The Real Truth about Raising Backyard Chickens
When I first started raising backyard chickens I really knew next to nothing. I knew what I wanted to get out of raising chickens, but beyond my vast experience at raising parakeets as a kid (which didn’t help much at all…surprise), I didn’t have a clue.
Now, after having a whopping 1.5 years of experience as a “chicken farmer”, I have learned a few interesting things about raising chickens that have allowed me to hold the floor a few times at dinner parties. Here are some of those things I often share that seem to receive the most “ah-ha” moments from our friends and family…or at least an animated reaction.
1. You don’t need a rooster to have farm fresh eggs.
This is definitely the fact that has gotten the biggest reaction when I’ve had a willing audience. [Warning…I’m probably about to cross the line of appropriate sharing for some of you – but for reasons of education, I must.] Yes…to get fertilized eggs you need a rooster. But to just get eggs, all you need is a hen. Although baby chicks do hatch from eggs…hens are not actually giving birth to a chick. They are simply passing (i.e., laying) an egg. Like humans and other animals, hens ovulate. Hens, however, ovulate every 25-26 hours (with some variation depending on the breed and the time of year). If you had a rooster your hens could very likely lay fertilized eggs, but Mr. Rooster is not required for the ovulation process…only the fertilization process. Once you think about it, it’s pretty simple biology really.
2. Chickens won’t disturb your neighbors.
Now this won’t be true if you have a rooster. Roosters don’t just crow in the morning…they crow whenever they want, throughout the day. This is why local ordinances, particularly in residential areas, limit the number of roosters you can have…or not allow them at all. They are considered too loud…for obvious reasons, if you’ve ever been close to one when he has crowed. And now that you know that roosters aren’t required for hens to lay eggs, most of us backyard chicken folks are good with that…as are our neighbors.
For us Scotts, our 7 hens aren’t noisy at all…and they are clearly a lot quieter than our neighbors’ dogs! And actually, beyond hearing a few loud clucks when they are laying their eggs or when they are alarmed while free-ranging, you would really never know we had chickens. When you get close to their coop you can hear them clucking or making muffled bawking or cooing sounds, but I think those sounds are actually quite pleasant.
3. Chickens are not difficult to take care of.
Now this fun fact is less of a fact and more of an opinion. Yes, care for your chickens is definitely required…but I have found that it doesn’t require that much work at all. That said, in order to minimize the amount of work required to raise chickens you need to think through the living requirements of your flock.
Essentially all chickens do is eat, poop, scratch, drink, preen, take dirt baths, and poop some more. So these realities are important to consider when determining the location and design of your chicken coop. Your coop should be convenient enough for you to get to fairly often…at least once daily to check on their food and water and to retrieve your eggs. Near your coop you should have easy access to their food, a water source, and any other chicken-related supplies and coop-cleaning tools. You should think through how and where you will dispose of all the chicken poop and the old pine shavings (or whatever you put on the floor and in the nesting boxes)…e.g., compost pile. In the design of the coop itself, you either need to be able to physically get far enough into it or have easy access to the entire structure if it’s a smaller coop…to clean it out (which I probably do only about every 3-4 months… taking about an hour); and you also want to have easy access to the eggs. I would suggest being able to access the eggs from the outside (i.e., you don’t want to have to enter the coop every time you want to get your eggs…it can be a bit messy…remember they poop all day long!).
Lastly, it’s really easy to find friends or neighbors to check on your chickens when you go out of town…largely because you can pay them in fresh eggs! And all they really have to do is “check” on them – i.e., make sure they have food and clean water. They don’t need to be walked or anything else so it really just takes a few quick minutes to stop by for chicken-sitting. Although, because chickens are quite entertaining they will probably stay longer. We often will get pics texted to us of our fleshy friends playing with our feathered friends.
4. There is such a thing as green eggs…that don’t require food coloring.
Yes…there is such a thing as green eggs…and blue eggs and olive eggs and chocolate brown eggs. Besides the shell color, they look no different once you’ve cracked them open (see below for more on yolk color…and yes, it’s yolk, not yoke – which is the wooden bar you put across the necks of two work animals). The color of the egg’s shell depends on the breed of the chicken that laid it. Then within the breed, there may be some variation within that color by chicken. But a single chicken will lay eggs of a fairly consistent color. Think of it in terms of eye color, different genes carry different eye color. Likewise, the genes of a chicken determine the color of their eggs…and breeds of chicken are essentially differentiated by what genes they possess.
We have 3 breeds of chickens: Barred Plymouth Rock (2); Easter Egger (2); and Golden Comet (3) – which is actually not a breed, but a sexlink hybrid between 2 breeds – mine are from a male Rhode Island Red and a female Rhode Island White. (Click here to read more about sexlink chickens.) So we effectively get eggs of 3 different colors.
- Our Barred Plymouth Rocks (Henny and Polly)lay pale brown, almost pink eggs.
- Our Easter Eggers (Marigold and Hazel) aptly lay pale green eggs. Easter Eggers have not been recognized as an official breed, but they are one of the most popular chickens to have in a backyard flock due to their laying eggs of more unusual colors. Although ours lay minty green eggs, other Easter Eggers may lay darker green eggs or blue eggs…and some will lay dark olive eggs.
- Our Golden Comets (Ginger, Mazie, and Meribeth) lay brown eggs – similar to the color you would find in brown eggs you buy from the store.
Now, the color of an egg’s yolk may be different as well…but all within the yellow to orange range. This, however, depends on the chicken’s diet. If you feed your chickens feed made up of more or less colorless corn and other grains and fillers, their yolks will be pale yellow. But if you let your chickens free-range, where they have access to proteins and plants that have brighter or darker pigments their yolks will be bright yellow to almost orange. This color variation has to do with a chicken’s diet, not their breed.
So there you have it…some interesting tidbits I’ve learned about chickens since raising them. In the weeks to come I’ll post more on the design of our coop, how you should store your eggs, if you should wash your eggs or not, and other chicken-raising-related topics. So stay tuned.
For those of you who raise chickens, what other fun facts have you entertained your friends and family with?
For those of you who don’t, what questions do you have about raising chickens? I’d love to de-mystify anything for you.
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