I’ve always had this dream of owning a couple of chickens. I envisioned having a cute painted coop, with me in my apron spreading seed on the ground while humming to myself like some Disney princess knock-off. I would name my chickens after the Golden Girls sip tea on my porch while watching them peck peaceably in the yard.
After moving to suburbia I finally got the chance to experience real chickens; consider my original dream-bubble busted, as tends to happen when we come face to face with real self-sufficiency.
Even though my chicken-vision was truly a thing of bucolic fantasy, I was still determined to move forward with my plan. One of the ways my Satanic path influences the choices I make at home is my belief in treating all living things with respect, so of course that meant finding out exactly what chickens need.
Have you considered having backyard chickens? During my foray into chicken-learning I came across so many articles, blogs, posts, pages, that all had varying degrees of do’s and don’ts – it was beyond overwhelming, so to spare you that experience, I’m going to lay out the 10 things you should consider before jumping in to owning backyard chickens.
1. Does Your County, City, and Home Owners Association (HOA) Allow Backyard Chickens?
Each county, city, and HOA will have their own ordinances. Sometimes your County will give the thumbs up, but your specific city says it’s a no-go. To make things even more complicated you need to check if you are under HOA laws (and if so, I’m sorry), and check with the HOA if they will allow backyard chickens. Most places have some reasonable allowance, but always check first.
2. Do You Have The Space?
There are various suggestions for appropriate space per chicken. Minimum suggestions are 2 to 3 square feet per chicken inside the coop, and about 8 square feet per chicken in the run. While that sounds like a big space, I found it to be a very small area for something to live in. Chickens require entertainment and are sentient beings, they deserve more than merely adequate space. Aside from the coop and run you should plan to include space for various play sources; a step ladder for climbing, branches for perching, they love a good xylophone to peck! If you want to shove them into the minimal spacing suggested I encourage you to reconsider; perhaps get fewer chickens but for the same amount of space.
3. Will You Have Friendly Chickens?
I wanted chicken friends. I wanted to enter their run without fear of getting pecked to death and without running away screaming while a bird flapped, squawked, and chased me. To best ensure you have chickens that are nice (or at the very least, tolerant of you), the best bet is to raise them from chicks. The handling you will do while raising them will help them to get used to human interaction, and will lead to friendlier chickens!
4. All About Eggs.
If you are wanting to raise chickens because you think it will save you money on eggs, let me stop you here. It won’t. at least not in the long run.
Most chickens start to lay around 6-8 months old. They can continue to lay eggs reliably for the next 2 years. However, a chicken lives for around 7-9 years, leaving you with 5+ years of minimal egg laying from that chicken. Consider what you plan to do with a chicken who isn’t a reliable egg-layer or has grown out of the consistent egg-laying phase.
5. Are You Prepared for Predators?
Chicken predators include pretty much any animal with a mouth. You will need to be prepared to deal with any predator that comes into your yard. Foxes, owls, hawks, neighborhood dogs, all of them will try and eat your birds. Best thing you can do is ensure your coop and chicken run are wired shut all the way around, locked tight (raccoons can undo latch hooks in an instant) and has a roof. Speaking of which.
6. The Chicken Run Needs a Roof
It makes sense to think of the chicken coop as a tiny house, but the protection for their yard is just as important.
The run is where the chickens will spend most of their days – and is where they are often most vulnerable to predators. When designing or envisioning your chicken coop and run keep in mind the run needs a roof – predatory birds and anything that can climb will pose a threat to your delicious babies!
7. Consider Coop Location
The flies. The bugs. The smell!
While you were completing the first step – checking local ordinances – you might have encountered rules about how far from the neighbors’ house your coop has to be. If you didn’t, I implore you to consider not putting your coop anywhere near other people. Also try to not put the coop by any of your windows. One good summer breeze into your living room via chicken coop and you’ll be knocked out. Trust me, plan to put your coop away from your home or anyone else’s.
8. What Can You Feed Them?
I thought that chickens would essentially be mini-composters for my kitchen scraps, but turns out many of my scraps can harm them. Things like avocado, apple seeds, sugars, onion, raw eggs, and more are potentially toxic to chickens. Your birds should be fed mainly “feed” which is a seed mixture designed with the proper nutrients for chickens. Some kitchen scraps can be given (chickens can have a little ball of cabbage, as a treat) but you should be aware of the nutritional needs of chickens and be prepared to purchase feed.
9. Oh Yeah, You Have to Clean the Coop
For some reason this had not occurred to me. I thought the chickens were like outdoor cats and just kind of did their own thing. I was wrong. Expect to clean the coop once every 6 months. This will involve scooping out all the shavings, disinfecting the entire coop, and putting in new shavings. Remember the bugs, flies, and the smell I mentioned earlier? Yeah, you have to clean that.
10. Veterinary Care is Necessary
As with owning any animal, your chickens will need veterinary care. Be sure there is a Vet in your area that is willing to take on chickens as patients. You don’t want to be stuck with a bird in a cage in your backseat while you drive for 45 minutes to the nearest livestock doctor!
There you have it – basic information to consider before starting on your chicken journey. If you are unsure about having chickens then go ahead and take your time in your decision. Chickens are living beings that deserve proper care, and it’s totally alright to reconsider having them as you learn more about what owning backyard chickens would entail. I did! I was so excited to have my own Sophia, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche that when I started looking into the day-to-day of that chicken life I realized it wasn’t for me.
That’s a strong standing for most Satanists – we evolve our opinions and stance when presented with new and relevant information. Even for something as seemingly simple as backyard chickens, my Satanic principles come into play.