Since the pandemic started, more and more people are interested in raising their own flock of chickens at home. If you’re an animal lover, you are likely going to get attached to your birds! You think you want them just for eggs? Even my hubby admits that he’s gotten way more attached to ours than he thought he would.
Many people think of their birds as pets, I imagine that’s far more likely if you just have a few. If you plan on a decent size flock and are truly committed to it, there are a lot more things to consider and here’s the first thing you need to do:
We started out simply because I wanted fresh eggs. I had no idea what social birds chickens are and how much I would love them. When I go into the coop to open their door to the run in the morning, I talk to them, I greet them by names, I ask how they’re doing. Yup, I pretty much talk to them the same way I do to farm dog Luke!
Even with a large flock, you’ll still feel each loss. Your heart will break. You’ll beat yourself up a lot. It does get a bit easier; if you free range your birds like we do you must accept that the losses are going to happen. While each one makes me sad, it’s not as devastating as it was at first. The only time it was devastating recently for me was when we had a large loss of 12 birds at once when a mink got in our coop.
It was made more difficult by the fact that the birds we lost were ones we had hatched and raised in our incubator; one small group had even been raised by one of our hens. We put a lot of time and work into raising them; more than we did with our first groups that we bought as day old chicks from the feed store.
Raising chickens is a learning process. There is so much information out there, but it’s often conflicting! You’ll learn many things the hard way; and you’ll learn how to do things your own way; often, unfortunately, by trial and error.
The second thing:
Accept the fact that you know nothing.
You will make mistakes and lots of them. You’ll research solutions to your problems, both through the internet and books, but the answers will often be unclear. You’ll join Facebook groups for chicken lovers, and the people in those groups will have many different opinions! What works for someone may not work for someone else, people will constantly disagree on the best way to do things. You’ll often have to just go with your gut feeling and learn for yourself!
Next thing you know you’ve added guinea fowl, and you’re talking about ducks, turkeys, and geese, or any kind of predator protector, and with that comes even more to learn! We’re still trying to figure out our guinea fowls’ nesting habits!
The thing you worry about probably won’t be the bad thing that happens. I often wake up in the night to see one of our motion sensor flood lights has come on outside. I always get up to look out at the coop to make sure it’s secure. My biggest fear has been losing the whole flock to a bear; and then what happened? We lost half our flock to that small critter; we never expected that. In three years, nothing had found that vulnerability in our coop.
So, you think you did everything you could think of to keep them safe and healthy? Do more. You missed something. There is so much to consider: food, treats, supplements, bedding, safety.
You’ll look at wildlife differently. You’ll no longer enjoy seeing a fox, bear, owl, or hawk passing through or hanging around in your yard. At least you still get to enjoy deer, wild turkeys, birds, and continue to hope that one day a moose will stroll on through (I’m still waiting for that – we’ve seen all the rest).
I spent one whole afternoon once trying to chase an owl out of our yard! It was perched in a tree right above where our guinea hens were hanging out, and it would not budge no matter how much I yelled at it! I looked like a crazy lady, flailing her arms at a bird in a tree beside the road. Thank goodness our street is quiet!
What’s your motivation? Do you think you are going to make money? I expanded farm offerings to include organic dog treats and all-natural skincare products to try to make more. I sell our excess vegetables, but people mostly just want the eggs.
You’ll get hooked on selling your eggs, getting back a little money to cover your expenses (unless you are large scale, I doubt you’ll make money. If you do, let me know how!). However, it can be inconsistent at best. All the sudden, your birds will stop laying so well (what? You didn’t know about molting??), and your egg customers will move on to somewhere else when you never have any available (that happened to us many times when buying eggs at other farms – now I know why -, hence deciding to get our own birds!). You’ll waffle through being overstocked and understocked, and some days you won’t even have eggs for your own use! On others, you’ll be on the internet frantically searching for a new egg recipe!
I’m not here to discourage you from this. When we had the latest loss, it might have been the first time I said out loud “I don’t know if I can do this anymore”. But when I thought about NOT doing it, I knew I couldn’t give it up. I’m addicted, and chances are after you get those first few birds, you will be too. We keep trying to grow our flock, despite the setbacks.
I know many people who after losing a dog or a cat, or another beloved pet, say never again. I would never do that. The sole reason we only have one dog now is because that dog is happier being an “only child”. I feel the same about our birds – I love having them even though the losses hurt. The loss of 12 of our birds at once, mostly young ones we had hatched ourselves, was heartbreaking for me and the toughest to take.
But instead of giving up on it, we are going to try new things to keep the flock safe. We secured the vulnerability in our coop, and we are now considering getting a goose or some turkeys to help deter predators even more. If we must go the route of electric fencing around the coop, we’ll do that too. Someday, when Luke is no longer with us (not that I want to think about that), we may even get a livestock guardian dog; they are said to be the ultimate in flock protection.
The third thing: Realize that the rewards really are worth it. The first thing that amazed me about chickens was how social they are. They run to you when you get home, just like dogs (and looking for treats just like dogs too!). If you don’t handle them a lot as chicks (which is not always easy, since they don’t want to be handled!) they may not enjoy it, but they will still happily greet you. Some day I need to get video of the guinea hens when I call them out of the road, they come just like dogs (most of the time)!
They will entertain you endlessly, especially the guinea hens. For me, there is nothing better than a summer evening where I sit on the deck with a glass of wine and just watch the birds roam around the yard pecking at things, sometimes chasing each other or chasing bugs.
There will be surprises, like when you end up with an unplanned rooster! We got lucky, we decided to just go with it, and our rooster has turned out to be great. Without him, we wouldn’t have the joy of hatching our own chicks from our own flock. It has been fun to see the results of this, like when we created our own “Farm Mystery” to try to figure out. By the way, our one young hen, Annie Oakley, has started laying her first eggs. It’s always exciting waiting for that!
We were looking forward to seeing how having more roosters would be. We did hatch two, but unfortunately the first was in that group of 12 we lost, and the second got taken by a coyote about a week later. Our flock is large enough that a second rooster should work out. Since we’re hatching our own again, there’s a good chance we’ll get more. We hope any new ones will have the same temperament as their father. We got lucky; our rooster Charlie is quite a mellow guy!
The key is to be prepared, though I certainly wasn’t, and that’s OK. I did read a lot of books and did much research ahead of time, but you simply can’t learn everything you need to know that way. I like to learn as we go to an extent, and we constantly want to try new things, like hatching our own eggs. Sometimes knowing all the things that can go wrong just makes you hesitant to do something. No matter the bad times, we would certainly do it all over again, and we have every intention to continue.
Have you ever thought about raising chickens, or do you already? Did you have a lot to learn?