Issue 7 | March 2022 | Dear Shark | Backyard Chickens
“Over the winter, chicken egg prices went up quite a bit. It has me considering getting my own ‘backyard chickens’ to help mitigate the cost of eggs. However, I’m wondering if it’ll be cost effective, and I have no idea where to start. Do you think it’s egg-onomically worth it?”
Sincerely, Egg-cited About Chickens
Answer provided by: Jen Aiken, CSH2O Environmental Educator
Dear Egg-cited About Chickens,
Ask anyone who has backyard chickens and they’ll for sure say that they are worth the investment. Not only do they become beloved pets, boasting fun and unique personalities, but also having fresh eggs can’t be beat. Eggs are considered a highly nutritious food. According to Harvard Health, “they are relatively low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for the eyes, and choline, which is needed by nerves and the brain.” So, there’s no yolking about it, having chickens for their eggs is the way to go. However, it’s not quite as simple as just going to a farm supply store and buying chicks. Don’t just wing it . . . there are some considerations and chicken-leg work to do in advance to prepare.
The first step will be to check with your county and community to see if there are any laws or ordinances around having chickens. For Anne Arundel County residents, go HERE to read what you need to know before you get chickens. Once you know you have the go ahead, you’ll want to choose an area in your yard that will work best for a coop with an outdoor enclosure. It’s really important to ensure that it is very secure and predator proof! It’s not fun to come out in the morning to see that a fox or raccoon has attacked and/or eaten your chickens (speaking from experience). A must do is to dig down a bit and lay down wire under your coop to ensure a predator can’t dig down and get in. Installing a coop can take some time to research and can be costly, which depends on the size or whether you buy a pre-made one or build your own. From there, you’ll want to consider which species to get and account for their food, feeder, bedding, and waterer. You’ll need to get at least two chickens as they need to have a companion.
Local Pasadena resident, Meredith Andrasik, a Senior Lead Environmental Specialist with Maryland Environmental Services, has been a backyard chicken owner for many years. This seasoned poultry lover has some great tips:
- Chickens don’t start laying until they are at least 18 weeks old, and in their early weeks, they need to be kept very warm and dry. A garage or shed with electricity for heat lamps works.
- Once your chickens are set up, plan to spend at least 15 minutes a day feeding, watering, cleaning beds, picking up eggs; and about an hour a week doing a deeper clean, purchasing bedding and food, etc.
- Chickens can get sick, and they can suddenly die. You should be prepared to take them to the vet for proper medical care as needed.
- FLIES – you will need to have a plan to manage fly control BEFORE the weather gets warm. Fly traps should be purchased early and installed in spring.
- Adult chickens do not need to be heated in the winter, but they do need an enclosed, dry coop to roost in.
- Young adult hens will lay 5 to 6 eggs per week in the summer, and fewer in the winter. Hens need UV light to lay eggs; as the days get shorter, you will get fewer eggs.
- Hens will not lay eggs with baby chickens in them unless there is a rooster in your flock. You do NOT need a rooster for your hens to lay unfertilized eggs (the kind you eat).
Speaking of roosters, if you plan to only have hens, be sure the chicks or pullets (young hens) that you are getting aren’t males. If you choose to have a rooster in your flock, consider the cockle-doodle-doo-ing that will happen bright and early. You may want to check with your neighbors to be sure that’s okay with them. Also, having a rooster will mean that you’ll end up with some eggs that are fertilized so you would need to be prepared to raise chicks. So, now that you’ve learned some of the basics, let’s take a hard (boiled) look at WHY having backyard chickens has become so “trendy” in recent years, especially as egg prices have risen.
Aside from the obvious, that having local “yard to table” eggs is just delicious, chickens also are super at managing pests in your backyard. They eat all sorts of bugs and small critters, especially ticks! Since having chickens, we haven’t gotten a single tick from our yard.
People have also come to discover that chickens are really amusing to engage with and watch. Once you spend time with your flock, you’ll notice that each hen has their own traits. Our family loves to give each of them a special name. One other factor leading to more people getting chickens is the impact that the avian flu (aka bird flu) outbreaks have had on the cost of eggs. The bird flu has decimated massive chicken farm populations prompting consumers to think about where their food is grown.
Meredith notes that, “there has been an increase in awareness in the past decade about knowing where your food is from, buying locally, etc. Small farms have gained a following on Instagram and TikTok. Recent investigations into the poultry/egg industry have shined a light on some terrible conditions in large scale egg operations, making some people consider having their own hens. Once they are set up, chickens are a relatively easy farm animal to take care of, and they provide an almost daily reward. Higher egg prices lately have increased interest in backyard chickens, but those interested in hens should be warned. Their flock will require extensive set up and daily attention, as well as regular visits to the farm supply store for food and bedding.”
Longtime CSH2O supporters and chicken lovers Kim Jarmer and Kelly Coward and their families have raised hens for years and enjoy reaping the benefits of getting fresh eggs. Kim also said that having chickens “helps our kids understand the work that goes into taking care of animals. Daily egg collection and keeping the coop maintained are definitely jobs that kids can help with. Our chickens have an attached run where they can scratch, dig and forage for food. We often let them out to free range in the yard, and they help till up the soil and fertilize the yard (HaHa). Chickens can be destructive to your gardens, so any area that you do not want disturbed must be securely fenced off or they will get in and make a mess.” Kim shared that while caring for chickens is relatively easy and requires less care than normal house pets, it’s a commitment that you want to take seriously in order to ensure that your flock is living a quality life. Kelly added that “one of the benefits of having chickens is that they will elevate your mood as soon as you see them being their silly selves, in addition to the healthy protein the eggs provide for your family. Something to note though is that they will tear up your mulch, so don’t think you can have free range chickens and a nicely manicured lawn and gardens at the same time.”
Kim and Kelly shared their thoughts on why the interest in having chickens has increased. Kim notes that the egg price hike has “driven up the desire for backyard chickens but I do believe that the last few years of living in a pandemic have also increased the desire for raising animals that can provide food for our families. We have seen shortages of everything, and I do believe that has driven many families to want more control and possibly become more creative in how they can grow their own food and have animals that produce food for their families.” Kelly added, “Backyard chickens, in my opinion, have become popular because they provide a sustainable source of food for your family and you can control how and what they are fed. They also make lovely pets and are fairly low maintenance. I believe people also got them as a Covid hobby and either became chicken people or found new homes for them.”
All four of us agree that we love our backyard chickens, and it’s great to see more families “joining the chicken craze.” Kim concluded with some really insightful advice for those considering getting chickens. “They are adorably sweet and silly animals and should be added to your family only if you have a serious commitment to raising them for many years to come. Chickens do live quite some time, and they go through many stages of maintenance. Don’t jump on the chicken band wagon without putting some major thought into the purchase and making sure that you are ready for another commitment in your life.”
For more information on what the return on investment of backyard chickens could be, this post on Family Farm Livestock does an excellent job of really breaking down the costs you’ll incur along the way. If you decide you’re ready, don’t be a chicken about it. There are so many great resources out there to guide you along the way…there’s even a website called BackyardChickens.com
Additional articles on the reason that egg prices have risen:
Why are Egg Prices Still So High? It’s Not the Reason You Think. Click here.
Eggs are 70% More Expensive Than They Were a Year Ago. Click here.
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