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Thinking About Getting Backyard Chickens?

Chickens are all over social media. Running, laying eggs, wearing dresses and clucking. They're fun to watch and fun to own/keep. I got chickens to know where my food was coming from (eggs) and because I thought they'd be fun; but I did a load of research before I jumped in!

But...and you knew this was coming...there are quite a few things to consider before jumping into owning chickens. I feel like with all the posts about chickens, it's easy to get caught up in the hype and forget to stay logical. I'd like to share with you some ideas to roll around. This isn't a tutorial on how to take care of and raise chickens, but rather what to think about before you think about getting them and definitely before you walk into a Tractor Supply and buy chicks. Please...

  • Where do you live? No sense in going any further in your thoughts about chickens if you aren't allowed to have them. Some additional regulations for Columbus, Ohio: HERE

  • Do you have the space? Gotta have enough space to humanely raise chickens. If you don't have the space or don't want to pay for or build a coop big enough to accommodate chickens, then perhaps reconsider. In Columbus, Ohio and within many city limits, chickens aren't permitted to just freely run around your yard all day long.

  • The ugly stuff. I won't even go any further until I explain to you my favorite part (not really) but it is the most important. Here's the blitz: sometimes chickens die and you don't know why. Sometimes chickens get sick and you have to try to make them well. Sometimes hens lay an egg that comes out of [their vent] in a nasty way and you have to clean up a bloody, goopy, oozey mess. I've had to kill a chicken because she was actively dying and I felt letting her suffer while dying was inhumane. Like, I had to chop her head off (breaking their neck or decapitation is generally considered the most humane - quick and painless). Are you still with me? I bring all this up because if you know you can't handle everything I just said, then chickens aren't for you. One of these things will happen to you and that doesn't even count if a hawk, dog or raccoon gets a hold of your chickens.

  • Ugly stuff part two: Egg laying hens have an egg laying life span in general of 3-4 years. Their approximate life span is 8-9 years. This means that you'll have some years of getting no eggs. What do you do? Well, for me, living in the suburbs, we cull our flock after 4 years. That means they're killed. I don't have enough room to keep multiple flocks, so this was a decision we had to make before getting chickens. I'd strongly urge you to think this through because 4 years goes by quickly and if this isn't something you can handle, then backyard chickens probably aren't for you. Again - because I was verbally assaulted about this on Instagram - I live in the suburbs and there's a limit on how many chickens you can have. Therefore, I can't keep multiple flocks and no one wants your chickens that don't lay eggs.

If you're still with me, a few final things to think about:

  • Research! Please, please, do a deep dive ahead of time, way more than I've said here. This way, you'll be ahead of the game, be ready for the little lives you're bringing home and you won't panic. Best option: City Chicks, by Patricia Foreman. It's all you need.

  • The chickens. Egg laying hens are what you want and most municipalities don't allow roosters. Hens lay eggs most days (this is breed dependent), without a rooster. Roosters are only needed if you want chicks. Don't feel dumb if you didn't know that; most people don't until they read about chickens! You should check out what breeds work best in your area, their personalities, how much they lay and what colors - this is all a thing!

  • The coop. You can have the Taj Mahal of coops, or go small.....but please be humane! I'm bringing this up because teeny coops look cute online, but there is a minimum amount of space required for most permits, but more importantly, there's a humane amount of space you should have. Short version: living outdoors, the minimum confined space should be 10-20 sq ft per chicken.

In the end, after you've considered all this, allow me to say that chickens are less work than you expect, but more than you thought you were getting into if you didn't do your research. I love having chickens; hopefully you will, too!

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