PHOTO: Rachel Hurd Anger
So you’re faced with that ever-impending question: To get chickens or to not get chickens? Chickens are fun to keep and a great asset to the backyard of anyone who loves animals and wants to eat better food, but truth be told, chicken keeping isn’t for everyone. If the scales are tipping in the direction of adding a flock to your urban homestead, here’s a clue that you’re making the right decision.
1. You Come Face to Face With Predators and Keep Your Cool
The beginning of winter is the beginning of the hungry season for predators. This past weekend, I came face-to-face with the biggest opossum I’ve ever seen. He’d weaseled his way into the coop before I could close it up that night, and the chickens were scared to death. They screamed, they flew, and I ran outside and found him inside the coop. While my dog was overly excited about the chickens flying across the yard, she never saw the giant rodent. He and I were alone. We stared each other down—he into my blue eyes and I into his beady yellow ones. My first instinct was to stab him with a 10-foot pole, but I had nothing but a coop door in my hands, so I banged it against the coop. The perp fled.
2. You Don’t Have a Dog (or You Do)
Dogs will protect chickens by deterring predators, or by chasing away predators before you ever see them. Dogs who aren’t so smart might chase your chickens thinking they’re being naughty when they’re reacting to a predator (see above). Both methods work. Ultimately, it protects the birds.
Some dogs’ prey drive is far too high to be around chickens without strict adult supervision, especially those chickens that free-range. While many dogs can be trained, other dogs will never overcome their instincts. How your dog reacts to other animals in a public situation, like on a walk at the park, can give you an idea about how crazed your dog is by squirrels or how threatened the dog is of other dogs. Dogs that don’t much care about other animals are better candidates for chicken herders.
3. Your Yard Is Overrun With Pests
When someone asks me, “Why chickens?” my favorite reason, second to eggs, is that before chickens, we couldn’t use our yard for 4 months out of the year. The mosquitoes were terrible. We’d found several black widows around our house during the previous summers. And, on a rare 50-degree day in February, I found a tick on my then-infant son. The latter was the last straw. Now, we are able to use our yard all year, chemical-free, thanks to chickens and their insatiable appetite for crawly things.
4. Your Garden Is Fenced or Fence-able
Chickens love to destroy a garden, which is bad and good, depending on the season. To deter a free-ranging flock, a fence of some kind is a good idea, even if it’s just temporary until your plants are established into the growing season. Sometimes, chickens are good helpers. They can gobble up leftovers, dig up roots, eat pests, and they turn and loosen the soil. They’re happy to do it. It satisfies their chicken needs, and when you’re ready to plant a succession crop, prep work is minimal.
5. You Throw Food Scraps in the Trash
It’s inevitable that food eaters make some amount of food trash. Leftovers and scraps, when put into the trash, rot, stink and go to waste. Instead, you can use them to supplement a flock’s diet with high-quality nutrition. Divert your food waste, save on feed costs and produce less trash. It’s a triple win. Of course, some foods are dangerous to chickens, like green potatoes and raw onions. Only dangerous foods go in the trash or compost.
6. You Have Other Decaying Stuff Around
Speaking of rotting food, sometimes we have other things breaking down naturally in the yard where would-be chickens would mosey. Yesterday, I moved some wood outside and a log crumbled into three pieces. Inside, it looked like fresh earth, and it was teeming with the pests that broke down the wood—high-protein chicken treats for the win.
7. You Value High-Quality Nutrition
You might love eggs, just egg whites, or maybe baking is your favorite hobby. Whatever the reason for your copious egg consumption, if the highest-quality nutrition and lower saturated fat, cholesterol and omega-6 is important to you, having your own chickens can’t be beat.