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The Pros & Cons of Chickens

If you are still thinking about chickens and think it's all fun and games, it's not. There are a lot of things that you need to consider. Let's discuss some of the best things about chickens. Here are some of the Pros.

They lay eggs.

Happy healthy hens will lay an egg every 24 hours or so, with or without a rooster. He makes no difference in the quality or quantity of eggs. The only thing he will do is fertilize them.

They can help you in your garden.

In the springtime, before you get ready to plant chickens can till your soil for you. They LOVE to dig. Their scratching and pecking of the soil will loosen it up for you. They will also eat weed seeds and weed seedlings that are starting to establish. I let them in my raised beds, and they do a great job. After they are done, I level off the soil and it is so soft and loose. I let them go at it a few times before I plant. They have done such a great job at times that I don't need a shovel. I can just move the soil with my hands and put the plants in.

Their manure is awesome fertilizer.

While they are digging around in the garden, they just might drop some manure. Unless you are planting garlic, onions, carrots, etc. that grow under the soil you can just leave the manure. Not only will it fertilize your soil it will attract earthworms.

They are amazing composters.

Every gardener knows the value of compost. Mixing their manure in your compost pile speeds up the breaking down of the material. It will also attract earthworms which will also speed that process up. The rotting material will attract other bugs too. Your chickens will get in there and dig around, mixing it all up and introduce oxygen to the pile. They are also going to get a great meal which will cut down on the amount of feed they eat. Having a compost pile inside the run will give them something to do and can also make you even more compost that you will need to recharge your soil and top off your garden beds. They can make so much you will be sharing it with neighbors who also have gardens or flower beds.

They eat tons of bugs.

A lot of the time they eat beneficial bugs like spiders and worms. They also eat slugs, ticks, beetles, grubs, etc. Last summer was a blast watching them chase and conquer the grasshopper infestation I seemed to have.

They are great to hang around.

I don't want to call them companions or pets because I have dual-purpose birds. When their laying they have enough meat to be harvested for meat. Some days it's fun and relaxing to take a cold drink in the backyard, sit in the shade and watch them roam the yard and forage. When I give them treats sometimes the other hens hog it all up and the bottom hen won't get much. She knows that I always save some for her and when the others walk away, I hook her up. My neighbors feed them too. They will all run over to her when they see her coming out of the back porch. My one neighbor likes them to come in her yard. She says that she wants them to eat ticks, so they don't get on her dog. Her dog even like the chickens!

They will cut down on food waste.

Leftovers that got pushed into the back of the fridge, bag of lettuce that got slimy, that freezer-burnt meat is all good to give them. If they don't eat it just bury it in the compost pile and let it break down and attract bugs and worms. Extra veggies from the garden will not go to waste. I have even given them the carcass of fish I have caught and filleted. The rest of the fish they didn't eat got buried in the compost.

They will clean up the garden at the end of the season.

Simply let them in the garden and they will eat most of the plants down to the roots. Since they love to dig, they are going to till it up for you and fertilize it for the next season.

Not everything they do is great. Here are some of the Cons.

They poop........a lot.

For their size and the amount, they produce you sometimes wonder if you have some invisible chickens. You simply cannot miss one day of the cleanup in the run. If you do you can make for some unhealthy conditions. Then there is the inside of the coop. They poop all night too. the amount under the roosts can add up quickly. Some construction sand under the roosts and a cheap slotted spoon or a kitty litter scoop can make this clean-up quick. This is why a well-ventilated coop is important. The ammonia gasses from their manure can make them sick and make the coop stink and the neighbors will not be happy.

They love to dig and can be very destructive.

You have to let them dig. It's like not being able to do your favorite hobby. It's one of their favorite things to do. You can encourage them to dig in a spot by leaving the grass bare but any place that has mulch or soft soil is a target. Holes seem to pop up out of nowhere and in the worst spots. Flowerpots and beds are a target. Your garden isn't safe either. After we let them dig around and prepare our garden beds, we put up chicken wire around them to keep them out. I designed our wooden garden beds for that purpose, but we also have some metal garden beds, so I have come up with an idea. Now we wait till spring and see if it works.

Chickens are messy eaters and drop food everywhere.

Crumble feed is for chicks. They also make crumble feed for layers. I feed pellets; they seem to waste less of it. If they have a lot of feed on the ground, I will remove the feeder so they will clean that up. Chickens tend to attract mice. You need to remove feeders and clean up any feed on the ground every night. If you have a garden, you have probably attracted mice already.

Wintertime is tough.

The cold isn't the biggest problem, they will molt feathers for the season. The snow-covered frozen ground can't be dug into and there are no bugs to forage for. My coop is raised up and I put tarps around it so they can come out of the coop and still be protected from the wind. The ground under the coop is covered in a thick layer of wood shavings for them to lay on. They can get bored easily and pick on each other so you have to give them things to keep them entertained. Hanging food on a rope for them to peck at helps. They will eat a

lot in the winter to keep warm. Giving them extra things to eat and the fact that it swings when they peck at it makes them work for it and it keeps them busy.

They won't lay many eggs in the winter.

Chickens need about 14 hours of sunlight to lay eggs. The short winter days don't provide enough sunlight. Some people give them supplemental light in the winter and that's ok, but she only has so many eggs to lay in her lifetime. Nature built in this break for them, so I respect that.

They will not lay when molting.

From winter into spring and fall into winter they will shed some feathers and regrow new ones. This takes up a lot of energy and requires extra protein to do. Eggs also need a lot of protein and since they need a new coat to protect them from the elements that win. Also, when it gets very hot in the summertime, they will not lay eggs. So, if you want chickens to save money on eggs, turn around and run, run far, and run fast. I would hate to know what I pay for a dozen eggs....... ya know...... when they are actually laying.

Vacations are hard.

Just like having a dog or cat, you have to get someone to look after your chickens. Unless you have an automatic door most likely that person isn't there at sunrise and sunset to open and close the door. That leaves them vulnerable to raccoons.

I would say for the most part my time having chickens has been great. The positives have been very good, and the negatives haven't been very bad. The worst part of the experience has been that they are actually illegal where I live. So, at any time I can lose them. I've had them for 2 years now. We have 6 and plan on adding 2-3 this year if the opportunity arises. I'm lucky that my neighbors are cool with the chickens. So, if you live in a city where they are prohibited and you want to get them, talk to your neighbors. Assure them you are not going to have a rooster and keep them clean. Noone, not even I want to smell a nasty coop. If you keep up with it your backyard will not smell like a county fair.

Written By: M. Mastroberardino, Struthers Garden Club & Sunstone Garden Groupies


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