Five Things No One Tells You About Chickens

Over the last five years I’ve learned a few things about keeping chickens in the back yard.  And while, for the most part, chickens are really fun and the positives far outweigh the negatives, it’s not all roses.  No, they are not noisy.  No they don’t stink.  But there are a few lessons we have learned about the urban homestead’s favorite creature feature:

  1. cactus poppyDon’t name them.  Chickens are so far down on the food-chain that they are pretty much dinner for everything except insects.  Naming them is just setting yourself up for heart-break.  We named our first five chicks.  But the tears when Daisy was killed by a fox were enough to cure us of this.  The next two rounds of chicks were nameless.  While we still knew them as “the red one” or “the big one,” it kinda kept our feelings a bit more protected.  And we were able to eat the ones without names when the time came.
  2. Every one will ask if you need a rooster to get eggs.  I’m not really sure why this is a question?  If there is no rooster, the eggs will never become chicks.  Eggs are not baby chickens.  Eggs are just eggs.  At some point you will find yourself, once again, explaining that eggs are basically like a tasty chicken period that happens daily.  Yum, right?
  3. Baby chicks are messy.  Very, very messy.  Our first chicks were raised in a box in our office.  They were so cute.  When they finally moved outside, the office was completely covered in a very thick layer of dust.  It was awful.  The next chicks got the luxury of a heat lamp in the garage instead.
  4. Chickens dig deep holes.  Like, to China.  We used to let them free-range through the whole back yard.  Our yard is small, but they never ate all the grass.  They pooped everywhere, but we could hose off the patio.  The real bummer were these gigantic, deep holes.  They use them for dust baths.  Later, we moved the coop to one area of the yard.  The hens still free-range, within their area, and they’ve eaten all the grass back there and dig to their hearts’ content.  And we are no longer breaking ankles in the giant holes.  Bonus: the kids can now roll a ball in the remaining grass, poo-free.
  5. You will be spoiled by the eggs.  If, for some reason you need to buy eggs from the store, you will scowl at their sickly, yellow insides and scoff at their bland taste.  They literally pale in comparison to your awesome, dark-yolked, delicious, home-grown eggs.

So while others continue to extol the merits of the back yard flock, don’t come to me saying you weren’t warned.  ;)

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Categories: Chickens, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 23 Comments

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23 thoughts on “Five Things No One Tells You About Chickens

  1. We really want to have chickens once we have bought a home. This is a great list of things I didn’t know, or I never would have thought of! Well, except the rooster thing :)
    Thanks!

    • Thanks – I poked around your blog a bit – I love all the pinterest projects you’ve done… what a fun idea!

      • oh thank you! :)
        oh – chicken question? how loud are they?

      • Hens do make lots of noises, but they are not particularly loud. They sing a sort of egg song (I think to look for the flock after laying), which I was always worried about the neighbors hearing, but I’ve asked and they all say they’ve never heard them.

  2. Sophie Diallo DuPuis

    Will they still dig holes if you equip them with man made dust baths?

    • I’m not sure – they do love to scratch and dig. I’ve heard of people providing boxes for dust baths. My guess is that they’ll dig around in the boxes quite a bit… probably they’ll throw the dirt in them out and the boxes will have to be replenished?

    • Mine have plenty of bare dirt, and they never dig holes in my grass. The are particularly fond of the back of my asparagus bed, as it is under an eave and dry.

  3. We clearly violate #1, but I totally agree with the rest of the list!

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  6. Donella L

    I wish someone had told me 4 weeks ago just how messy chicks are. And told me how seriousy fast they grow, and outgrow, their brooder box! Seven crapping, scratching, litter kicking sweeties are currently housed in a lovely brooder in my kitchen. (I know, gross). Being unprepared I am praying that coop gets finished this weekend! Maybe too late to heed this advice but plan on putting to use other info from your experiences!

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  8. karyn

    I would add, at least where we are…some of your chickens will get eaten by predators. It might be a bobcat, raccoon, or coyote (we have had all three) or it might be your neighbor’s dog. Prepare yourself for it as the predators are amazing at finding weak spots in a coop or ambushing when you’re not prepared.

  9. Megan

    We let our chickens free range until we plant the garden then they get locked up,, other wise they go crazy eating everything,, they love my rose beds they dig and dust in those I place pretty rocks and such in my beds to keep them from getting to the dirt and dusting,, we like to let them free range all we can really cuts down on ticks and bugs around our yard, if we ever get a good chicken fence all around our garden ,, we have a huge garden,, we can let them free range more often,, we grow them their own garden kids are in charge of it,, then what ever they pick out of their garden goes to the chickens ,, chickens love their fresh garden veggies every day

  10. Great post. I recently got chickens and they are a hoot! Personally they are actually more work than I was anticipating….but I do have a ton of them so that’s to be expected I guess. My chickens are tremendous escape artists! I have a half acre lot, with a pool and green yard that are separate but I am always finding poopy and hens in there anyways! Chicks are not just messy, they are insane! I’ve also learned that chickens will destroy a garden in a 10 minute period of time and if given the opportunity will feast on every egg in sight! You could say, it’s been a great month of learning for my family.

    • If your chickens are eating their own eggs that is usually a sign they need more oyster shell or a higher level of protein in their food, especially if they’re young. It’s normal for them to occasionally peck an egg, but not for them to eat them regularly. We free-feed oyster shell – just keep it in a little cup in their coop. They’ll take what they need. You can also cook up their own eggs for a bit (with shell) and feed them back to them to help them out while they’re growing if they’re young. Good luck and enjoy your girls – it gets easier!

  11. lol! Sending this to my sister and BIL. They are moving soon to Texas to their own farm and this will definitely give them a heads up, and a laugh. Thanks!

  12. Love this and all so true! We get the silliest questions about our girls and the naming thing is right on, especially if you plan to put them in the pot at some point. I would add that even as a seasoned chicken-keeper with lots of girls (we have just under 100 on the farm now) – you will have your favourites, so be prepared to have your heart broken regardless. I’d also add that if they get out near the evening, remember they won’t make a peep if they roost somewhere (usually in the strangest place possibly) outside their coop! I had one hilarious hunt for my favourite girl when we still lived in the city – then neighbours thought I was nuts rooting around my backyard with a flashlight calling my chicken. Fun post!

  13. Kirsten

    We are moving from Canada to C.Springs in 2 weeks and I’ve had to face the reality of killing our 2 birds. I had originally planned to pawn them off, then I read an article about the huge surge of backyard birds ending up at the SPCA or in the woods after they stop laying and people don’t want them anymore (and don’t want to kill them). This really hit home for me. I decided that it was irresponsible of me to send my old lady non-layers to someone else to deal with, and the right thing to do is to see them through to the end. A tough decision, but a noble one I think. I would add to your list of things that chickens only lay for a few years or so, but that they can live for 8-10. I didn’t consider this when I got my birds, but I think newbies ought to know that eventually they will have to face this.

  14. Reblogged this on Outdoor Living in New England and commented:
    One more thing: Chickens can destroy a garden, so you must come up with defense strategies.

  15. Ah yes, the name thing. Hmm, I’ve been kicking around the idea of keeping the names but culling the chickens when I have to. I won’t even bother with the number behind the name either – like “Buttercup the 3rd”. The names will be more like titles of office. I’ll see how that goes. Who knows, in the long run, I might end up by referring to their color or size as well.

  16. Denise Brown

    I have named the three yellow hens – eeny meeny and miney. I used a felt pen to color on their back to tell them apart – not for their names, but for keeping an eye on who does what. This way, I have named them, but I havent named them because I dont know which one is which :)

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