Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chickens: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

Ah yes, the skinny on being urban, or suburban chicken livestock keepers.  Having done this for exactly four months today, I thought it was high time I shared my experience, mostly from today alone.

I'll start with the Good. Today I had the incredible opportunity to partake upon the Coop of Dreams tour in nearby Everett, WA.  Apparently it's a tradition of backyard chicken keepers there to have a self-directed coop tour, where they open up their yards and flocks to inspection.  I saw it advertised in the paper last week and set out to go with the kids.  We had a blast, so that's the good thing. I got to talk to like minded folks and see what necessity, ingenuity and creativity did for them, and how different it all turned out.  There really are 1,000 ways to raise chickens.  Amazing really.

I also got to see about a dozen different breeds, many I recognized from my own flock, but many I've never seen in real life.  So many happy, healthy chickens of various ages.  Very cool!

Now for the Bad.  I was polite and civil as always, holding my tongue, but spending a bit of time on Backyard will indoctrinate just about everyone to the rule of thumb that says chickens need a minimum of 4 SF per bird for a coop and 10 SF per bird for a daytime run space.  That's what I went off of when building my setup, and my birds seem quite content with it. 

So, when I was going around the the various tour sites, I couldn't help but internally critique their setups.  Every coop was completely different, which was the point of the tour, though in general, folks gave their birds far too little coop space.  The worst offender had one of those A-Frame style portable coops with the siding most of the way down and a run underneath.  However, they had like 10 birds in a 12 SF coop!  No wonder they were squawking up a storm the whole time I was there. I know, chickens are overwhelming raised in cages where they can't stand up or stretch their wings, but come one! 

Only one of the 7 we made it to before the tour time ended impressed me for space.  It was a 10x10 shed for 10 birds, and they free ranged.  Simple but elegant.  I was very impressed.

Finally, the Ugly.  Being a livestock farmer is tough.  No, the 10 minutes a day I spend taking care of my chickens isn't tough at all, except that it HAS to get done.  I can say I'm still not used to it after four months of doing it.  They say it takes 21 days to make a habit.  I beg to differ.  I have yet to master the forethought of looking out at my daily schedule and making sure they chickens get in before dark.  It wouldn't be so bad if I had a predator-proof arc, but I still have chicken wire on it.  Take today for example.  It's a busy summer Saturday.  We've got a packed schedule that requires dividing the forces, meeting up at an amazing party at a dear friend's home in Monroe, about 45 minutes from home.  If I had planned better, I would have had my wife put the girls in their coop and mini-run around 3 PM, forcing them to survive on 8 SF MORE of combined space than their arc allows.  Instead, we were forced to leave the party way before it was over, just when the band was starting, to head home to put the girls away.  Sure, it's not nearly as bad as being parents, but it does require forethought.  Live and learn... my brother didn't put his away either, so I stopped by his house to do the same for him.

I'll leave you with a cool tid-bit I learned today.  Apparently Buff Orpingtons can start laying as early as 4 months, so Buffy will be 4 months next week (she's a week younger than my other girls).  Not only that, but when they start laying, it starts the others to do so as well, so I *could* be getting eggs soon.  Wouldn't that be cool!



  1. I sure hope egg-laying peer pressure works on your flock!

    We're so happy with the self-cooping of our birds. If I ever really have to lock them up, I will, but knock wood, the raccoons seem willing to leave them alone when they're inside.

  2. Good luck on the egg laying. And that is the one reason I haven't pressured my husband for chickens yet. That and traveling. You really do HAVE to be there for your livestock.

  3. I have to say that I am with you on the observation that lots of folks are putting their birds into too cramped of an environment - only leads to flock stress and unhealthy birds (or injury from fighting and the inability to get away from the more aggressive birds). I give my hens much more than the minimum and it really makes a difference in their general relaxation and good health.