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?
Many people living in our area have chickens. I think that I’ll stick with dogs. They’re easier 🙂
Hopefully then it’s easy for you find fresh eggs (if you eat them), without having to do all the work! 🙂
Tails Around the Ranch says
There are lots of home coops in my neighborhood (Denver approved chickens a few years ago and loads of people got on board). I always admire anyone who is successful at it because there is NOTHING as tasty as fresh eggs. Your enterprise is so inspiring!
I could never go back to eating store bought eggs! 🙂
My grandmother raised chickens (my father’s parents had a farm). I hardly remember that though. I must admit I’ve never thought of having chickens – but your blog has been amazing in terms of education. I’m so tempted to adopt or hatch a pair. Maybe Ellie would love the role Samantha loved?
Oh yes, I can just picture Ellie watching over chicks like Sam did! ♥
Omg – a MINK? I have seen wild ones near here, but it was at a lake, and they ate a lot of fish. I never would have thought of them as chicken eaters, but if they are in the weasel family, we know they are born predators. I am so sorry for your loss.
Thank you. A mink was the last thing we expected too – we had never seen one before! We had seen ermine around (also weasel family), but it never tried to bother the birds. Good thing, because it was the cutest little thing!
An ermine sounds beautiful. But those weasel breeds are born predators. My child’s ferrets went after one of our parrots and it was tough to separate them. Lots of meds for the parrot. The ferrets were on restriction, then.
Oh no! That’s awful. Glad the parrot was at least OK.
Yeah, I was worried when we saw the ermine. Hubby poo-pooed the idea that something that small would kill a chicken. I think he’d believe it now, he saw how vicious the mink could be when we trapped it in the Havahart.
He would also say that a hawk wouldn’t take a chicken, but he knows better about that now too. 🙁
Sometimes experience is a cruel teacher.
That’s for sure; and the same goes for Mother Nature!
The Island Cats says
We don’t want to raise chickens….but we found out that there a few people here on our island that do have chickens. In fact, someone not far from where we live must have a rooster because we hear him every morning.
I love hearing our rooster crow – you’re lucky to get that benefit without having to do all the work! 🙂
Ellen Pilch says
I used to want chickens, but we pushed it off because a neighbor’s cat was always out and we feared they would attract coyotes that would get him. And now, I just don’t want to have to go outside in all weather. 🙂
I get that! There are some (winter) mornings when I’m really grumbling about having to bundle up and go out there! 🙂
You sound a lot like Mackie’s dad with all of his waterfowl. They all have names and they circle him when he’s around because they love him. Losses are devastating to him and he grieves. The guinea hen’s feathers are just gorgeous!
Mackie’s Dad sounds much like my hubby – definitely our kind of guy! 🙂
Brian Frum says
We used to have chickens when I was growing up and they were fun. I’d spend lots of money on buckshot and lots of time hunting predators.
You were a good protector, just like my hubby! ♥
You have some very good advice here and I’m well aware how social they are. My mother raised them for food each year and many she had dad tend to at the end. Living on a farm is barbaric to the city dwellers, but it was a way of life for us. We never did the eggs.
Have a fabulous day and week, Jan. Smooches to Luke. ♥
Thank you, and Luke sends smooches back!
We have considered raising birds for food as well, but haven’t gotten there yet. I think it’s different now than it used to be (I may write about that sometime).
My Golden Life says
“Accept the fact that you know nothing.” I’ve had to accept that fact several times over the years! LOL. It comes with being an adult, and even more often as you get older.
Ya know, somehow I always felt you would get attached to your flock and not give up in spite of the losses. Like me. I just can’t not have dogs in my life even though it hurts like crazy when they leave this world. I can’t see me raising chickens, especially while Ducky is still alive and well. But I enjoy reading your stories about your experiences raising them.
So, farm girl, go and enjoy your farm life! And keep writing about it. There’s something cathartic in writing about our animals and how they enrich our lives.
Ah, for the good old days when we were young and knew everything! LOL
It is true about the catharsis of writing. I’d been planning this post ever since we had that big loss. I just had to give myself more time, so that I didn’t write a completely depressing post!
Great article. I love your description about the chickens social interaction with you and what it takes to keep them safe. I’ve always wondered whether you raise your flock strictly for their eggs or sell the chickens for food. It makes me happy they are part of your family.
I like it that way too. We’ve discussed raising them for food as well, but there are pros and cons to that. You’ve inspired me to write a post on that subject at some point!
Zoolatry (The Human One) says
Enjoyed very much reading “your story” with all the high (and low) points, joys and (sorrows) … the challenges and the rewards! Bravo to you, Farm Girl.
Grew up in the country, though not on a farm … but often helped a farm-girl-friend and when the day would come to send the best of the flock off to the 4H Fair, the tears would fall because as you say, you do get to know them
and they do have their own charming personalities!
Forge ahead, the journey is worth it.
Thank you! My whole life I had wished I lived on a farm, so it’s a dream come true for me, even if our farm is small and simple. ♥
love the part “accept the fact that you know nothing”…true… your shy hen is a beauty!!!
We are hoping to add some different color guineas to our flock this year too!
Aww they are cute. I am going to do this soon I think.
I hope it goes well for you if you try it!
Thanks I did it when I was a young boy growing up but been awhile.
I’m sure they are a lot of work and you really have to learn as you go. We have no desire to have chickens, but many people do. Most probably will have some and then not again. Luckily, you really enjoy having them and that is the main thing. You are not planning to live off the money from the eggs, you want the chickens and the experience they give you. Hope things go better as time goes on.
Yes, I often see people in those Facebook groups looking for new homes for their flock! I’m sure not everyone is cracked up for it!
We are happy with the latest hatch so right now anyway, things are looking up! Spring is always a tough time for predators though, so we’ll have to be prepared for that.
We don’t have chickens, or want to raise them…but our neighbor did, and it was fun to see him cuddling his hens!! They would come into our yard, (unfenced at that time) and lay eggs under our bushes, LOL!
The next neighbors had lots of other fowl, but lost most of them to roaming predators…such as coyotes and coons. The dogs would go crazy when they were near our fence…and I had to rescue a hen who flew into our yard,and forgot how to fly out when the dog frightened her…
Current ones have only a dog and a cat, LOL!!!
Our birds occasionally like to visit the neighbors too! But it’s a bit of a walk to get there, so it’s mostly the guinea fowl that will wander that far. Luckily the neighbor loves to see them!
My hubby will on occasion sit on the porch with a chicken on his lap. 🙂