The global bird flu crisis is prompting many folks to think that they should buy chickens and raise their own eggs and I just wanted to share my experience as someone who has raised chicks and kept them in my backyard for about 8 years.
The first thing you need to know is that you need to check with your city and county to make sure you abide by all laws regarding chickens. Almost every city has its own local rules about raising hens and for good reason as you will see soon.
The second thing you should know is that you DO NOT need a rooster. I’m not sure why humans think hens need roosters to lay eggs but it’s the most common misconception. Your wife doesn’t need you in order to make eggs. Just sayin.
In fact, a lot of jurisdictions explicitly forbid raising roosters because they are noisy and violent. You know how in Jurassic Park the raptors have that special claw? Roosters also have a special claw, called a spur. We don’t like spurs around here. But seriously, though, an adult rooster can give you some severe wounds and since they usually walk around in their own shit all day, if you get wounded by a rooster you can get a serious infection. And roosters aren’t afraid of you. They will attack your ass if they even remotely think you’re a threat to them or their hens.
Sometimes, when you buy chicks you’ll accidentally get a rooster. Guess what? You’re going to have to get rid of it. What do I mean by “get rid”? Well, unless you can find some place that will take it, I mean, “you’re going to have to kill it.” This is one of the unfortunate realities of owning chickens: you may have to kill some of them. I suppose you could take them to a vet and have them euthanized if you’re squeamish about doing it yourself.
Ok, so, we aren’t even close to done with the gross stuff. To recap so far: cities have rules about owning hens and roosters suck. So, you think you’re ready to raise chickens? Well, I hope you like chicken shit! When I bought my first hens I was blown away by how much chickens shit. If you keep them cooped up you will need to clean the coop every week – you’re getting your hands dirty! If you let them free range, you will need to clean their coop every month and your entire yard is now going to be covered in chicken shit. Hey, it does make for some GREAT fertilizer – my yard had the best worms I’ve ever seen – but good luck growing anything anywhere chickens free range.
If you’re going to free-range chickens in your back yard, I recommend special shoes just for the yard, and a decontamination zone between the house and the yard. You’re going to be going out there every day for the rest of their lives, so you’re going to tramp around in chicken shit every day.
Also, as hinted above, chickens will destroy your yard. Chickens have a biological drive to scratch and dig. On the one hand, this is great! You will never have to mow a portion of your yard again because they will scratch it bald. On the other hand, you can never plant anything near them again. I planted a tree – A TREE – in their area once. Lol. They LOVED that freshly turned ground and within a single day had dug the roots bare. I had to rebury the tree and place a thick plastic barrier around the trunk to keep them from digging it up again.
And they dig holes everywhere. I’m not kidding you: you will break your ankle one day on a chicken hole. Like one day you’ll be out there with the chickens – probably feeding them – and you won’t notice some hole one of them dug and bam, there goes your fucking ankle. I often joke that if the USA ever wanted to attack another country the most effective way to destroy a city would be to just drop a million chickens on it.
All right, so, we aren’t even close to done with all the bad stuff, lol. Hens are pest magnets. I mean this in terms of mites that they attract but also larger pests like rats, squirrels, racoons, and other birds. Rats are insanely attracted to chicken feed (I mean, DUH) and within a month of having hens you will have rats in your yard. You probably already have rats but what I mean is you will have so many rats that you will now SEE the rats, in broad daylight. Having an outdoor cat helps with this but you will probably still need rat traps. HAHAHA. Now you’re a fucking farmer, welcome to the 4H club!
A lot of people think racoons are cute. “Trash panda, lol.” Racoons are predators and they are incredibly smart. I have never had a brood of hens that weren’t attacked by racoons. Really fun to be awoken at 2am with the entire coop screaming bloody murder (literally) as one of the hens is having her head bitten off. Racoons don’t usually eat the whole chicken, just bite the head off and eat the guts.
And if you have foxes, you will have them getting into the coop as well. Coyotes are also attracted to chicken coops. Are we having fun yet?
Let’s say that you build a Fort Knox of a coop. Cool. Hens are mean to each other. Ever heard of “pecking order”? It’s real. One of the hens will literally peck the feathers off all the other hens in your group. You’ll come out to feed them one day and notice that all the other hens have had their head feathers pecked off. Despite being domesticated, they still compete for food and are biologically driven to establish dominance. I’ve only once experienced a brood that didn’t have a pecking order. It was kind of nice, they were all sweet hens.
Chickens are also susceptible to various diseases and disorders. They can and do get bird flu (which they can and do transmit to humans) from the wild birds which will get into your coop (to eat the food). Bird flu is so prevalent in the world bird population right now that it is killing millions of birds around the world, and is the main reason why eggs are so expensive as it expands from wild birds to the farmed birds.
Chickens can get mites which is disgusting. Chicken mites are basically bed bugs for chickens. Yep! Once you get mites, you will probably never want to own chickens again because it’s sad to see the hens in distress and such a pain in the ass to treat. I was lucky, my hens never got mites.
So, if I haven’t put you off the hens yet let’s talk about some other practical matters!
What about the eggs, Tim? Well, yes, ostensibly this is the reason why you want hens: you want eggs. And not just eggs, you want those mythical “wow, these yolks are super orange” eggs. Ok, so, not all hens lay eggs every day. In fact, a lot of hens will only lay a few eggs a week. And as they get older, all hens stop laying (if they live long enough). Other factors slow down laying: disease, etc. Roosters don’t have anything to do with laying. I know I said that already but I thought I would say it again.
Also, it takes months for your hens to start laying.
If you want the most productive chickens you will need to do your research. Make sure you get chickens that will do the best in your climate and will lay the most eggs. Hens that make blue eggs and other tricks like that are generally terrible layers.
But all chickens stop laying at some point, hey, their “biological clock” has just stopped ticking! Those birds are what farmers call a “freeloader” and when a hen stops laying, they are usually culled. Which is a nice way of saying “fuckin murdered”.
I was going to say at this point that you shouldn’t try to eat that bird but I changed my mind. You should totally eat that bird, lol. It will be the worst meal of your life, not just because the meat tastes awful but because in order to get to the eating, you need to slaughter and pluck a chicken. I just love the idea of you, a person who went into this whole thing blind and stupid, just wanting eggs, not knowing how any of this works, plucking a chicken. HAHAHAHA.
Back to the eggs!
So, you’re still not put off chickens? Ok, you might be ready! A few more things to know. I’ve raised chicks to layers before and basically, what you’re doing there is bringing the whole shit show indoors for a few months. HAHAHAHA. Literally. My mud room was basically covered in chicken shit. You’ll need a warming lamp for the chicks and patience. It takes a few months before you can put the birds outside. Alternately, you can buy what are called “pullets” (from the French word for chicken “poulet”). These are adolescent birds. Pullets cost more and are more coveted, so they are harder to come by. They also can come to your house with mites and other diseases. So, make sure you know your supplier.
Either way you go, it’s going to be a few months before you get your first egg and around 9 months before they are producing eggs reliably. And how many eggs? Maybe 1 a day per bird. Lol. Maybe. They slow down in cold weather or if they are stressed or if they get any diseases. You want a dozen eggs a week? You’ll probably need three adult birds.
You’re still down for chickens because you’re in this for those mythical orange yolks that everyone talks about! Well, you’re going to pay for them! You can’t skimp on the feed. You need to give your hens a high protein/high fat diet. This is probably the easiest part of the whole program! Just buy them expensive, high protein food. Give them plenty of clean, fresh water, make sure they have crushed oyster shells, feed them the right amount of treats (too much is bad), and keep them immaculately clean and disease free. I estimated that I paid about 50¢ per egg (cost to buy the birds, paying for food for the layers and the freeloaders, labor, etc.) and the yolks still weren’t all that great.
Chickens are also incredibly stupid. I once had a chicken (named Billy, she was white and белый, which sounds like “bielly”, is the Russian word for white) who refused to roost with the rest of her sisters. She instead insisted on roosting in a tree. At first I’d gather her and put her in the coop but she kept climbing higher and higher up the tree until I couldn’t reach her. She was killed by a racoon a few days later.
Werner Herzog summed up chickens perfectly when he said “Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world.” He also added later “I would note: chickens are living manifestations of death, bred only to be domesticated and killed. When we look into their eyes, we see the part of ourselves of which we are most afraid – our ultimate destination, death.”
It wasn’t all death and disease. Some chickens are quite cuddly and cute (most of them aren’t). And some of them even have a personality beyond just being driven to eat or peck their sisters. You can get attached to your hens and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve cried nearly every time one of them died (except Billy, the night she died I literally told her “fine. climb the tree. you’re going to die tonight you stupid fuck”). I remember all of their names and I have a little chicken graveyard. Sadly, the sweetest ones are usually the first to be picked off by predators.
This is the reality of where your food comes from, folks. Raising chickens in my back yard has given me a profound respect for farmers, especially small farmers, and the animals I eat. Raising chickens you’ll either never eat chicken again or you’ll develop that respect for animals and farmers and the meat that you eat. Avie refuses to eat chicken because of his experience with chickens. I still eat meat but I pray and sending thanks to the earth and farmers every day for the food I eat. Every single morsel that touches your filthy lips was produced by a farmer who had to slop around in shit, had to care for sick animals, and spent their life making food for you. Every piece of meat that enters your worthless body was an animal which lived, ate, had feelings, and died. You should have respect for them and the earth you live on. The earth we live on just happened to have the perfect climate to let dinosaurs become chickens and apes become humans. This planet was a goddamn garden of eden.
But the reason eggs cost $10 a dozen right now is BECAUSE WE HAVE RUINED THE GARDEN OF EDEN WITH OUR AVARICE, GLUTTONY, AND SLOTH. The avian pandemic which is killing millions of wild and farmed birds is caused by factory farming of chickens. THIS IS OUR FAULT because we need our KFC.
Werner Herzog was right. Chickens have an almost bottomless stupidity. Left to their own devices they will destroy the environment around them. Chickens can’t control themselves. They are too stupid. The only thing that stops chickens from destroying the entire planet is that they have predators. Sound familiar?
Anyway, I won’t raise chickens again. It’s just devastating. Because every time I look into a chicken’s eye I see the ultimate destination of the entire human race, unless somehow we start to act slightly smarter than the chickens.
Maybe if I see that, I’ll start raising chickens again.