinterest or that you plan to order online may be darling, but will they keep out predators? Our first precious little coop that I bought online was guaranteed “raccoon-proof.” And yet, a raccoon opened two sliding latches and killed Saltine. It was horrible. Granted, our chickens are pets, so we all took it very hard. Our new Chicken Fortress is like Fort Knox for chickens. Peter constructed it from scratch, and the door handle/lock requires two hands to open it by turning the latch down. We've yet to cute-ify it—it's not Pinterest worthy. Yet. But our girls are safe, and that's what matters.

3. Free-Range Fun. For Dogs. And Hawks.
Free-range is fine and dandy, and the neighborhood dogs will thank you for their mid-afternoon snack. Supervised free-ranging is a better idea. We let the girls free-range while we're working in the garden or swimming in the pool so that we can keep them safe. Speaking of gardens...

4. Gardening with Chickens = Hungry You.
Chickens will eat your garden. It's an urban legend that chickens and lettuce will coexist. I assure you, the minute we let the girls out into the forest to free-range, they head straight for the kitchen garden, while I fuss and yell and tell them to stop eating the chard. They don't listen to me. However, they do eat the bugs in your garden. They're also great mulch movers. If you let them play in your garden, I can assure you that they will do a fine job of removing all of the mulch surrounding your plants.

5. Chickens Are Not Penguins.

Chickens fly. Yes, I know you think they don't—but they do. Not all breeds are flighty. Silkies tend to be land lovers. But boy—do your research. Just ask our neighbors, who knocked on the door one Saturday morning to inform us that our two Golden Campines, Sugar and Spice, had joined their yard sale. Mortifying. By the way, clipping a wing does not necessarily cure flighty birds. We clipped one wing on each of our Campines, as recommended, but they quickly regained their balance and continued cruising the air. If you don't have an enclosed run, research the flightiness of the breeds you want to raise before your pick up your chicks. And install bird netting to keep them contained.

6. Picky Chickies.
Some breeds like warm climates, some prefer cool. Research, research, research, and then select which breeds are appropriate for your climate. Regardless, always watch the temperature to keep your flock healthy. Provide good shelter and insulation in the winter, and keep the girls cool in the summer.

7. Mission: Impossible.
Covert chickening keeping is impossible. If your HOA doesn't allow backyard chickens, please don't assume that you can sneakily raise them. Have you ever heard the proud announcement a chicken makes when she lays an egg? It's loud. While it's not as annoying as our neighbor's hound dog that brays for hours, it's an unmistakable sound. Plus, sometimes they like to cheer each other on as the egg laying progresses. Trust me. I've done the walk of shame to the school bus stop on many occasions, pretending that I don't hear our girls' raucous party. 

Oh. Ditto for covert roosters. Just don't try it. You'll get an ulcer.

8. Don't Quit Your Day Job.
You will not get rich selling eggs. And if you think that raising chickens will be an excellent lesson in entrepreneurship for your pre-teen daughter, just realize that she will never, ever approach anyone to ask if they'd like to buy eggs because she is too shy. (Just my experience.) Friends will offer to buy eggs, but usually you'll give them away to neighbors to keep the peace when chickens show up at their yard sales. There IS a good market for free-range, organic eggs, but will your 6 backyard hens provide enough eggs for you to sell at the Farmers' Market? No, they won't.

You will, however, enjoy delicious eggs with deep, orange-yellow yolks. Now, that's rich.

Also, you will most likely buy eggs in the winter. Or when your girls molt. Or when they get stressed. As daylight shortens, hens' egg laying slows—and even stops. Yes, you can provide supplemental light to make them continue laying, or you can let their bodies takes a much needed rest, as nature intended. Studies have shown that the supplemental light can decrease the number of years a hen lays.

9. How Organic Are Your Eggs?
We all want organic eggs, but organic chicken feed is tricky to find, plus it's pricey. Our local feed and seed doesn't carry organic feed, and I haven't found it anywhere in our area. A permaculture group I belong to is working to find a supplier, but until then, our girls get Layena, plus organic fruit, veggies, and free-range goodies. I'll always prefer our eggs over organic store-bought eggs any day, because I know we have happy, healthy hens.

10. There are no chicken-friendly hotels. (If you find one, please let me know.)
Leaving for a quick weekend get-away just got a little trickier. While it's pretty easy to ask a friend or pet sitting service to check in on your pooches, not many people are as enamored with chicken-sitting. Really, it's not difficult, it's just...different. If you find a friend who will watch your chickens, you've found a true friend. Make sure to bring your friend a present from your trip—and, of course, reward your chicken-sitter with some eggs.

11. Chicken Retirement.
Chickens typically lay well for about 3-5 years. Then what? What's your exit strategy? They can live another 5, 10, even 15 years. It's important to have a plan. Our girls will have their home here always, and when they stop laying—they'll live out their old age being our pampered pets, just as they are now. But what will you do? Will your chickens be pets, or will they become dinner? It's not easy to find homes for your non-laying chickens. There's no such thing as a chicken retirement home, so make certain you have an exit strategy.

12. Cock-a-doodle-do Party Crashers.

Roosters happen. What will you do? We were VERY lucky. A woman that works for Peter raises chickens on her land in the country, and she's just as crazy about them as Kristen. After checking into several issues (are there other roosters that might attack Pixie? Will he be inside at night? How safe is the coop?), we all agreed that Sandy's farm would be the perfect place for Pixie. Plus, lucky Pixie—he has 50 ladies to woo! Off he went to live with Sandy. The kids were thrilled, knowing that they could visit Pixie and get updates on him. I'm thrilled, because I can finally go outside again, without fear of being accosted by our neighbors. Peter is thrilled, because I've stopped stressing and obsessing about what we should do with a rooster. And apparently, Pixie is thrilled, because he's enamored with a black bantam lady-friend. Go, Pixie!

But we were lucky. Do you know a farmer? Have you asked that friend with land if he would be willing to take in a rooster, should you fall into the 10%? I can assure you, there aren't many people willing to take in a rooster. Kristen's horseback riding trainer laughed at me when I asked, then realized I was serious.

She suddenly found a stall to muck out.

So please, for your sanity, for your kids' emotional well-being, for the health and safety of your new fluffy babies--make a plan.

13. OK, It's a Baker's Dozen of Truths.
Even with the raccoons, the roosters, and the escape artists, chickens ARE fabulous. Our kids learn the responsibility of caring for their pets, rarely griping when they tend chickens before breakfast. With backyard chickens, you can cancel your cable, because there's nothing as entertaining on TV. We spend a lot of time amusing ourselves, laughing at our silly girls.
We love our chickens, and we thought we were well prepared. But raising chickens is a constant learning process. The chicken blogs, Facebook pages, and magazines sometimes sugar-coat the reality of chicken-owning. Cute coops, fluffy chicks, funny pictures, they're all lovely. And it IS fun.


But like with any living animal, you need to be prepared. 

You might just find yourself in the 10%.

Good luck!




  1. Terrific information and great photos. We're hoping to start raising hens in the spring, so I've been doing a lot of research.

    1. Prudence, they really are fun--but good for you for doing the research! If you know any friends or local farmers with chickens, it's also great to get a first-hand account. Ask them lots of questions! Enjoy your chicks!

  2. Even though I often have to drive out of my way to purchase local eggs, I have no desire to raise chickens. However, I was thoroughly entertained as I chuckled through your amusing and informative post. What a great lesson for kids, parents and anyone contemplating the addition of chickens to their menagerie.

    1. Sue, you're a wise woman! Most of my friends who eat organic food think I'm nuts--they have no desire to raise chickens. Our family, though, is a bit animal-obsessed, and I'm pretty certain than when our girlie has her own place one day, you will see her on an episode of "Animal Hoarders." ;-) I really do love having chickens--most of the time. I do not love chasing them in my PJs when they escape, however. Enjoy your local eggs! :-)

  3. Oh, Pixie!! LOL
    Great tips delivered in a thoroughly entertaining read. I pinned this--love it! :-D

    1. Ah, Kate--the things we do... ;-) I hope Pixie is enjoying his new lady-loves. Thanks for Pinning!

  4. Thanks for the entertaining article and photos. We're almost 8 years into chickens (15 hens, no roos at present), and mostly loving it. But there are definitely down sides to having chickens, they're not for everyone. And you are dead right that it is important for people to learn about what they're getting into before they take the plunge (same rule of thumb for getting any animal)

    1. Janet, chickens really are wonderful, aren't they? I'm simply amazed, though, at the amount of people who don't research and prepare before getting animals. The worst example, I think, is a kindergarten class than hatches chicks--and then lets the kids taken them home. Talk about a high mortality rate and a terrible lesson for the kids--yuck. Although, even research doesn't always prepare you for every experience, as we learned! Enjoy your girls!

  5. I think you may have just convinced me to not give it a try. I have been on the fence anyhow. I think it'd be just as easy buying fresh eggs from my neighbor:)

    1. Tina, they are lovely--but chickens are time-consuming, just like any pet. We're animal-crazy (to a fault), so it was a good fit for us. Still, it may be easier to just buy eggs from your neighbor! Enjoy the eggs!

  6. Awww, these are the coolest chickens I've ever seen! Love the photos. :)

    1. The Polish breed are really gorgeous, aren't they? Our daughter showed her Golden Campine last year, and she selected Polish this year (with our help) to show this year. Not sure if she's going to show them, but they are really sweet! (And not so flighty, a major benefit!) :-)

  7. Funny post! I loved the one about your shy teenage daughter not approaching anyone - that made me giggle.
    I gotta say - when we get a roo we just cull him and put him in a pot. But I look at my backyard flock as farm animals and not pets, so it's a bit different from your families orientation to the flock. For instance, we don't name them. Although I do holler a generic "Hey, Laaaadiieeess!" when I bring them scraps.
    I 100% agree to Have A Plan when getting ANY animals! Dogs, cats, horses, chickens - we gotta go into it prepared. Or at least with a vague outline of what we do "if"...
    Great list and fantastic photos! Glad I stumbled on this blog!

    1. Most homesteaders and farmers cull their roos, and we certainly eat chicken in our family--just not OUR chickens! ;-) It's ironic and a little hypocritical that we try to teach the kids about growing our own food, and yet we couldn't eat one of our chickens. Ours are definitely pets, just like our pups, cats, and guinea pigs. Really, you can never name an animal if you're going to eat it--at least, I can't! LOL! So glad to "meet" you!

  8. Replies
    1. Awww...thanks, Jessie--but you know who the real Chicken Mama is around here! I think they imprint on Kristen!

  9. What a great post! Loved chuckling my way through this very informative and entertaining post

    1. Thanks, Deanne! Chickens and their crazy antics definitely provide good writing material. :-)

  10. What a cute post with great pictures! I've never seen chickens that look like that?! My youngest daughter's preschool has chickens that live there. They dig up everything I plant there. That is my only experience with chickens! Thanks for the info! :)

    1. Thank you! How great that your daughter's preschool has chickens! They will definitely dig up the plants--but they also provide a nice addition to the compost, too! Have they snacked on many of the things you've planted?

  11. I enjoyed reading your article. It was very informative. I have 3 chickens. You mention in your article about research the breed of chickens I get. Where can I find information on the personality, etc. on chickens? How do I know if I have a rooster? Do chickens make noise in general or are they quiet based on their breed? I have 2 Red Stars and a Araucana. I am just curious.

  12. Great post, sharing it on my facebook page.
    Fresh Eggs Daily

  13. I love this story - thanks for sharing so much information in such an entertaining way! Hubby and I will be starting our flock (God willing) this next spring and are in the process of planning our coop! I think we will be building concrete block walls and concrete floor with a metal roof because we have raccoons, foxes and all sorts of other predators where they will live up on our future homestead! It may not be cute, but it will be strong! I am already thinking of names for my girls - Beulah, Melba, Phyllis........ can't wait!

  14. Awesome post! You were the most popular link up on last week's blog! Congratulations you are featured on this week's hop! Thank you for the smiles~Melissa

  15. Fun and informative! Thanks for sharing.

  16. We found ourselves in the %10. We were able to take "Grace" back to the store we got him from. He now has about 20 girls to hang with. At first he was shy we only had 5 girls with us. The lady at the store took him home to her girls. We get updates when we go in to get food...

  17. Oh I just adore your polish chickens, Hi from your newest follower x

  18. I love this post! I am reposting it on my farming blog ( charmfarming.com )'s Facebook page. Everything you say is spot on. We hatched out four Polish last spring. They are so beautiful and fun to watch. One is a roo, Isadore V, but we live on a farm, so that's not a problem - as long as he doesn't fight with Isadore IV, we'll be fine. By the way, I found you on From the Farm Blog Hop. Congrats on being featured. I'm the lady, who just got a milk goat.

  19. Great post! It's easy to post cute pics of our chickens but there is a tremendous amount of work involved in caring for them and you need to be prepared for it. My flying chickens are now roofed in.

  20. Hi, I'm from Australia and I grew up with backyard chickens.....we call them 'chooks' here.
    We had them for egg laying and eating....not pets. When a hen went 'broody' we let her have a clutch of chicks to replace the roosters and older hens that we had had for dinner...... my sister and I saw the unpleasant but necessary side of keeping chooks for food...as kids we would have loved to have had pet chickens with pretty names.......

    I loved this post....
    Hugs and Blessings
    Barb xxx