Chickens and Eggs… (Early Morning Open Thread)

We recently knocked down an old, dilapidated shed in our backyard, and my husband is longing to fill that corner of the lot with something. (The man cannot abide a bare space in the yard.) He thinks we should build a coop and raise a flock of backyards chickens.

I’m not completely averse to the idea, but I suspect it’ll be a lot more of a hassle than we anticipate and that the drudgery involved will fall disproportionately on me. Actually, I think I have a much more realistic view of what it will entail than my city-boy spouse since I spent some of my childhood on a small farm with a flock of 30 or so chickens.

My memories of the chickens are mostly positive except for a couple of mean roosters. And also my father occasionally twisting one of the chicken’s heads off and making my sister and me pluck it for Sunday dinner. (We would both spend years as vegetarians thanks to that and an incident involving a cow we raised [Ferdinand] that was later converted into what my father referred to as “Ferdburgers.”)

Anyhoo, any chickens we purchase in the future will meet a happier fate than the chickens in my past, as we intend to add them to the mix strictly as egg producers and pets (and hens only, so no mean roosters). Still, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a good idea. In an effort to get me on board, my husband pointed out that we do something stupid every seven years, as if that were a convincing argument in the “pro” column.

We do something stupid far more often, of course, but he’s kind of right about the pattern of making possibly dumb decisions with far-reaching implications every seven years or so (getting married, reproducing, moving to the boonies, etc.).

So, does anyone have any experience with backyard chickens?

[H/T for photo: BuzzFeed]

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84 replies
  1. 1
    Cermet says:

    I thought you needed a rooster induce hens to lay eggs – live and learn.

  2. 2

    I do! I highly recommend you go with a heritage breed. I raise Buff Chanteclers and find them well adapted to the climate here in Upper Valley (VT/NH near Dartmouth College). The website I linked is where I get my chicks from. The Mother Earth News website has a lot of articles to help with raising of poultry. Email me privately if you want more info.

    Your garden is going to love all that chicken poop!

  3. 3
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Great post.

    My folks have always had a chicken coop since they retired. I don’t think chickens are very much work, except for the occasional having to shoot the possum with the .22.

  4. 4
    Moonbatting Average says:

    They’re awesome. My wife and I had 2, before we had to move to an apartment for a while, and they provided more than enough eggs. They’re really low maintenance once they’re set up, and they make pretty good pets if you keep them socialized (i.e. feed them by hand, let them out of the coop). They’ll eat all kinds of yard bugs and probably run off or try to eat any of those awful tree frogs they run across. Only issue is keeping them separated from the boxers. We just kept our dog inside when the chickens were out scratching around the yard, and it turned out that she didn’t go after them even when they were in the yard together (though that’s rare I think). Anyway, now that we have a real house again, yardbirds are a priority for us! (also, they produce great garden fertilizer!)

  5. 5

    Haven’t been around chickens since I left home, several hundred years ago. I do remember that cleaning their house was like being in a giant cat box. I also remember that their droppings did wonderful things for Mother’s roses. YMMV.

    Still, I agree with your hubby. Chickens would be a big step forward towards great self sufficiency. And they probably wouldn’t need any heat in the winter.

    We had mean roosters, too. Just about turned me off of sex, period. On the other hand, I really loved baby critters . . . .

    :-)

  6. 6
    Maude says:

    Read Betty MacDonald’s Egg And I. She has a great passage about hating chickens.This is the book with Ma and Pa Kettle.
    Chicken coops stink to high heavens.

  7. 7

    @Cermet:

    You need a rooster if you want to produce baby chicks but the eggs come anyway.

    Humans are the same way. Women produce ova whether they are sexually active or not.

  8. 8
    Walker says:

    I had a college roommate who was raised on a farm. When hecwas young, his dad gave him a cow to raise. But he made him name it “Hamburger” so that he always knew what would become of the cow.

  9. 9
    chopper says:

    @The Ancient Randonneur:

    buffs are good birds. most of all find a bird that’s most adapted to your climate, and pick one that isn’t skittish even if they lay fewer eggs. chickens, at least the fun and goofy breeds, end up becoming family pets after a while.

    most of all, build the coop like a tank. seriously, you want it completely predator proof, and even then you might lose a bird or two. these days there are plenty of plans for good coops out there.

    also lots of tips for feeding, though i’d recommend a good laying mash for a while just to have a solid diet to start. but kitchen scraps and high-protein/fatty acid seeds are always welcome in a birds diet. make sure to have a bowl of food-grade diatomaceous earth around for them to bathe in, keeps the bugs off.

  10. 10

    @Maude:

    Chicken coops stink to high heavens.

    They can smell of ammonia. The way to avoid that, of course, is to keep them clean.

  11. 11
    chopper says:

    @Maude:

    they can, but a well-maintained coop doesn’t stink at all.

  12. 12
    Raven says:

    It’s a HUGE issue here in Athens.

    “Dont Seize My Chickens reads the new bumpersticker on Mary and Michael Songsters car. Mary made the stickers, along with t-shirts for the whole family, last month after the Songsters ran afoul of the law regarding fowl in Athens-Clarke County. That law prohibits the keeping of chickens in intown single-family zoning districts (among other districts) in Athens, and the Songsters got a hefty ticket this spring from the ACC Community Protection Division (CPD) after a neighbor complained about the four or five chickens in their backyard.”

  13. 13
    Phoebe says:

    I’ve never had chickens, but the people across the alley from me do (2), and my cousin does (4, but then one died so 3). They both seem to not regret it or complain and they love the eggs.

  14. 14
    RSA says:

    A couple of years ago my wife was invited to join a friend on the Tour d’Coop [sic], a tour of homes inside Raleigh city limits whose owners raise chickens on their property. She said it was strange but fun.

  15. 15
    wvng says:

    We’ve had a mixed flock for more than 25 years. The chickens themselves are very little work, endlessly entertaining and, if allowed to range on grass, produce the best eggs you will ever eat. Eggs so great as to inspire sonnets from poetic friends (really, that happened to us). If you have predators about, that is where the work will come in. We have had periodic bouts with mink (killed 40 in one night), weasels, a fisher, opossums, raccoon, maybe a fox or two. A couple of years ago we broke down and confined the flock to an area of the barnyard using an electric mesh fence; have had no predation problems since (he says knocking furiously on wood).

    http://www.premier1supplies.co.....4AodUAk8dQ

  16. 16
    techno says:

    Do NOT do this! I have friends that tried this. What a disaster. Chickens shit and it smells really bad. Chickens make noise. Chickens are zoned out of a bunch of neighborhoods for valid historical reasons. And chickens are a daily time suck. And for what? So you can say you consume a more ethical egg?

    Oh well. When your brave experiment in chickens has collapsed into the expensive failure you can easily see coming, you’ll have material for a good book. But seriously, if you want to have those happy eggs from happy chickens, hook up with someone who has a good story down at the farmers market. More than likely, those people need new customers. And even if the eggs are expensive, you’ll save a fortune.

  17. 17

    Nashville just passed an ordinance approving backyard chickens. I’d love to have some. We’re limited — I think the max number is 6 — and no roosters, plus you’re not allowed to slaughter them for the meat. I can’t imagine 6 chickens would be that much trouble and I’d love to have the eggs. But the Husband won’t allow it. He says “get that idea out of your head.” LOL.

    He was raised on a farm, I’m a city kid so there ya go…

  18. 18
    Kirbster says:

    Do it fast if you’re going to, Betty. If Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel are correct, there’s only a short window of opportunity before the giant pythons arrive in Central Florida.

  19. 19
    cranky donkey says:

    Here’s a great site to whet your appetite for a home flock. http://www.backyardchickens.com I’ve raised chickens for over 30 years. If you set things up well the labor is minimal and the joy you will get from watching them is worth every minute spent cleaning or feeding. I agree wth going with a heritage breed. Our latest flock are Buff Orpingtons. They are good general purpose birds and the roosters have been very docile and kind to their girls. and the eggs just can’t compare to those anemic things you get at the store. Good Luck, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

  20. 20
    debit says:

    In honor of this thread, I had eggs for breakfast. They were delicious.

  21. 21
    David Fud says:

    I just started this year with 4 Copper Black Marans. They are great. Not much hassle, easy to deal with. I have a chicken tractor, so I just move their cage around. Sometimes I let them out for the afternoon. Food and water lure them back in.

    Easy. Waiting for the eggs to start! Will be wonderful.

  22. 22
    Elizabelle says:

    Don’t know about chickens, but I always wanted me a goat.

    Wonder if you need two goats, though, so they can talk to each other.

  23. 23
    General Stuck (Bravo Nope Zero) says:

    That Hen in the middle is kind of hot. Nice legs. Yum

  24. 24
    Butch says:

    We have a flock of about 30 and supply us and many of our neighbors with eggs. They aren’t a lot of work as long as you keep up with cleaning. Check out Mount Healthy Hatchery for chicks (yes, the chicks actually arrive in the U.S. Mail) – the best we’ve found after a lot of experimenting.

  25. 25
    HRA says:

    In my childhood years, my Mom would go to market and bring a live chicken home every week. I named all the chickens Henry hoping someone would know it was my pet. They did not get the message and they never understood why I would not eat the Sunday dinners.

  26. 26
    Squid Vicious says:

    If you’re interested, I’d say go for it. I live in Denver, close to downtown, and have chickens in my backyard. As others have suggested, I’d say it’s important to go in to this fully-informed.

    Coops:
    Find a good, solid design online and build it strong. Key things to think about, in my opinion, are ease of access for cleaning (i.e., no hidden corners or hard to reach places), tight construction to keep in warmth in winter, and enough room in the run that they can get exercise when, for example, there’s 18″ of snow in your yard.

    Drudgery:
    Sure, there’s some. Two basic sources are daily feeding and watering, and cleaning the coop/run. The first can’t be helped, but it’s not a huge deal. Say hi to the ladies, check them out for problems, chat a bit, give them their food and water and you’re done. Cleaning the coops is little more time consuming, but not hard. I have a couple of friends who designed their coops and runs to use sand as the floor layer. They use a rake and shovel to clean it weekly like a litter box. We use wood chips in ours. We’ve found that if you rake it periodically and do a full clean and replace every 4-8 weeks (depending on season) it doesn’t smell.

    Noise/Smell:
    Chickens just aren’t that noisy. They cluck when they’re upset and when they’re waking up, but that’s about it. And, if you keep the coop clean, you’ll never smell it and nor will your neighbors. One issue, however, is coop waste. You can’t put all that poop and litter in your garden right away, it’s waaaaaay too high in nitrogen. So, you need to age it or discard it. I’ve been aging it a covered trench behind my garden. Seems to work well. We also share some with our gardening friends, and some of it just goes to the landfill. Either way, control the coop waste/litter and smell won’t be a problem.

    Breed:
    We have barred rocks and rhode island reds. They’re good in the cold and regular layers. I’d do a little research and find chickens that are bred for your climate and genetically strong. I don’t know the heritage breeds, but hear they can be excellent.

    Eggs/Meat:
    The eggs are awesome! We have six chickens and get 6 eggs a day in the summer and about 3 in the winter. And if you don’t mind killing and cleaning a chicken, your older layers can make an excellent potted chicken. Sounds cold, but they’ll have fine lives and will never know what hit them.

    If you’ve got a little time, some space, and the ability to put down a good $400 in start-up costs, you’ll love having chickens, I guarantee it.

    Cheers!
    Squid

  27. 27
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    A buddy of mine has them and thinks they are great. Another gal friend is just starting and thinks she will love them. Me? I spent a year working on a ranch in WY and one of my duties was cleaning out the hen house. I still can not get the stench out of my nose.

    I doubt I will ever have hens because first off, I just can’t eat that many eggs, second I have a lot of foxes around my place and they help keep the riffraff to a minimum, and lastly….

    I can’t get the stench out of my nose.

  28. 28
    Mino says:

    Dominickers are a smart breed of Heritage. And pretty–black/white ticked.

    I think 7 year insanity bouts is a good practice.

  29. 29
    tdm says:

    My friend in NH raises egg hens and meat birds. She might have 50 or so birds at a time. I think she would recommend the layers but the meat birds are dim-witted and not exactly great companion birds. The hens seem pretty cool and don’t seem to be too much work. Nothing smells. They need food and water and a place to stay and to be rounded up at night someplace safe from predators. She has has animals attack and kill the flock which is kind of upsetting so a safe coop is a must. She is a big fan and I am a big fan of her free eggs. I say YES.

  30. 30
    Scott says:

    My sister keeps chickens, but she does live a ways out in the country. She keeps them for eggs and as pets. I’m not a fan of chickens as pets, but at least they’re better than ducks, which seem like vastly more evil critters.

    She’s had at least one rooster — not on purpose, though, because it’s just really difficult to tell the sex of a baby chick.

  31. 31
    keestadoll says:

    My advice: do it, but keep it small, and by that I mean get maybe 5 to start. Five hens will lay LOTS of eggs–more than enough for a small family. Also–yes, chicken poop is a gardener’s friend, BUT you have to be aware of how much they love to scratch. Any planting area you have is fair game to them and I have seen them undermine many plants–dirt flying everywhere, gravel projectiles–they WILL get their bugs, and dig up roots while they do it.

  32. 32
    harlana says:

    @HRA: my mom has told similar stories about my grandmother doing the same thing – they lived in town and when you wanted chicken, you had no choice but to go out and buy a live one and, well you know the rest. still, if you’re a chicken, it was a more humane way to go than factory farms.

  33. 33
    Comrade Mary says:

    There’s a great answer here in response to a similar question.

    But if you’re ever tempted to get turkeys, read this. Hint: some turkeys are more aerodynamic than you think.

  34. 34
    Yutsano says:

    Chickens are fun! As long as you have them set up to where you can clean the coop relatively easy them they pretty much maintain themselves. A bag of feed and a bag of corn at the feed store isn’t too expensive, and you won’t go through it that quickly. I agree with the calls for only a few hens, like 3 or 4, that should keep you in more eggs than you know what to do with. And the taste and freshness of your own eggs cannot be compared.

    One thing: socialize the boxers to the chicks VERY early.
    Otherwise they might look at them as Scooby snacks.

  35. 35
    Jon O says:

    So Andrew Breitbart is dead. I make a lot of effort not to speak ill of the dead, so I’ll end this comment here.

  36. 36
    Pongo says:

    Non-chicken related comment: ABC online has a ‘hot topic’ saying ‘Andrew Breitbart Dead,’ but when you click on the link there is nothing there. Anyone heard scuttlebutt about this, or is it just another internet hoax?

  37. 37
    elmo says:

    Late to the party, but a hearty YES to the chickens. We had them for two years, gave them up when we moved, and I miss having them. We will have them again when we get into a new place. Watch out for predators, including hawks.

    In answer to the question above, never ever ever have just one goat. They get very lonely. But two, or three goats can be like puppies. Fun to watch, very affectionate.

    And we called our cow Elmer Fuddrucker.

  38. 38
    chopper says:

    @techno:

    maybe your friends didn’t know what they were doing. the world of gardening and raising small livestock is chock-full of stories by idiots who thought they could run a marathon without any training.

    start small, a few birds. it isn’t that hard.

  39. 39
    chopper says:

    @Jon O:

    given breitbart’s history of conning people i’ll believe it when i see the body.

  40. 40
    Canuckistani Tom says:

    @Comrade Mary:

    I know a set up line when I hear it

    ‘As God is my witness, I thought Turkeys could fly!’

  41. 41
    Pongo says:

    Update: Breitbart is dead–it’s on his site and all over the news now. ‘Natural causes’ apparently.

  42. 42
    Erik says:

    Chickens are awesome! My wife decided to try it 3 years ago after going on the Funky Chx Coop Tour (Austin). I was skeptical but they have been great. We started with 3 and we enjoyed them so much we added another 3, all different breeds. They are great pets, the kids love them and the (different colored!) eggs are a bonus.

    My wife handmade the first coop out of wire and PVC, but recently upgraded to a more roomier version. Do be careful with predators (make the coop sturdy), but in general I can’t say enough good things about them. We even have a cat but conditioned her early on and now she just gives them a wide berth…

  43. 43
    Cheap Jim says:

    @cranky donkey: I know nothing about chickens, but I think Buff Orpington would be a wonderful name to use in a parody Agatha Christie novel. “Well, the rector said he’d be glad to come, but Mrs. Buff-Orpington had invited him to dinner first.”

  44. 44
    Will says:

    Werner Herzog (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_Herzog) has things to say about chickens….

    http://vimeo.com/9880377

  45. 45
    chaucer says:

    i had a few bantam chickens a few years ago. they are really docile and the rooster was beautiful; his name was lancelot and he was very friendly. he was tame enough that he would come to me when i called him and let me pick him up for a cuddle. it may be that he was so tame because he was handled daily after just being hatched. the reason to get a rooster is because the bantam hens are really good layers. i use to collect the eggs we didn’t eat and place them under the broody hen and she sat on them until we had little chicks.

    the chicken litter is indeed very good plant food; just don’t layer it too thick or you will burn your plants up.

  46. 46
    chaucer says:

    no way about having one goat. we had one goat (cindy) for years; a nubian milk goat. she played with the dogs and she and my daughter played every day. their favorite game was king on the mountain with a hay bale as the mountain. wish i had had a movie camera; watching them gave me plenty of laughs. just watch out for your plants. i spent over $1000 having my yard landscaped and i came home one day to find most of the plants eaten down to the stems.

  47. 47
    Constance says:

    Have to laugh about the mean roosters. I had one jump on my head when I was five years old. He drew blood and I have a scar on my face where he raked me. My Grandad Taylor immediately executed him and he became the centerpiece of chicken and dumplings. I’ve heard many mean rooster stories recently–is there a society we can join?

  48. 48
    kindness says:

    I had chickens for a time. My dog called the project to an end with his very own veto power. Let me tell you all one thing. Tying a dead chicken around a dogs neck for several days doesn’t stop a chicken killing dog from continuing to kill chickens.

  49. 49
    SBJules says:

    We had a couple of “girls” for years. Fabulous eggs and the garden is still very fertile. I would say to start slow and no rooster(they are forbidden in many urban/suburban areas. Do keep the coop clean.

  50. 50
    horatius says:

    No roosters??? What about their sex lives? Unless they are all lesbians.

  51. 51
    Yutsano says:

    @horatius: One of the hens will actually take on a “dominant” role, acting like a rooster. Hens in this condition have even been known to crow!

  52. 52
    Wonkie says:

    I know some ROn Paul survivalists that have chickens. The chickens don’t seem to be much work. I doubt that they spend and hour throughout the day on them, and the chickens are healthy and live in a clean coop and fenced yard. A little feding and cleaning each day seem to keep them happy and healthy.

    Of course it’s not the chickens that keep the Ron Paulists healthy and happy:they live on selfishness and hypocrisy like all Republicans. Their main income is disability for the adult male, Medicare and Social Security for the matriarch who owns the preperty and state funded insurance for the grandkids. Assholes.

  53. 53
    muddy says:

    @kindness:

    I had chickens for a time. My dog called the project to an end with his very own veto power. Let me tell you all one thing. Tying a dead chicken around a dogs neck for several days doesn’t stop a chicken killing dog from continuing to kill chickens.

    I would think it would make the dog worse, going all day with the smell of gore up his nose, egging him on. jeezum

  54. 54
    Elie says:

    Thanks so much for making me smile today… the “girls” look great in their sweaters… very darling …

    Nothing like good fresh “real” eggs from happy chickens. They taste totally different…

    Unfortunately, dogs, weasels, racoons and a bunch of other critters all like to eat chickens.

  55. 55
    dexwood says:

    Chickens are incredibly fun to watch. We have 5 hens and I find myself sitting on the bench near their pen observing, laughing, and relaxing. Because of the hawks, feral cats, and raccoons in our neighborhood, and my dogs, I built a fully enclosed pen, 14 feet wide by 30 feet long. I used electrical conduit, salvaged, for the supports (posts set in concrete) and wrapped the whole thing in, what else, chicken wire. A large, inexpensive, secure cage with the coop sitting in the middle. We call it the Chicken Convent (Sister Mary Evita is my favorite). Two Buffs, two Araucanas, and one Rhode Island Red give us plenty of eggs to eat and to share with neighbors and family. We clean the coop weekly to keep the odor down and help maintain a healthy flock. Stay on top of it and it isn’t a big deal. Yea, you work for the eggs, but the laughs are free.

  56. 56
    Deb T says:

    @Maude:

    We are talking about a small number of chickens here. My grandma raised chickens, and even though I was little when we used to gather eggs, I didn’t find the henhouse that bad smelling – and she had a hundred or so. Of course they were ‘free range’ even though the chicken yard was fenced to keep the cows out, but then I think most “small farm” chickens were free range back then. Lots of space and fresh air.
    A dozen or less wouldn’t create more mess than can be fairly easily handled. Compost the straw and keep the coop clean.

  57. 57
    gttim says:

    GF’s neighbor have about 20- she has the community garden, they have the chickens and others contribute other things. The eggs are fantastic! Chickens eat all the food scrap, including egg shells. They supply a ton of great eggs. They were complaining over the weekend abut having too many eggs right now. If they are legal, go for it!

  58. 58
    ThresherK says:

    Here’s an enjoyable local WNPR show on the subject, from the cutting edge of suburban Connecticut ideas.

    (Having lived in CT suburbs my whole life I don’t know if I’m kidding or not.)

  59. 59
    Luthe says:

    @Raven:

    I second this comment. Check your local zoning regs before beginning your egg-laying empire.

  60. 60
    techno says:

    @chopper:
    Friends who didn’t know what they were doing when the set out to raise chickens? You have that right! Should have known they were going to have trouble when I saw how neurotic their dog was.

    Point is, MOST people who set out to raise chickens have NO idea what they are doing. Not a lot of places to learn those skills these days?

  61. 61
    Aet says:

    The only advice I can think to give based on my very limited experience is already listed here. I’d suggest not to do it unless you’re already living on a farm and/or if you have the spare time to do it right. Do not do it if you live in a crowded suburb.

    My highlights are:

    1) Start small, 3-5 birds tops. You’ll be giving eggs away to your neighbors. Once you get the routine down, adding birds is easy.

    2) Keep the coop clean. Spending a couple extra hours to find an easy-to-clean layout is some of the best time you’ll ever spend. Clean coops last longer, attract fewer predators and vermin, and have healthier birds that give the best eggs. If you aren’t composting now, you sure will be soon.

    3) Design the coop to be secure. The smell isn’t too bad (except in the cleaning, and that can get bad), but it will seem to call in every possible predator for miles.

  62. 62
    vheidi says:

    @techno: Can not comment on keeping chickens, although a Brooklyn neighbor does. However, bought a dozen organic eggs at the farmer’s market last week for $6.00 (gasp) but my goodness, they were absolutely spectacularly good.

  63. 63
    vheidi says:

    @cranky donkey: Dorothy Sayers, anyone?

  64. 64
    HeartlandLiberal says:

    Just plan ahead on who gets the regular chore of shoveling out the floor and the droppings to keep the place clean. And if you do not know what I mean, you may need be ready to raise chickens.

    When I was a small child, we had a very large shed for the chickens, who roosted on a raised lattice build by my dad. It was my job to periodically raise that lattice, and shovel out the sh*t and straw.

    I am assuming daddy was right when he told me it would help make a better man out of me.

  65. 65
    chopper says:

    @techno:

    if you can handle a dog you can handle having chickens, and most everyone who adopts a dog doesn’t take courses in dog ownership first.

    there’s plenty of information out there on how to raise a few hens. it isn’t that hard. you just can’t sleep in every morning and need to be around your house regularly.

  66. 66
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    Get your soil tested before you start: I had friends who had to give away their backyard hens because there was lead and all sorts of toxic crap in the soil.

  67. 67
    Violet says:

    A friend has had one and two chickens at a time for years. They’re super easy to deal with if you only have a few. I hope you have a similarly easy experience if you decide to get chickens.

  68. 68
    lectric lady says:

    Our well built coop survived a home invasion by a black bear! It is attached to a regular dog kennel with cover for general confinement. On most days I let them our for an hour or two before roosting time. Much longer than that, they wander over to the neighbors, and their chicken killing dog. We have a Golden Retriever who is obsessed with the birds, so our rule is ‘chix out, dog in.’

  69. 69
    Sarah Vallongo says:

    Go for it, but do get a rooster because he will protect your hens. We kept six at most, not 30, but they have been ble to range our large property and, despite dogs, raccoons, foxes, etc., we have only lost one in a mysterious way. The others just wound up cold corpses in the coop, found in the morning when we unlocked the door.
    Wish i could say our record with chicks was so happy. I raised two small broods and both met rapid and violent ends thanks to the abov-mentioned wild residents of the yard. We are still getting an egg every couple days from our 3-year old hen, Nugget. She and Roy, the foppish boy, remain active in the yard every day the weather permits.
    We built our coop about 2 feet off ground, following ideas from many websites, and using recycled materials. It has proved chick-worthy beyond our expectations. Good luck!! Enjoy.

  70. 70
    g says:

    My neighbor has backyard chickens – he’s got about a dozen. He’s got a dog, too, and there don’t seem to be any issues there. From what I observe, it’s not a lot of trouble for him. We live in a coyote-prone rural area, but so far there’s been no trouble. 6′ chain link fence around the property does the trick.

    His little 7 year old boy comes over on Sundays and sells us the eggs – it’s wonderful!

  71. 71
    shano says:

    Have had lots of chickens. I love them. I got so much entertainment from simply watching the chicks & hens. You can feed them all your table scraps (except chicken, ugh), and they catch all the bugs in your yard. they will scratch up your garden if it is vulnerable. Mine used to roost in trees, in the barn, in the corn crib. Then I had some in a small coop. I had to hire someone to process young roosters so I could make the most delicious chicken soup, they came to me plucked and ready to cook…. I never could kill one myself. The eggs are worth all the trouble, imho!

  72. 72
    shano says:

    I love the barred rocks, but have had many different varieties, including game hens and guinea hens (too noisy, but delicious to eat, the breast meat is dark like a duck)

  73. 73
    Paul in KY says:

    make sure you get chicks from a reputable breeder. There is some kind of disease they can get, starts with a ‘m’, from the beginning & if they get that they will all die & you can’t eat them or the eggs.

    My sister/BIL are trying to raise them. The first batch had this disease & are on their way to all dying (6 of them).

  74. 74
    kindness says:

    Don’t get a rooster. They’re more often testosterone filled mean birds than nice and they crow at all hours of the night. My neighbors roosters like to crow at 3 every morning. They will try to out crow each other for about 3 hours and then settle down again.

    If they are free range with no fence, then OK, get a rooster but if you are fencing & cooping them, let the fence be their protection.

  75. 75
    Spike says:

    @Walker: When my sister added a couple of pigs to her small farm and expressed a similar concern, I suggested she name them “Bacon” and “Pork Chop”. Seemed to work well for her (if not for the pigs).

  76. 76
    Damned at Random says:

    My dog brought one (a backyard chicken)home once. You will need a good fence and hope none of your neighbors have rescued a smart stray dog. And watch out for raccoons- they love fresh eggs

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    Laurel says:

    Go for it. We converted an old shed to a coop for six chickens. We now have eight after two went to the big coop in the sky. They are super sweet; they come running when we approach them. I’d echo what a few others have said:
    -No roosters
    -Give them a good strong fence so they’re safe, and let them roam outside occasionally. They put themselves away at night, with the occasional one who gets surprised by the dark and finds an outside roost for the night
    -In the winter (here in MA), in bad weather, we close them in at night with a little chicken sized trap door. Each morning, when they are released into their outside area, I check their food, water, and scoop their poop into a bucket, which gets emptied in the near woods when full in order to use as fertalizer in the summer. 5 min, tops.
    -once a month they get their coop swept out and new hay in all the laying boxes and floor
    – a heat lamp in the winter. A second one when it gets really cold, for the older ladies (pushing 3 yrs)
    We have three rhode island reds, three Americans (blue eggs), and two Plymouth barred rocks, who are the bravest.

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    The Golux says:

    My brother-in-law used to keep chickens, and we often got some of the egg surplus. Really fresh eggs are a revelation. There are few things more delicious than a poached fresh egg (jumbo, please!) on a nice thick slab of toast made from homemade bread. (Drool….)

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    Cmm says:

    We have them. As the others say, really not much work (we currently have 10, 4 bantams, 5 full size, 1 bantam rooster who has turned out to be pretty pleasant. They free range in our backyard for a few hours a day and spend the rest of the time in their coop/enclosed yard. They are so much fun to just sit and watch, and I am no farm/nature girl and was not enthused about the concept at first. Lots of good suggestions in this thread. My suggestion, check your local regulations and find a local chicken raising group or meet up so you have an info source. Go on a backyard chicken coop tour…that was what got me into the “let’s do this” column, and will raise your confidence level. 5-6 birds is plenty if you aren’t looking for more than eggs and pets. Oh, and be careful with the chicken poo as fertilizer, it does work but the concentrated vapors can be dangerous. One of my coworkers has an uncle who keeled over dead after fertilizing his rosebushes with too much poo at too close range.

  80. 80
    Cmm says:

    We have them. As the others say, really not much work (we currently have 10, 4 bantams, 5 full size, 1 bantam rooster who has turned out to be pretty pleasant. They free range in our backyard for a few hours a day and spend the rest of the time in their coop/enclosed yard. They are so much fun to just sit and watch, and I am no farm/nature girl and was not enthused about the concept at first. Lots of good suggestions in this thread. My suggestion, check your local regulations and find a local chicken raising group or meet up so you have an info source. Go on a backyard chicken coop tour…that was what got me into the “let’s do this” column, and will raise your confidence level. 5-6 birds is plenty if you aren’t looking for more than eggs and pets. Oh, and be careful with the chicken poo as fertilizer, it does work but the concentrated vapors can be dangerous. One of my coworkers has an uncle who keeled over dead after fertilizing his rosebushes with too much poo at too close range.

  81. 81
    Cmm says:

    We have them. As the others say, really not much work (we currently have 10, 4 bantams, 5 full size, 1 bantam rooster who has turned out to be pretty pleasant. They free range in our backyard for a few hours a day and spend the rest of the time in their coop/enclosed yard. They are so much fun to just sit and watch, and I am no farm/nature girl and was not enthused about the concept at first. Lots of good suggestions in this thread. My suggestion, check your local regulations and find a local chicken raising group or meet up so you have an info source. Go on a backyard chicken coop tour…that was what got me into the “let’s do this” column, and will raise your confidence level. 5-6 birds is plenty if you aren’t looking for more than eggs and pets. Oh, and be careful with the chicken poo as fertilizer, it does work but the concentrated vapors can be dangerous. One of my coworkers has an uncle who keeled over dead after fertilizing his rosebushes with too much poo at too close range.

  82. 82
    Cmm says:

    We have them. As the others say, really not much work (we currently have 10, 4 bantams, 5 full size, 1 bantam rooster who has turned out to be pretty pleasant. They free range in our backyard for a few hours a day and spend the rest of the time in their coop/enclosed yard. They are so much fun to just sit and watch, and I am no farm/nature girl and was not enthused about the concept at first. Lots of good suggestions in this thread. My suggestion, check your local regulations and find a local chicken raising group or meet up so you have an info source. Go on a backyard chicken coop tour…that was what got me into the “let’s do this” column, and will raise your confidence level. 5-6 birds is plenty if you aren’t looking for more than eggs and pets. Oh, and be careful with the chicken poo as fertilizer, it does work but the concentrated vapors can be dangerous. One of my coworkers has an uncle who keeled over dead after fertilizing his rosebushes with too much poo at too close range.

  83. 83

    Thanks so much for all the tips and stories as well as votes pro and con, everyone! I don’t think I’m going to be able to talk the mister out of it, so stay tuned for chic-pix by and by. Mr. C has done a lot of research, and he’s leaning towards half a dozen or so Orpingtons because they’re supposed to be suited to our subtropical climate. We’re going to build a 30×10 or so coop and also allow the to roam (in our fully fenced yard) when the dogs are inside. Great advice — again, thanks!

  84. 84

    Check out my books, How to Raise Chickens and How to Raise Poultry. Both focus on raising traditional breeds in small flocks. Ask around in your community — there are often workshops introducing people to the basics of chicken raising and coop building. And then, get some nice heritage breed chicks and you’re launched!

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