7 Things I Didn’t Read Before Getting Backyard Chickens
Chickens are amazing, productive additions to any backyard or farm. Getting them was a big deal to me and I researched it for about nine months before I nailed the first 2×4 together to build the coop. I read about raising chicks, diet, predator awareness and a whole slew of exciting chicken facts. All useful indeed, but they left out a few important details about the reality of becoming a backyard chicken person. Here they are. You’re welcome.
1.) Your coop will take more than a weekend to build.
Well, unless you’ve got a background in carpentry or construction. Alas, I do not. YouTube videos made it look soooo easy with titles like “DH built our new coop this weekend,” and the finished coop looked like something I would live in! Ha, I thought it would be a piece of cake! Nope.
It took me three solid weeks of twelve-hour days to get my coop constructed and painted. That’s cumulative. The whole coop project spanned across three months. I learned a lot though and now could build a coop in half that time. Still not in a weekend.
Building your coop will be worth it. The ready-made coops, no matter how many chickens the ad says they hold, are flimsy and get destroyed within a couple of seasons. A well-built coop is much safer for your flock and more durable, but it may take longer than you expect. I would highly recommend being nearly finished before ordering your chicks or hatching eggs.
2.) You’ll modify your coop once your chickens are in it.
In the first three days of having my girls in their new home, I discovered it was way too hot for them and added a screen door to the coop. They also needed more ventilation. Then I decided I would get that automatic pop-hole door after all. And maybe add a poop-board. And install solar lighting. You get the point.
Your coop set up will change as you get to know your flock’s preferences and get comfortable being a chicken caregiver. Try not to sweat it if the coop doesn’t seem perfect when you put your newly former fluff-butts into their big-girl house.
3.) Be prepared to fall in love.
Seriously, ‘chicken math’ doesn’t happen because people are ambivalent about them. I intended to turn my hens into dinner when they stopped laying eggs. Until I met them.
I’d read that chickens have individual personalities, but nowhere did it say what a blithering crazy woman I’d become, fawning all over these little feather-dinos! I knew right away that these ladies would get the deluxe retirement package to their last natural breath. Years later, I am still fascinated by and enamored with each one of my (currently eight) pet chickens.
Whatever your ideas are now, be prepared to fall in love. Don’t judge yourself if you (for example) hang out in the coop (all day, with your laptop) when the transfer to the big-girl-house happens. Or sing lullabies to them at night. Or sit bolt upright in bed at 2 am and need to know they’re okay. Or have lengthy conversations with them in their language.
They’ll love all the attention, and you’ll be a valued member of the flock.
4.) You’ll think your chickens are dying at least once in the first year.
Reverse WebMD occasionally happens when you have chickens. You’ll read about an illness on a chicken forum, and suddenly think your chickens have that illness too! You’ll see one rearranging their crop and think omg, does she have gapeworm? A sneeze over the food dish will have you running for your first-aid kit.
It’s important to pay close attention to your flock’s health, but we’ve all seen phantom issues. Twice I treated my chicks for illnesses that they probably didn’t have. I thought they were dying when they went through their second juvenile molt, and all three of them started going bald.
Make sure to mostly stock your first-aid kit with high quality, natural ingredients, and it won’t matter that you’ve treated for a respiratory infection when she was probably just expelling some food from her nares. Your chickens are (most likely) not dying, but it’s okay to give them a little extra TLC just in case. Save the heavy meds though, for when the illness is confirmed.
5.) Marek’s Disease is common in places that don’t freeze.
Then there’s the time when the chicken first-aid kit won’t help at all. It’s when Marek’s hits. I have a whole separate post on this topic here (with a printable guide!). If you live in an area that gets a winter, it’s not as much of an issue, but here in Southern California, it’s prevalent. Don’t worry, there’s a vaccine, and even if Marek’s happens, your chicken-keeping days aren’t over.
6.) You will become obsessed with poop.
Oh, you balk now (pun intended), but come back and tell me how many pictures of chicken poop you have on your phone six months after getting your babies. Chicken keepers are very aware of color, consistency, and frequency of their flock’s droppings. It’s one of the first ways to tell if a chicken’s sick.
You’ll google things like abnormal chicken poop, watery chicken poop, and what does (fill-in-the-blank color) chicken poop mean? You’ll post pictures of questionable excrement on chicken social media groups, chicken forums and compare notes with fellow chicken keepers.
Worse than that, you’ll scroll through ten pictures of chicken poop in your phone at a party (or dinner), in front of friends, to show the cute one of Ms. Cuddles taking a dirt bath. And you won’t even think it’s weird.
I took the obsession even further and learned how to do chicken fecal tests at home, so I always know the details of my girls’ delicate digestive balance. I bought the microscope, centrifuge, and all the supplies. Meh, what can I say? I’m officially a crazy chicken lady. Please refer to list item number three, above.
7.) You’ll firehose people with chicken stories.
Your chickens will be hilarious. They’ll astound and entertain you with their antics. You’ll want to share all the amazing things they do with your friends and loved ones. Also your colleagues, the man in line behind you, the receptionist at the dentist’s office, even your lovely letter carrier who asked how your chickens were doing. Unfortunately, they will only care for a few minutes, and not every time you see them.
You won’t mean to do it, but you’ll talk about your chickens with normal people and eventually notice that their eyes are glazed over. They’re backing away as you realize you’ve been talking for twenty minutes.
Don’t worry; we’ve all been there. I still occasionally firehose people with chicken talk, sometimes I just can’t help it.
Get some ‘chicken people’ buddies. We’re weird, but you’ll need us. My chicken bff and I text multiple times a day. We know each other’s flocks by name, and I’m just as excited to see and hear about her chickens as my own.
Your chicken friends won’t bat an eye when you text them poop-pics and ask for their opinion. They’ll support you through the losses that happen and go halfsies with you on a hatchery order. You’ll find us in chicken forums & local social media groups. Many of us are in your neighborhood!
Take the plunge and get those chicks!
So you’ll become a poop-obsessed, possible hypochondriac who can’t hold conversations without whipping out this morning’s pictures of your flock! Who cares?! You won’t when that precious ball of fluff hops into your lap and falls asleep on her face. By the time you realize you’ve become a ‘chicken person,’ it won’t even matter.
Having chickens in your back yard improves your food quality, the planet’s health and reduces the strain on commercial egg production. You’re also giving heritage chicken breeds a chance to survive. All the entertainment they provide is free! I hope you now feel sufficiently prepared to go for it and add chickens to your family.
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