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.  😉

Categories: Chickens, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 47 Comments

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47 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 – 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?

      • Barbara

        We pit a pile of sand pit for our girls. I know not everyone can do that, but I’ve also got a tire filled with sand for them. Helps prevent digging holes in the yard.

    • 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.

    • When we moved back to the country eons ago, we accidentally rescued a small flock of bantams. A friend of a friend of a friend heard we had a horse stall and were looking for goats…with no warning we found beer boxes full of these tiny weird birds in our driveway. 🤔 We heard later they were abandoned but we’d quickly thrown some wire up in the stalls and stumbled into chickenhood. I got attached immediately to the rooster with his puffy chest and machismo so I named him and painted up a sign to hang over the stall. Twelve years later there’s still a faded sign that reads ‘Cleatus & his Chicks’, and directly under that is another with a good 30 hash marks counting all the dominant roosters we’ve had and lost. We now have 3 breeding pens, 28 layers, and assortment of meat waiting to be processed, and a shed full of 134 hatchlings I just pulled out of the incubator…so much for goats!

  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 🙂

  17. Wendy

    This has been a great read! I must admit I have a really stupid question..we live in a rural area,woods surround our property and I know eventually I’ll discover a dead chicken..if there’s a carcass left,what do I do with it?

    • Laura

      We live in a rural area with woods. Chances are good you won’t find a carcass. You may find a few feathers, but not always. We have lost five chickens to coyotes (two from a completely fenced in chicken yard.) We think the coyote rushed the fence and scared the girls into flying out of the yard and into his waiting mouth. We have never found anything more than feathers to mark a passing. If you do find a chicken part, just bury it in the woods.

      • Curtis

        That was probably an owl or a chicken hawk

  18. poppy daisy

    I think you forgot to mention how much joy they bring to you!

  19. Mohammad

    haha ! I had some experiences about chickens. your text about holes was really funny, it remained me those days 😀

  20. larry trombley

    noise, you can have 10 nesting boxes but listen to them fight over 1. Still love them.

  21. Feathered Facts

    I completely disagree with the first one, naming them establishes a sweet bond that you will want to nurture if you have young children.

  22. Paige

    Hi all! I plan on getting Buff Orpingtons this march for my first chicken adventure. I have been doing alot of reading and sand seems to be the best way to go in the run. any thoughts?

  23. 2 of ours were named Stewy and L’il Dumpling. One of the lessons for children is that pets don’t live forever, and it is OK to grieve.

  24. chicken Mama

    The grandchildren and I named the chickens and banded them and documented which color was who. It was fun determining which chicken laid first, second, etc. We can also track which one is laying the largest egg.

    I have a chicken house and a chicken pen that is covered in chicken wire, ceiling and all. I feed and check the waterer once a day and find them to require little effort on my part.

    Once every two months, I dust the area with DE powder to disinfect the entire area and prevent lice and add wood shavings OR pine needles OR raked leaves. This keeps the pen clean.

    The chickens lay in nests, that has an outside door to collect the eggs. Collecting is like going to the grocery store – I open the door and collect the eggs.

    The eggs will spoil you and consider any effort worth the reward.

  25. I have a fenced area perfect for chickens, I am in a rural area and everyone around is always offering me chickens and goats, I can have a area put in for them but one thing I wonder I never see on threads…. How do you care for them in the winter, Keep them warm? And ow fragile are they? I am worried about being devastated when and if they die, they would have to be for eggs, I cant see myself butchering anything! But I would LOVE fresh eggs, I go through dozens from the store every week for the kids here. But seriously, how is it in the winter?

    • Glenn & Donna Groves

      Hey Charlotte,with our experience chickens can handle the cold.What they can’t handle and will get sick from is cold draft in the coop.

  26. Lesa in WI

    I LOVE your post! Made me laugh. We have been “chicken keeping” for 27 years. People STILL ask if we need a rooster for eggs! NO rooster in our hen house! (hens are happier too). All your points are so spot on. I don’t name them, and don’t let them run the property. Not only do they poop everywhere, and dig holes, they will also decimate your garden! Fresh eggs are the best too!

    • kirkaygri

      My husband had the bright idea to let ours “free range” in his garden for pest control and fertilizer a couple hours a day. That couple hours the first day was all they needed to eat everyone of bus cantaloupe! It’s been three years and he’s still mad. Now they are watched when they’re free ranging 🙂

  27. Jennifer

    So glad I stumbled upon The Lazy Homesteader! Always a great read.

  28. We name ’em. We love ’em. They are a bit like dogs and have the funniest personalities (which was a total surprise to us, who knew, right?) and follow us around. The would prefer to be house chickens and we can no longer leave anything in the house open, because the chickens will come in. Our biggest struggle is to keep them out of the garden and strawberry beds, little stinkers. We love that they free range the whole yard because we no longer have an ant problem (or grasshopper). :0)

    • Margie

      I name My chickens my girls are awesome yes they’re like dogs and yes you have to keep the door closed or they will come in

  29. Carrie Pill

    They are loud. My hens make noise all day. I can hear them from inside the house. Their coop and run is more space than suggested for the size of the flock. They do long loud wailing squaks, all day long, probably to be let out to free range which I occasionally do when I can be out with them. If this happens to anyone else one way to partially remedy this is with extra chicken toys and treats. I wish they could free range always but that wouldn’t fly for these urban chickens.

  30. Kay Williams

    We have 6 1 year old chickens and 6 6 weeks old chicks. My husband and son have built a wonderful large area for the girls but My husband still enjoys letting them out about an hour before dark. They roam around and then go back in their coup to roost. Our white chickens lay green eggs and the red chickens lay large brown eggs. We do provide oyster shells, corn, weeds and bread(their favorite) to supplement their food. So far, no problems just lots of eggs to share with appreciative friends. The grandchildren love them.

  31. I do name mine. And yes it is upsetting when a fox gets them or a hawk. Over the years I have solved most of those problems. Mine live in the garden.. Gives me someone to talk to.😀 They keep the weeds down, solve any insect problems and fertilize. I have a “safe” pen for them to be confined next to their house. It has a shaded area that they like to dust bath in.
    I protect my newly planted beds with 2′ high plastic fences. Once the plants are big, I can remove it. I do lose a few of the lower Brandywine tomatoes and have to protect the broccoli plants in the Fall.
    My girls greet me when I go to the garden, and make me smile.

  32. Lola

    I got 30 one day old chicks, I too kept them in my kitchen wit a heat lamp. Then to garage finally they free range. 19 of the 30 survived, my first time with chicks. I have 23-8 month old chickens. Oh a few where given to me there’s where 23 came from. Some of these girls dig to China an back but they lay the most tastet, beautiful eggs. There’s just no way to go back to store bought eggs. I can handle the holes. I enjoyed reading y’all’s experience also.

  33. Kim

    Love your post! So true, wish I had read it when I first got my girls, we’ve been through it all, every word is so true! However in reading all of the comments I haven’t seen anything including horses. We have 7 hens that we free range all day and 7 horses that are are out all night. The minute I open the cop in the morning all of the girls race to the piles of horse poo, dig through it and scatter it! They eat all of the undigested grain and spread the rest making it lovely fertilizer for our grass and eliminating the need for us to have to clean up all the poo! All of that undigested grain makes for amazing tasting eggs so all I feed them is the ‘spoiled’ produce I pick up at the local fruit stand for nearly nothing. It’s been a win/ win for us and having the horses out at night keeps the predators away too!

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