“If I were a rich man…
I’d fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks
For the town to see and hear
Squawking just as noisily as they can
With each loud “cheep” “squawk” “honk” “quack”
Landing like a trumpet on the ear
As if to say, ‘Here lives a wealthy man!'”
“I want to hear about chickens because we’re thinking about doing it, too.” I get that a lot. Now that we’re a year out from the start of our unfortunately short-lived chicken adventure, I’m really wishing we’d been able to keep them!
Although it seems like this started when I went away for a weekend and came home to find Aaron working on a half-built “play house” for our “future kids” in the garage, there is more history than I’ve mentioned before. The story of our chickens really begins two decades ago, when a little boy with long legs and a squeaky voice built an egg incubator and searched all natural habitats he could access in hopes of scoring a duck nest with eggs he could swipe and raise himself. Later he actually had a chicken business in the backyard, with a little flock of laying hens and funny anecdotes about training his dog to stay away from the chicks. (At one point he ran a home-made ice cream sandwich business, which I am hoping will resurrect itself in adulthood as well.) Just like his “mean” parents were hesitant about supplying fowl eggs, he grew up and got a “mean” wife who shot down his suggestions about chickens every spring with objections like, “We don’t have enough time,” “We’re probably going to move,” “They will make the backyard stink,” “It’s not actually going to save money,” and “If we’re committing to animals we should just get a dog, which is what we both really want anyway.”
As it turns out, every one of my objections about chickens actually came true, but it worked out after all. I was pretty ticked about this at first, and I could have put my foot down and stopped the whole thing right then, but I also realized it was providing a strong boost for Aaron when he was feeling very beaten down by a long, lonely stretch at the end of his PhD program. He needed to know his extreme life-long desire to understand everything about nature was a blessing, and that it didn’t only mean being locked in a lab for six years just because he was grown-up and reasonably smart. I tried to bite my tongue for the most part, but I stipulated that he was responsible for ALL chicken work and the coop had to be cleaned as often as I wanted when the weather warmed up. We’ve since agreed that decisions of that financial and personal scope require two “yes” votes no matter what, but I came around when they started laying and now I’m bummed we didn’t get them sooner to enjoy more eggs and hilarity. Our new neighborhood isn’t zoned for chickens, but I’m very interested in getting another coop next time we move!
So, for people thinking about chickens, here are a few things we’ll consider next time..
Aaron built our coop and we were really happy with the A-frame on stilts that could be moved around the yard. I would probably think about adding wheels to a future coop for easier moving. This was almost too heavy to move around. It can be done, but if it couldn’t be made lighter, I think at least one set of wheels would be easier.
I don’t think our yard was quite big enough for a coop of this size because the chickens’ scratching and eating in the pen was rough on our grass, even when we moved it every day. We had a particularly dry summer and we were very concerned about keeping the grass up in case we had to sell the house, so it might have been fine in a different year. We will do more research about the best ratios of coop-to-yard size next time. We weren’t fenced in, so full free-ranging wasn’t ever an option, but that would have lessened the “patchy” impact, too.
This is probably an issue no one else will have, but Aaron is particularly nerdy and an obsessive perfectionist about these things, so we went through several breeds of chicks. In future years, we’d just try one or two new kinds every other year and live with the fact that there might be a breed out there that would eat a little less and produce a little more. We tried Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and a California Grey hybrid, eventually landing with two Rhodies and two Californias for our flock. I think we’ll start with the California Greys next time (even though I like brown eggs better) and branch out from there.
Who Should Get Chickens:
Everyone. They are amazing. Okay… you should make sure you’re zoned for them, and petition your township/city to rezone or give you permission if you’re not! Even though it worked out for us, I would NOT recommend spending this much money or getting animals if your roommates or spouse aren’t on board. And while they are lots of fun, I don’t think we saved any money on eggs, because the cost of their food alone was just about what we would have spent on eggs anyway. The extra benefits were huge for us — it made composting easier and more fun, the eggs were delicious and easily shared with friends, everyone’s kids wanted to come over and see the chickies, and it was fun to have a non-house project to work on together. I think chickens would be a great “pet” for kids, because they don’t require as much upkeep as a puppy or kitten, and they lay eggs instead of… something else. And it could be a great first business for your kid, because all your neighbors would pay top dollar if your adorable child went door-to-door selling eggs from “Li’l Johnny’s Chicken Emporium.” (We are already planning as much for our family and I might have already worked on a possible company name and logo.)
What We Learned:
-Don’t invest in livestock without talking to your spouse and having full agreement.
-Know when to let it go (for me, this meant having chickens) and when to stand firm (but still making him do all the work).
-Chickens were much more fun than I expected.
-We absolutely want to have them again.
-For us and where we were at, chickens were a sorry placeholder for the puppy we really wanted. So now we have Max, and I’m really excited that someday we will have dogs and chickens! (I’m also starting to think about bees, if we have more room someday…)
-Most importantly, we experienced a lot of God’s tender care at the end of our time with these chickens in passing them on to some little girls who were VERY EXCITED to be getting pets, and these memories are filled with with great reminders of God’s love and provision for us in all circumstances.
Lord, who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am.
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan,
If I were a wealthy man?
–“If I were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof.