Things I’ve Learned After Five Years of Chicken Raising
I began my personal chicken raising adventures in the spring of 2012, even though chickens have always been apart of my life thanks to my grandparents’ farm. The whole idea of raising my own chickens hatched quite quickly and randomly in January 2012. And yet, things worked themselves out and by March I had five chicks of my own. These past five years of keeping chickens have been hard and rewarding. I have learned countless lessons and wish to share several of them with you today. Maybe you can relate and have experienced similar things or perhaps these lessons are just personal to me. Also, if you’re a beginner in the world of chickens, I hope these lessons, tips and advice can aid you and better equip you for your chicken keeping adventures.
Lesson #1: Don’t keep the chicks in your room if you value cleanliness and quiet.
Before I got my birds, I was so excited to keep them in my room and spent hours perfectly setting up their cage and fantasizing about all the rewards of keeping them in my bedroom. In a perfect world, chicks would make only adorable, soft and occasional peeps, they wouldn’t make a single mess, they wouldn’t pick on each other and they would come when you called and constantly seek out snuggle time. Unfortunately, I had unrealistic expectations for my chicks living in my room. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy seeing them constantly, hearing their chatter and watching them explore their surroundings and grow. However, I quickly learned that chicks are picky and if they are not comfortable or content, they will let you know by peeping...loudly. One of my Sebright chicks, Speckles, developed pasty butt before I brought her home. She was cold and in pain. My room was filled with the consistent sound of her loud, shrill peeping, even after I would clean her bottom and make sure she was under the heat lamp and had plenty of food and water. Luckily, her pasty butt issue only lasted several days and soon she was back to normal. But that was just the beginning. My other Sebright, Freckles, was trouble from the beginning. She pecked on the other chicks and was very skittish and flighty. This is common behavior for Sebrights but was not helpful in a small cage in my small room.
The chicks grew up fast, which people had warned me about but I never understood it until I actually saw it. With them growing up, it meant they went through more bedding, food and water and produced more waste and more noise. They also got bored easily since they had memorized their cage and were outgrowing it quickly. I soon was having to vacuum every other day on account of them flinging bedding out of their cage as they dug and dust bathed. By the time they were of age to move into their permanent coop, I was more than ready to have them leave my room. By this point, my room was dusty and smelly. Lesson learned: I won’t keep my chicks in my room again.
Lesson #2: Just because you raise them, doesn’t mean you keep them/don’t keep flighty bantams in confinement.
Remember Freckles? Shortly after moving all of my birds to the coop, I came to the conclusion that Freckles needed to go. She was flying about the coop, causing chaos. She was loud and hardly ever laid eggs. I realized her spirit desired freedom. So, we gave Freckles to some friends who allowed her free range access. Not long after, however, poor, independent Freckles went off on her own and was killed by a predator.
Speckles, the other Sebright, did fine the first two years of owning her. But, one day, after returning from a family vacation, I noticed Speckles crowing like a rooster. At first I thought it was just a fluke in her voice but she continued for the next few months. Since we can’t keep roosters where I live, we decided it would be best to get rid of Speckles on account of her loud screeches. So, despite the previous years of enjoying Speckles, we had to part with her. She is doing fine to this day and is in a loving home with two little girls who adore her.
I was down to three hens at this point. While they were happy as could be, I started wanting another chicken. Luckily, my grandma had a bantam, Mary, she was willing to part with. We agreed that I would bring Mary home with me the next time I visited. However, the introducing process did not go well at all. Poor Mary was overwhelmed with and intimidated by my three, big hens. She flew to a high roost in the run and would not come down. So, we decided to get rid of her. God blessed us with finding Mary a wonderful home where she is living a happy life. Lesson learned: flighty bantams don’t handle confinement well and won’t stick around long.
Lesson #3: Introducing new chickens takes lots of patience and strategic planning.
Now, as I’m pretty sure all chicken owners would agree, chickens are addicting. After a year of having just three birds, I found myself wanting and ready for more. But, this time, I knew I would have to introduce more than one and make sure they weren’t bantams and weren’t breeds that couldn’t handle confinement well. I also knew it would be best if I stuck with similar breeds to what I had already. So, with having two Buff Orpingtons and one Easter Egger mix, I chose to purchase another Buff Orpington and a Speckled Sussex. I got them when they were 5 days old and raised them together…in my bedroom again. (I guess I didn’t remember the problems chicks cause when living in my room.) But, let me tell you, by the time they were 8 weeks old, I was more than ready to move them out. I was so sick of them living indoors. That’s when lesson #1 really sank in for me.
Anyway, the introducing went well, even though it took a long time. I had spent months planning how I would work the introductions. Using the “see but don’t touch method” the new birds were successfully joined with the old flock and they now get along like they have been raised together since the beginning. I’m very thankful for my five girls and think they are the perfect flock for me. Lesson learned: introducing can work; it just shouldn’t be rushed or done blindly.
Lesson #4: Laziness and chicken keeping do not go hand-in-hand.
This is pretty self-explanatory but it seems the longer I own chickens, the more I find myself hating and dreading coop cleaning. It’s time consuming, stinky, dusty and always leaves me feeling as messy as it was. But, at the end of it, nothing beats watching the chickens enjoy their clean house and the fresh aroma of a newly cleaned environment. Also, I’ve discovered that the dirtier the coop gets, the less time I spend with my flock. So, when I catch myself feeling bad that I haven’t spend a ton of quality time with my girls, I always know it’s a sign their coop needs a good cleaning. Laziness and procrastination are things I tend to do quite frequently and I’m no exception when it comes to my flock duties. But, I also would admit that owning chickens has taught me to be more disciplined in my work. Chickens are living creatures and even if I don’t feel like refilling the feeder or scooping poop in the run, it doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done. Lesson learned: Prepare for a workload when it comes to keeping chickens.
Lesson #5: You never stop learning/you never should pretend you know everything.
I once sat down with a lady who owned chickens and expected the conversation to be a lot of fun as we compared experiences and shared some of our knowledge and questions. However, this woman was very convinced she knew everything about chickens. I found it very difficult to talk to her because I felt insignificant and like she wouldn’t care to hear anything I had to say because she already knew it all. I don’t mean to rag on her of come off as rude or arrogant. I just think it is very important that we don’t become prideful with what we know and that we keep an open mind as we continue to learn.
Before I first got my chickens, I checked out every chicken book from our library, watched youtube videos on chicken raising, read numerous articles, memorized chicken catalogs and magazines that my grandma would send to me and took notes on everything until my hand got sore. After all these years of learning about, studying and researching chickens, I would say that I have learned a lot and know way more about chickens than I did when I started. Nevertheless, I also would tell you that I’ve only scratched the surface and that I will never stop learning about chickens. I hope you hold this same mindset because, no matter how much you know or how many times people call you an expert, there will never be a point where you can’t still learn new things. Lesson learned: you can never know everything.
Lesson #6: Health issues and injures are not always the end.
I’m one who, unfortunately, has trouble looking on the bright side of my own circumstances. When one of my chickens falls sick or gets hurt, I tend to jump to the worst conclusion and assume it’s the end. However, my flock and I have encountered and had to deal with a hawk attack, egg binding, crop binding and a torn ligament and none of them have died. Now, even though the crop binding problem lasted months and the hen with the torn ligament in her leg still hasn’t fully recovered to this day, it goes to show that bad things can happen to our birds but it doesn’t mean that their time is up. I’m very blessed to have a healthy flock that doesn’t require additional health care. I’m so glad that I’ve never had to deal with a chicken dying while in my care over these past 5 years. I understand the day will come when my flock’s days are done but until then, I’m so thankful that they have made it through all they have and are still around. Lesson learned: love them for as long as they live and don’t jump to the worst conclusion when something goes wrong.
Lesson #7: Chickens aren’t stupid.
I really don’t get why so many people think chickens are such stupid creatures. I mean sure, they do look a bit goofy to the non-chicken keeper and maybe it’s because of the ridiculously obvious “why did the chicken cross the road” joke. But, it still is a bit of a mystery to me. My chickens have blown me away with their intelligence. I’ve trained them to stay within our non-fenced property bounds, trained them to come when called and they also have picked up on their individual names. Additionally, they can tell people apart. They know and love me, don’t like strangers and are more cautious around my brother and dad.
Another instance that proved to me that chickens aren’t stupid is the time my flock was attacked by a hawk. The hawk targeted my Easter Egger, Quanie. One of my Buff Orpingtons, Gracie, had the guts and the brains to not only defend herself but also chase down the hawk and attack it in order to save Quanie. Of course the hawk would have most likely succeeded in its kill if it hadn’t been for me realizing what was occurring and chasing off the hawk. But, I also now know that if it hadn’t been for Gracie, Quanie most likely wouldn’t be here today. Lesson learned: chickens aren’t as stupid as some may think.
Lesson #8: Fresh eggs truly are incredible.
There’s something very unique and special about your own pets in your background laying eggs that you get to collect and eat. The eggs can’t compare to store bought eggs. They are tasty, satisfying and healthy. Not only have I been able enjoy my girls’ eggs but I have also been able to start a small business selling eggs. I never knew just how many people would care to buy fresh eggs or how much they would gush about how good they taste or how amazed they would be when they see the different colors eggs can come in. Also, raising chickens who lay fresh eggs has caused me to wonder and research more about factory farm hens and factory farms themselves. Lesson learned: nothing can beat fresh eggs from your backyard.
Lesson #9: Chickens primarily prefer their own kind for companionship.
This was a rather hard lesson to learn and embrace. Like in lesson #1, I fantasized a little too much about having really tame chickens. I was expecting to have chickens who were as tame as a people-loving puppy. While my girls are indeed very friendly, I’ve discovered that they bond with each first and me second. Gracie is the exception in my flock and does prefer to sit on my lap and preen my hair rather than frolic with the rest of the flock. The rest of the girls, however, would choose each other’s company before they chose mine--granted they do still enjoy being petted and sitting on my lap for a time. Lesson learned: expect your birds to bond with each other more than they do you. But, also don’t abandon hope of taming them. Chickens can indeed become very tame and friendly even in the midst of their own kind.
Lesson #10: Chicken keeping provides amazing opportunities and opens a lot of doors.
I don’t even know where to start with this one. For those of you who don’t know, my family and I own a lodge in Colorado. Obviously, when guests see chickens wandering about the yard, they are intrigued and ask questions. They also are eager to buy eggs. Chickens are conversation starters. They provide opportunity for friendships to start and even provide opportunity for someone else to decide to start their own flock. One day I was walking downtown with some friends and overheard some peoples’ conversation. I heard them say something about chickens at misty mountain lodge. This proved to me that word is really getting out about my flock and that people are genuinely interested in chickens.
Also for those of you who don’t know, I’ve written a chicken raising book. I plan to publish it soon. This book paved the way for me to not only express my passion for writing but also my passion for chickens, all in one. I, obviously, never would have written it if it weren’t for owning chickens. And of course I can’t leave out BYC in all this. If I had never kept chickens, I never would have met all the people on BYC that I have, never have written all the articles I have, never have gained as much knowledge as I have and never known about the great fun a chicken website could offer! Lesson learned: owning chickens is rewarding in all the ways it makes for wonderful opportunities for the owner.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I most certainly have enjoyed these past 5 years of keeping chickens. While I have learned more lessons than what is contained in this article, I figured these were the most vital. I look forward to the future and all I continue to learn and experience. I’m sure you’ve learned a ton of lessons from raising chickens as well. Feel free to comment some of them down below if you wish.
Here’s to all of our crazy chicken adventures!