Pros and Cons of Backyard Chickens
Colleen Wallace wanted to become more conscious about the source of her food. She eats healthy and figured backyard chickens would be a great idea. She built a chicken coop in the backyard and bought a few chickens. Soon, the birds began laying eggs, and her family had a healthy supply.
“I wanted to know where our food came from and wanted to teach my kids the art of real food not just the fluorescent lights and marketing of a grocery store,” she said.
The fun didn’t last. Soon the chickens were tearing up her yard and making a mess everywhere. The chicken experiment lasted two years, but Wallace and her husband finally had enough. The chickens had turned the backyard into a wasteland, and her boys were getting old enough that they needed the backyard.
The family sold the chickens and removed the coop. Wallace says she not opposed to backyard chicken and understands everyone’s situation is different. People just need to be aware of the pros and cons of backyard chickens before letting the birds inhabit their property.
Reasons Against Raising Backyard Chickens:
No unified regulations exist for backyard chickens. Because it is a land-use issue, counties and cities are responsible for regulating and enforcing backyard chickens. Those vary from location to location. Over the last few years, major cities across the country have legalized backyard chickens. The same is true for smaller and mid-sized cities. You will need to check with your zoning administrator or land-use planning office. They can update you on the current laws.
It’s not cheap to raise chickens. In fact, it’s more expensive to raise backyard chickens than purchasing eggs at the store. Chickens cost between $3 and $30 a chick, depending on the breed. The cost of a coop varies. You can build a DIY one for a few hundred dollars, or it can cost several thousand dollars to have a professional build one. The chickens will not get enough food in your backyard alone so it will cost around $15 a month for feed. You can add $10-$20 a month in upkeep and maintenance costs.
Anyone who has ever been around a farm knows that chickens make noise. While the hens will not make as much noise as the rooster, they still are noisy. The noise varies depending on the breed, but chickens produce around 60-70 decibels of noise. That’s similar to a human conversation, but not as much as the 90 decibels of a dog bark.
Chickens produce a large amount of waste, and all that waste can cause your backyard to stink. For Wallace, the key is keeping the right ratio of chickens, especially if they are allowed to roam freely in the yard. The denser the chicken population, the greater the chance that the waste will become intolerable. A lot also depends on the weather. Rain and heat have a major impact on the smell. “The smell can be strong, especially in summer,” Wallace said.
Chickens aren’t very smart and can be easy targets for dogs, foxes, cats and other predators. They are not able to fly and cannot fight back against a predator’s attack. There is always the chance that you will lose some chickens due to predators, which can be tough.
“We’ve had a few hawk attacks and had a hard time with a loss, especially our kids, but it’s a good learning lesson for the kids,” Wallace said.
Wallace wanted to let the chickens forage on natural bugs and other food, so they were allowed to freely roam the yard. That meant the grass, bushes and other landscaping was fair game.
“We loved having backyard chickens but ultimately wanted them to have more space,” Wallace said. “If we wouldn’t have let them free range it may have worked but we wanted the eggs to have a nutrient-dense bug and grass diet instead of just feed.”
Like everything, chickens have a lifespan, and within that cycle, there is the maximum production value of the animal. As chickens age, they produce fewer eggs. Most chickens produce eggs for between five to seven years of life. The change can vary among the breeds, and breeds that are designed to lay eggs tend to lay eggs longer. You have to decide the value of a chicken that is not producing toward the end of its life, and that can be a hard choice. However, unlike commercial eggs producers, money is not the only reason for backyard chickens.
Reasons for Raising Backyard Chickens:
Like Wallace, many people find raising backyard chickens educational. In generations past, families often had a connection to the family farm. That is often not the case today. Backyard chickens are a great way to reconnect with the food supply and learn how food is made. You also learn about the cycle of life and death.
Often backyard chickens become part of the family. It is a lot different than the family farm. You can look at your window and see the chickens or hear them when the window is open. Wallace said she misses her “girls.” They were part of the family and provided entertainment. The boys would watch the chickens roam around the yard and laugh at their interactions. “It was fun,” she said.
Quality Food Supply
Most of the time, we have no idea about the origins of our food. Often, food is produced on the other side of the country or even the other side of the globe. Backyard chickens reconnect you to the food supply. You gather eggs from the backyard, and those eggs are your supply. It’s a true farm-to-table experience.
Eggs that are free range and not raised in a production facility are healthier. Chickens in your backyard eat bugs along with the supplements you feed them. Production birds are feed almost exclusively grain. According to studies, birds that are given access to pasture have one-third less cholesterol and a quarter of the saturated fats. They also have seven times the amount of beta-carotene and three times more vitamin E.
A chicken produces one-pound of manure a month. That’s a lot of waste, but it can be used as a benefit. Backyard chickens can provide manure for composting, and that can help nourish a garden. It’s easy to make a composting bin, and within months, you have material that will enrich the soil.
Backyard chickens do require a lot of attention and daily upkeep. Unlike the family dog, backyard chickens do not need to be socialized or walked. A backyard chicken will eat and lay eggs as long as it has a good home and enough food.