Thursday, September 2, 2010

Backyard Chickens Redux

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Now that I've moved on and no longer live with a gaggle of hens, it's time to looks back and talk about what did and didn't work.

Owning backyard chickens has exploded in popularity in the last couple of years. And it makes a lot of sense. You give them a good life, they give you some great eggs. What could be simpler? Well there are problems. Let me remind you of what happened to my chicken Big Mamma. I'd love to tell you that it ended there, but it didn't. We in fact had another gruesome death that was maybe worse than the first. The gauge of wire you use on your coop is very important. You see, chicken wire is not really the wire to use. Who would have thought?  The holes are actually too large and some pesky creatures, say a raccoon, can reach its little paws through and do some damage. That's precisely what happened to our chicken Pepper. She had her leg and wing horribly mangled. She didn't die. She was left to suffer until we could finish the job.
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Forgetting about death for a minute there's the issue of responsibility. Just like other animals you might keep like a dog, cat, or small child, chickens need food, water, and if you care about their well being, freedom to scratch. I've seen coops with chickens that rarely leave, but I like my girls to be able to get out and stretch. Furthermore, if things like food, water, and natural behaviors are important to you, as they should be, you need to be willing and able to tend to them everyday. That's a big responsibility. Unfortunately, a lot of people get chickens and then realize this far too late. In my own house, let's just say there was little enthusiasm for our feathered friends. Some housemates were never home, others kept strange hours, and others simply refused to have anything to do with them. So if one of us who was committed wasn't around, they were neglected, and that was very frustrating.

The last number of months we had only one chicken. I thought she seemed sad, but as the spring progressed she returned to her normally prolific self by laying every single day.
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And the story ends there. We moved on to a different house and out of the remaining chicken's life. As far as I know, at present Naked Neck is still healthy, happy, and laying a lot of eggs.

So what can I say to prospective chicken owners? If you have the space, the time, and the dedication, go for it. Don't think of them as pets, but don't just think of them just as meat either. If you've got a lifestyle where you're on the move a lot, don't even think about getting them. They require and deserve your attention.

As with a lot of fads, like owning a particular breed of dog, many people don't get into this with the right frame of mind. "Oh wouldn't it be fun to own a (Insert name of animal here)!" they say. Novelty breeds of dogs and chickens alike are dropped off at animal shelters and deserted stretches of highway by people who think it would be cool to own a furry or feathered friend before adequately thinking things through.  If the needless death or slaughter of an animal doesn't bother you, by all means, get a backyard hen or three right away! Otherwise, do your research and get an idea what owning animals actually entails. If you think it's right for your lifestyle and you can commit to your feathered friends, I wholeheartedly recommend backyard chickens.

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