I’m almost about 10 years deep into my backyard chicken hobby and have loved it every step of the way. From ordering chicks, getting the coops set up, watching them grow, and collecting eggs, keeping backyard chickens has been one of the highlights of my life. Chickens are animals that require little but give back much in return. In this article I will highlight the 10 joys I have experienced as a backyard chicken keeper.
1. They are always happy to see me
No matter how bad my day has been at work or other wise, my girls are always happy to see me. In the mornings when I enter the backyard opening the coops for the day they are thrilled at my presence. They cluck with joy as I prepare their food, water, and clean their coops. They are genuially happy to see me. After a long day at work or just a bad day in general, I can always go to the backyard and find happiness on their faces. They flock, running sometimes flying in from the far ends of the yard thrilled to see me. Their joy in response to my presences lifts my spirits and in return brings joy to my day.
2. Companions in the backyard.
Dogs come to mind for most people when thinking about backyard companions. But chickens, can be just as much of a companion as a family dog. For example, Tilling Day is a flock affair! Tilling up the garden for the upcoming garden season is a big deal. They follow in the path of the tiller gobbling up all the worms that were unearthed, all the while further assisting me in turning the soil over. It’s not just gardening that attract the flocks attention, the girls are alway eager to be involved in what ever I am doing. Anything from painting coops to mowing the yard attracts all kinds of “hen-help”. Chickens are very curious creatures, they want in on everything that I am doing. Sometimes they get rewarded with a big juicy worm while gardening and other times its dust bathing in the potting soil bag or eating fresh grass clippings. Either way, no matter what I am doing, I often have a flock of curious girls wanting in on whatever is going on.
3. Collecting Farm Fresh Eggs daily.
There is nothing quite like collecting farm fresh eggs from the backyard. After eating organic pasture raised farm fresh eggs its hard to go back to store bought. The feeling of finding an egg or more in the nesting box never gets old. Chickens really are the pet that makes you breakfast. There is pure and simple joy that connects one to the days of old while collecting eggs from the coops.
4. Observing the complex social structure of the flock.
Chickens are very highly socially organized creatures contrary to what many people think. A flock of chickens are organized into a hierarchy, each member knowing his or her place. The term “pecking order” is derived from this complex social system of chickens and for good reason. At the top of the pecking order is typically the alpha rooster, under him will be the other roosters in the flock. The roosters determine who is the alpha by competing for the position. Following the roosters will be the alpha hen, this is the hen that has earned her right to be at the top of the order directly under the rooster. The alpha hen is usually a little bit bossy in regards to the other hens in the flock. As for the rest of the members, position is established by literally “pecking” another hen on the back indicating that the pecker is above the peckie. This behavior flows from the alpha hen all the way to the bottom of the order. Each chicken pecking someone else on the back indicating their position in the order.
Once the pecking order is established all activities of the flock revolve around the order. Simple things such as the order in which the flock exits the coop in the morning and the order in which they return. Watching this animal behavior in my own flock is very interesting. More importantly the pecking order is always changing. If a member of the flock is sick and needs to be separated for treatment, in the absence of the member the flock order will adjust. The same is true for when a member dies. In the case of a death of a member the order will usually take on an extreme adjustment. For example, when our rooster Roy died the flock was suddenly without its top member, a rooster. The remaining hens in the flock had to decide who would take his place at the top of the pecking order, claiming the position of the alpha hen. For several days the flock worked through this decision and finally come to an agreement on who would be the head honcho. As a backyard keeper, this behavior is very interesting to observe. Furthermore, it brings home the literal interpretation and understanding of the term “pecking order”.
5. Watching a mother hen raise her young.
Let’s be honest, baby chicks are adorable. Whether they be wild birds or domestic, chicks are just about as adorable as a baby animal can get. What’s even better is having the opportunity to watch them grow. This is one of the simple joys of owning backyard chickens. I have several times throughout the years allowed a broody hen to incubate a small clutch of eggs. Each and every time it is an adventure and a pleasure to watch the process from egg to chick. This spring I allowed a broody Silkie to sit on a clutch of 7 eggs.
After anticipatingly waiting the predetermined 21-23 days for the eggs to incubate, they one by one started to hatch. Over the course of 3 days every single egg hatched into a beautiful healthy chick. The joy of watching this cycle of life is indeed an honor. Over the next several months the mother hen will teach her little ones how to be chickens. Such things as what to eat and not eat, how to dust bathe, where to find water, and where to roost at night.
If you are lucky enough be in the position to observe this cycle of life in person, it is indeed an educational and humbling experience. There is so much that we can learn from a mother hen and chickens in general. Chickens are amazing teachers, all that is needed is a willing soul to watch and listen.
6. The joy of watching a Rooster care for his flock.
Roosters are often unfairly stigmatized as being fearsome, blood thirsty, mean and nasty aggressive birds. While they do have a job to do and take it very seriously, they really are amazing and gentinle creatures. Personally, I love roosters I currently have 15 and value every one of them. Roosters, although not necessary in order to keep backyard chickens are an added bonus.
You see, when raised right, roosters are an asset to a flock of chickens. They preform many husbandry duties taking care of all the hens in the flock. If a flock has more than one rooster (such as mine does), they will divide the flock into groups each rooster taking care of a section of the hens.
They are much more than just merely protectors for the hens, they serve the flock in ways beyond this. For example, a rooster will hunt for his girls. He will actively look for food, things such as a big bug, juicy worm, or vegetation for them to eat. Once he finds something of value he will call his girls over to eat it. He will only eat what is left, he is self sacrificing looking out for the welfare of his hens. It’s as if by evolutionary design he knows the girls need the extra nutrition for the procreation of the flock (laying eggs). As the girls eat what he has found he will keep watch, sounding the alarm if there is a threat and if needed sacrificing himself for the safety of the hens. I have witnessed this first hand with my Buff Orphington Rooster, Roy. One afternoon while out in the backyard he sounded the alarm, I heard his cry from the house, rushed out the the backyard in time to see a hawk fly away. All the girls were safe under a large tree, Roy on the other hand was injured. Lucky, he recovered from the hawk inflicted injuries and lived for several more years. I learned on this day the true value of a rooster.
A rooster will serve the flock in other way as well. He will lead the girls to the coop when time to roost, help raise young, break up any squabbles among the hens, and of course mate with the hens to propagate the flock. All these things and more make roosters a very valuable asset to the flock. As a backyard chicken keeper, I have peace of mind knowing that when I'm not around the guys are on duty. It gives me great joy to hear my roosters crow in the morning and watch them interact with the flock.
7. Beauty a flock of chickens bring to my property.
There is just something soothing about a flock of chickens happily hunting and pecking on a lush green lawn. Their feathers contrasting with the surrounding greenery like little yard ornaments. Chickens when free ranging are a very welcoming sight, watching them as they search for delicacies to dine on. I allow my flock to free range in the backyard only confining them to their pens during periods of inclement weather. I love go to the backyard and see my flock busy at work, ridding my yard and gardens of all available bugs and pets. My evenings are usually spent sitting and watching them as they go about their business, taking in the ascetic pleasure they bring to my property. They really are beautiful, the different breeds together in the yard adds a diverse contrast to the evening setting. So for me, one of the joys of owning backyard chickens is simply sitting and appreciating the beauty they add to my homestead.
8. Observing the diversity of their personalities.
Many people think that chickens are void of any personality or individual characteristics. This is so far from the truth. Chickens are a very social creature and with that comes distinct personalities. They all have preferences of nesting boxes for which to lay they eggs. Some are more outgoing while other more reserved choosing to reside on the sidelines. Some want to be held while other prefer to be appreciated from afar.
Chickens are very complex creatures with individual personalities to match. I have a few girls that love the camera and will pose at any chance they get. Two of my flock hams are above Aphrodite (White Crested Polish) and Miss Sweet Pea (Buff Orhpington). These two girls are the standouts among all the flock members. They love attention and will do just about anything to get it.
Chickens are much like dogs in the fact that they love to interact with their care takers. Some members may be more upfront with human interaction while others more distant, but all my girls at one level or another want to feel appreciated. It was not until I had chickens that I realized how much of individuals they really are. It's these characteristics that make them easy to identify and name. People often ask me if all my girls have names, I say “yes”. All 50+ chickens that I have are all named and often are assigned names based on their personality traits. It’s not as hard as you would think to name 50 or so birds and not get them confused. They make it pretty easy to keep all their identities straight. Which bring me to my next point.
9. Constant comedy in the backyard.
Chickens are without a doubt constant comedy! They are one of the funniest animals that I have had the pleasure to keep. Whether it be something funny that an individual does or something that whole flock does, chickens are the comedians of the barnyard. One of funniest interactions that a flock can engage in is something I call “the chicken keep away game”. When a hen finds something such as a juicy bug or big worm she will announce to the whole flock with glee that she has found a prize. With the object in her beak she will run around the yard while the others chase her wanting to get a piece of her find. Depending on how large the trophy bug or worm is, this could go on for quite some time. Changing beaks several times till finally someone eats the morsel or looses it. It’s about as close as a flock of chickens can get to touch football.
Another funny chicken oddity is the Polish chicken. Pictured above are two White Crested Polishes, Aphrodite and Apollo. Out of all the breeds that I have, this breed holds the crown for comedy. Due to their crests their vision is limited, not able to see what is above them. For this reason just about everything spooks them, simple things in their environment can get a rise out of them. They have a tendency to be flighty and high strung for this reason. Additionally, they are a very curious breed always getting them selves in trouble, then not being able to see well enough to get themselves out of it. They will often time call out for other flock members to rescue them from their predicament. Typically one of the roosters will come to their rescue if I am not there to physically lend a hand. I have around 13 polishes in my flock of various colors all of them possess this particular niche for comedy. They are one of my favorite breeds to keep. They require a bit of special care but are well worth the trouble just to have them around.
10. A connection to the past: A lesson in simplicity
There is just something about keeping backyard chickens that brings us back to our roots. Times of old, days gone by when just about everyone had a flock of chickens to supply eggs for the family. A time when gardening was not just a hobby but a way of survival. A time when your land was how you ate and your animals were how you survived. Getting out of bed, putting on my boots, and heading out to the backyard opening the coops after the night brings a bit of that nostalgia. Cleaning the coops and collecting the days eggs has a feeling of purpose and self sufficiency that many are seeking today. In a world where we can buy literally everything we need at the store, being able to supply your own food has a purity that money cannot buy. Knowing that I am eating a product that is not only organic but supplied by animals that are well cared for and happy brings happiness to my soul.
In our busy and hectic world today, it’s nice to come home and just watch my girls as they forage in the backyard. To be able to escape the chaos of life and just simply be. Chickens are simple creatures, they don’t ask for much but give back much in return. They are content just to be able to hunt and peck their way through life. They don’t worry about much but instead are just happy to be given this day. It’s a lesson in simplicity that I think we all need. For this lesson and more I am ever grateful for my chickens. My chickens give back to me in many ways, but one of the best things they give is a lesson in keeping it simple, a lesson in simplicity.
Thanks for reading!