|It’s all fun and games until
your dog eats one of your chickens.
A few things i've gathered from reading stories about what can go
It may seem like i'm doing a lot of negative
blabbering, when all I am really talking about is the allowance of 3 backyard chickens in
Pittsburgh. But it's important, no matter how many and where you decide to
Good advice and almost always
free: There is a local chicken-raising expert, so try to find
There is also a backyard chicken group and agricultural
expert in almost every city. Pick their brains. Take all advice, even
from "seasoned" chicken people, with a grain of salt. Everyone
has some sort of pro-chicken bias.
Before you burn countless hours diagnosing chicken problems by browsing
fowl fan groups and self-sufficiency blogs, find a local poultry purveyor and be done
with it. Live experience and local eyeballs on the ground will do more
for you, and you'll find a new friend and expert you can count on.
Can you keep just one chicken?
A single chicken will not thrive in a solitary
existence. Like other social birds, chickens like to eat and forage,
peck, scratch, roost and dust-bathe together. Unlike most other birds,
they will lay eggs in common nests and often raise chicks communally.
It's just not right to have just one chicken, even if you just wanted it
for a pet. It's not recommended to keep fewer than three chickens at a
time because chickens need a social life. If eggs are what you're after,
you can expect a dozen eggs per week for every three chickens.
Don't build it, buy it. From what I've read, urban
and "gentleman/gentlewoman farmers "are regretting building
their own for a lot of different reasons. One of them is that the high
quality product made by chicken people is way better at building a coop
from the standpoint of the chickens, and more sturdy and efficient than
your feeble attempts. And the cost is not too high, the time gained, and
the end result, is way worth it. You can get a kit if you still want to
do it yourself, or have someone
deliver one and place it right where it should be. You can avoid the
sudden and costly realization that you are really not very adept at
carpentry or building anything, let alone designing a chicken chalet.
Facing Facts -
Chances are Good That At Least One of Your Chickens Will Die a Horrible
Death or Have to Go To A Home For Aging, Non-Laying Hens.
You will name your chickens. No
sense denying it. Once you do that, you will inevitably and eventually
mourn the loss of a dearly departed backyard chicken. Whether they
departed through an illness, or a dog - yours, or a visitor's - or some
predator sneaking into the backyard under cover of darkness.
Hens will only have about two
good years of laying before their production declines and they become
nothing but pets, and then you have 8-year freeloaders before
leave this world. When
the cost of feed is greater than the money you save in eggs, then you
have to make a decision. Eat it, keep it as a pet, or sell it. Just
remember you can experience the whole process all over again by buying
new chicks to replace lazy old hens.
Also, just so that you don't get
traumatized by not knowing.....Chickens are omnivores. They will eat
anything crossing their paths if they need to, and they eat bugs,
rodents, and snakes.
They will also have no qualms about killing a chick that's injured or slow. Just be prepared for that,
and don't blame the chicken.
Chickens Are Dirty and Smelly. And noisy.
Chickens poop everywhere and it accumulates. Yes, you can throw down more
straw and even some diatomaceous earth to keep the odor down, but those
are just band-aids. And you will have flies as long as your chickens
poop, it's a fact of life in the backyard barnyard. The only real
solution is cleaning and replacing your straw weekly. And maybe add a
few fly traps. Or try to find a chicken p0oper scooper, and toss the poo
into your garden as fertilizer. You'll still get flies, though.
They do make a noise
before they lay an egg (wouldn't you?) and break into a celebratory clucking after they have.
Different breeds and individual
chickens have different levels of vocalizing.
I can attest to the weird noises.
Someone in this neighborhood keeps chickens, and is keeping a loud
rooster, which is absolutely against the ordinance. I also believe that
the 3 chicken rule isn't being followed, either. The noises don't bother
me unless i'm outside in the garden or patio for some downtime, peace
and quiet that i've earned, and pay taxes for. Then they certainly do
annoy me. A lot. This cacaphony is coming from a few blocks away.
Bear in mind that noise carries, and it carries it to neighbors like me who
don't want to hear it. Strange thing for a fan of backyard laying hens
to say, but there it is. I'm also not a fan of how some people keep
their farm animals and their environment. Not a clean and tidy
arrangement, and an eyesore in some urban neighborhoods. You will have
to be a good neighbor if you're going to raise animals in your backyard.
Most city residences have only a few feet of space between houses. The
sound will most likely be annoying to your neighbors.
The big concern most neighbors voice is about rodents. We have urban
rats, no big surprise. Where there is food, there will be mice or rats.
If you keep your feed stored securely, there really should not be a
problem, but keep your eyes open. Using a metal container with a clasp
or tight-fitting lid is best, but a plastic bin works well also. Make sure you check the
plastic bin frequently for any sign of gnawing on the plastic- rodents
can be very determined, and generally eat through almost anything.
Your Family's Health
If you suffer from allergies or respiratory problems, you must think
very seriously about keeping birds- chickens, ducks, or otherwise.
The dander and dust created by birds is an allergen, and it can
occasionally causes reactions in people. Many people raise chicks inside
their house until they are big enough to go outside- the amount of dust
created is huge, and anyone suffering from asthma or similar ailments
will probably become ill.
Fowl Facts and Rules of The Roost
Chickens Will Not
Lay Eggs When You Want Them To. Sorry.
chicken will make approximately an egg a day, with or without a rooster.
In fact, roosters are not necessary at all to the production of eggs.
Besides, people like myself do not want to eat a fertilized egg with
that blood spot on it. I like knowing I don't have to have a noisy
rooster. Unless he's your only alarm clock, or you're breeding chickens,
he's just an unnecessary nuisance.
There seems to be no rhyme or
reason when backyard chickens will decide to lay eggs. They may lay
every day for a month, then take a break for a few days, then lay every
other day. Some chickens just won't do it at all. Make sure they have a
good, high protein, whole grain food, water them often, and keep the
light on until you go to bed. They seem to need a lot of light. Maybe
that’ll work. In winter, put a bright LED light on a timer in the
coop. Set it to come on very early in the morning and stay on for 14 to
15 hours a day. This will probably trick your chickens into thinking
it’s still summer, and they will continue to lay.
All poultry take a break from
laying each year to molt (grow new feathers to replace the old ones).
You can expect the first molt at about 18 months of age. In addition, a
hen will lay fewer eggs every year.
The real cost of raising backyard chickens - It
Ain't (just) Chicken Feed
- All costs
approximate for keeping a few hens.
Egg-laying hens can cost between $20 and $50.
City/local Permit fees: ours is $300
Chicken coop: $500 unless you build it yourself. The coop will be
inspected and changes may have to be made.
Fencing (50-foot roll): $29 to $130
Fence posts: $3.29 to $5
Nest box: $13 to $20 each
Pine shavings (8.25 cubic feet): $4.59 to $9
Straw: $5+ per bale
Food: $15/month. You can feed the chickens scraps, and let them
forage for their own food. But to make sure they’re getting all the
nutrition they need, you’ll likely have to supplement with
chicken feed. City pickin's found in a small space just aren't that easy to
Grit: $8 to $9 per 25 pounds
Oyster shell: $12 to $15 per 50 pounds
Vitamins and probiotics: $12 to $20 per 2 pounds of bird.
You’ll also need heat lamps to keep the birds warm in winter.
Chicken-related “extras”: $10/month (This includes things like wood
chips, repairs to the coop and water bottles).
This doesn’t include vet bills, which would likely come up at some
point. Vet bills range from $25 up to $100.
Miscellaneous costs like medicine, pest control, city applications and
If starting your flock from chicks, you’ll have to keep your chicks safe,
warm and fed until they’re ready to lay, which can take 6 months or
more. Keep in mind that until they are ready to go into their coop,
chicks need a protected box or brooder, which should be part of your
cost considerations. You’ll also need to provide chick starter feed,
chick grit, clean water, and probiotics.
There are some other little
downsides involved in the raising of chickens.
For one thing, your neighbors
might not be too thrilled, even if zoning rules allow you to keep
chickens. For another, chickens can attract predators and pests. That
may add more time and expense if you have to put up
protective fencing or enlist the services of an exterminator. Chickens
can get lice and mites, intestinal worms and other
You’ll need to provide care for
your little flock every day, and find a chicken-sitter if you travel.
Chicken-sitting is a lot different than regular pet-sitting. The fowl
have to be let out in the early morning, fed and watered, eggs collected,
and in the evening they need to be securely locked in. There are also
seasonal chores, and you’ll have to raise replacement layers every 2
years. Expect to spend about an hour each day feeding, watering,
gathering eggs, cleaning out the coop, letting the birds out in the
morning, and putting them away at night.
If you give your free range hens
free reign in your ornamental or veggie garden, they will destroy it.
Let there be no doubt
about it. They scratch and peck and dig All Day Long. And
they will lay waste to it. Amish gardeners have a spring ritual
whereby they seal the bottoms of their garden fences temporarily with
boards, to keep the chicks out, and the poultry from scratching and
generally running amok in the garden, pecking at heads of lettuce.
Not Having Outside Access to the Coop
Some larger chicken coops allow you to walk inside and collect your
eggs, but this can pose some problems. Going into the chicken coop might
result in tracking chicken poop all over the house, or intruding on the
chickens while they’re looking for an available laying box. Create
outside access boxes where you can grab the eggs from the laying boxes
without disturbing the chickens.
Don't count your chickens before they hatch. But Count Your
Chickens before you lock up
Each night, when you lock your chicken coop, you should count the
chickens to make sure they are all in the coop. Even if you only have a
few. Usually, the chickens will move inside the hen house when it begins
to get dark. But sometimes, you’ll notice that some chickens will try
and hide their nests outside of the coop. They will set up a nest in
nearby bushes, and instead of moving into the coop, they will move to
their nest. Count your birds each night to make sure that you don’t
have any unprotected birds in rogue nests.
Chickens Get Bored being cooped up - Give Them Toys
Hang a head of lettuce or some other greens on a rope from the
ceiling of the coop so that the birds can reach it. They love to peck
away at the head of greens, and it gives them something to do.
Treats and Food
It's recommended that you get specifically poultry feed, and get feed
with added protein during the colder seasons. Chickens like fresh and
dried worms, white grapes, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, chard, Brussels
spouts leaves and cherry tomatoes. When the chickens begin to
start laying eggs, they will need more calcium in their diet. Ground
oyster shells is a good addition to their diet.
Not Enough Light
Chickens need at least 14 hours of light to continue laying throughout
the winter. Put a light on a timer in the coop to come on really early
in the morning. By adding supplemental light in the morning, even free
range chickens still return to the coop at the same time each night or
right before dark.
Getting The Wrong Chickens
If you don't free range and plan to keep your chickens confined, be
sure to pick a breed that takes confinement well. Some cooped up
chickens will go psycho and cause damage when confined.
Myth: You need a rooster to have
Au contraire. Save yourself and your neighbors a lot of headaches.
Hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster. He is totally unnessary to
the production of eggs. His only job is to fertilize for breeding
purposes and to make a lot of noise at the crack of dawn.
Using A Bucket for
A chicken can go a few days without feed, but they can’t go very long
without water. Many newbies just add a bucket of water into the coop
that is tall enough so that the chickens won’t play in it, and is
heavy enough not to tip over easily. The problem is that this encourages
the birds to jump on top of the bucket and drink straight from the top -
making it easier to tip over after a while. Consider using a hanging
water source. preventing the birds from sitting on the top.
Building your Coop on the
Having a chicken coop on the ground can allow for foxes or other
nocturnal predators to work their way into the house. If there is an
underground hole that you don’t know about, you may notice some of your
chickens have gone missing. Buy or build a raised chicken coop that sits off the ground.
Many people even incorporate removable or swing-away floors that allow
for easy access cleaning.
Skipping Spring/Fall Cleaning
of the Coop
The coop and surrounding area must be deep-cleaned thoroughly two times a
year - fall and spring. All used bedding is removed and disposed
of. Replace with new bedding, etc.
Not cleaning out the Coop
every other day
Chicken poop and soiled straw should be cleaned out at least every
other day in summer, this helps to keep the coop from smelling.
Not Gathering the Eggs Every Day
Most hens lay about an egg a day, and if you don’t plan on
collecting them, they will end up all over the coop, dirty and cracked.
Uncollected eggs attract predators and rodents, especially in the
winter. Raccoons, snakes, and even barn cats love to eat eggs. So, if
you decide to get chickens, make sure you have a daily plan to collect
the eggs, and a place to put them.
And now that I've armed you with
lots of food for thought, I do hope that in the end, you will decide to raise
a few backyard chickens.
The Ready Store
City of Pittsburgh
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