I’d spent close to two years researching chickens before ordering my first chicks in 2010. At that time, shortening the distance food traveled to my kitchen was a personal mission. With chickens, I could reduce the distance eggs travel to just 30 feet! My chicken obsession started that honestly, but ultimately, it was just an excuse to finally order those day-old peeps.
City kids miss out on some of the experiences their rural peers might have, namely farming. My goals were simple: to ensure our food is raised humanely (by me), to teach my children about where food comes from and to model respect for the animals that feed us.
If you’re at the beginning of your chicken-keeping journey, or if you’re still thinking about jumping into the coop, here are seven things you might not know about raising city chickens:
1. Your friends and family won’t understand.
From the first time you announce, “I’m getting chickens!” to several years into the future when you announce, “I’m getting more chickens!” your friends and family will continue to look puzzled, ask why or laugh at you. This is OK! You’re doing something a little unconventional, which is bound to get some chuckles. They secretly wish for your extra eggs, and so you are redeemed.
2. You’ll become Master of Poop Management.
Chickens have only one way out, the vent, so all the good and all the bad our chickens have to offer come from the same place. In small urban spaces, managing manure is incredibly important. A flock of five hens poops as much as a medium-sized dog, except they poop everywhere and with abandon.
I move my mobile coop every two days, then I rake the 4-by-8-foot area vigorously to get the matted poop out of the grass. Its high nitrogen content will burn the grass if it’s left to break down. All run rakings and dirty bedding go in the compost bin, where it will decompose and eventually feed the garden.
3. Individual chicken personalities may outshine hatchery breed descriptions.
When we placed our first chick order four years ago, my husband was adamant about choosing at least one breed. He chose a Buff Laced Polish for her beauty and gentle, friendly temperament. Sookie lays just a couple clutches of pure-white eggs each year, but the rest of the time she plays rooster, rousing the rest of the girls each morning and foolishly protecting them against the hand that feeds them. (That’d be me.) She’s an anomaly of her breed and abnormally aggressive, even for the acting roo. Prepare yourself for chickens’ true individual personalities.
4. A flock doesn’t need a rooster to lay eggs.
Hens will ovulate whether there’s a male partner or not. Unless you want babies, you don’t need a roo. Roosters are much noisier than hens, so for the consideration of your neighbors in close proximity, raising roosters isn’t usually a good idea. In a flock of hens, one will either volunteer for or be assigned the job of protector within the pecking order.
5. Each neighborhood dog is a potential predator with unpredictable instincts.
While chickens are descendants of jungle fowl, they’re domesticated and rely on you for protection from all kinds of predators. Wild animals are only one consideration when guarding against attacks. Even your own dog’s prey instinct can be unpredictable, no matter how snuggly he is with your family. Do take flock protection seriously.
6. Keeping a small flock is a low maintenance hobby but also a real commitment.
Beyond nutritious food, clean water and basic cleanliness, chickens don’t need much. If they must be confined, they enjoy some indulgence in natural behaviors, like foraging and dust bathing. Chickens can live up to 10 years, and sometimes even longer, especially if you care for them well. Don’t get them if you can’t commit.
7. Backyard chickens lay the most expensive eggs you’ll ever eat.
If I calculated the actual cost of my eggs, especially during the winter when they stop laying, I might stop raising chickens. So, I don’t bother! I keep chickens for so many more reasons than for their eggs. I keep chickens for entertainment, pest control, fertilizer, and because they bring a natural charm and an unmatched sense of calm to my yard. Fluffy butts running across the yard make me happy! Eggs? They’re a perk.