It seems that more and more people are keeping chickens not just for the eggs but for the fun and companionship. I asked a friend who have them tell me a bit about her flock. Dayna Robertson keeps chickens and absolutely loves them. I’ve always had an interest in these wonderful birds and I’ve never kept them, so I asked her some questions about keeping chickens both for eggs and as companions and members of the family.
Here is Dayna’s answers to my questions about her flock of chickens:
How long have you kept chickens?
I have kept chickens for about five years: Three years in Hawaii and two years in Alaska.
Why do you keep chickens?
A variety of reasons. The biggest being the food source: Fresh eggs. Secondary is for bug patrol and fertilizer.
Do you get attached to individual chickens more than others?
Absolutely! I have a pet Plymouth Barred Rock Rooster named Freddy. He sleeps in a cage at night and roams free during the day. I have a feral hen that wandered in to my yard from the jungle who had an abscess on her eye. She came right up to me and allowed me to pick her up and treat her eye. Feral hens are not tame so that that was an amazing experience for me.
Are they difficult to care for?
More difficult than I thought at first, both in Alaska and in Hawaii. Both climates have their own issues. In Alaska you had to worry about airborne predators and freezing. In Hawaii, a foot disease called bumble foot, parasites like chicken mites and ground predators like feral dogs and mongoose. Diet is can be simple or complicated depending on which route you go. I prefer to make the basis of my diet a bagged feed with sprouts, scraps, leftovers and fruit I pick for their additions.
Are there zoning laws that might prevent some people from keeping chickens?
In many places keeping livestock of any kind, including chickens is illegal, some places only keeping roosters is illegal. You get into a grey area when you have an indoor pet chicken though. I would argue that it’s a pet if it lives inside and not livestock. Even if it produces eggs.
What is the downside to keeping them?
They are loud, they are messy, they are complicated socially. They need things to do to keep from being bored and picking on each other, much like any other animal. Their poop smells awful and they poop on everything.
Is it worth the trouble and why?
For me, when I cook dinner and I crack open that egg with a dark orange yolk that only comes from consuming foraged foods makes it totally worth the trouble.
I also asked her about how she got her chickens:
I have gotten chickens four ways. One way is ordering from a hatchery. My favorite is Ideal Hatchery in Texas. The chicks always show up healthy and vibrant. The second way is hatching yourself from your own eggs or purchased eggs either under a hen or using an incubator. You can hatch purebreds or mixed breeds. Here it’s both. I also am able to hatch a sexed linked chicken called “black star” they are sexed based on color at birth. The third way is buying from someone else who has hatched them. The second and third ways are harder for the small back yard chicken owner as they are not sexed generally (unless sex linked) and you end up with 50% roosters. It’s really hard to re-home roosters.
I have a Silky. Silky hens and bantams (miniature chickens) in general are very broody type hens and great for setting. I recently had a silky hatch a goose egg for me.
Dayna also filled me in on keeping baby chicks:
Baby chickens need either a mother hen to keep them warm or they need to stay in a brooder. Northern climates need to keep them indoors longer than tropical or southern summer climates. Hens teach their chicks what to eat and how to forage. Chicks raised on crumbles with no hens do fine but if free ranged may not be as effective foragers as their hen raised counterparts and will require more supplemental feed throughout their lifespan.
And apparently chickens have personalities!
Each chicken is an individual. Some are more aggressive some are more submissive. Chickens are funny and have a sense of humor. They bully, they support, they are fascinating in a group. They have friends and enemies.
At night chickens like to roost on perches up high. My chickens prefer to have the nestboxes on the ground but many have good results with laying at 2-3 feet off the ground.
Chickens love to eat meal worms, cabbage heads, rice, noodles, meat, sprouts, fruit and seeds of any kind (I toss my leftover parrot pellets to them!). I love how they turn leftovers into eggs!