We’ve been keeping chickens for nearly a decade (9 years actually) – certainly a lot less than some, but enough to be ‘seasoned’ in the same sense that a cast iron skillet could be considered so after as much time.
We’ve had a lot of failures and frustrations along the way, but enough enjoyment, fresh eggs, pasture-raised meat, and joy to offset the negative times.
Below are just some observations and reflections from our experiences.
Chickens don’t smell so nice.
I love Joel Salatin, but he must have some secret sauce up his sleeve, or just really dull olfactory senses. We’ve given our chickens premium food, premium space, good housing and more, and you know what? They wreak! In fact, aside from their closest competitors for stink – rabbits, chickens are just about the smelliest of farm animals we’ve owned.
Meat chickens even more so and among meat chickens, Cornish-X meat chickens are the worst for offensive odors. I am sure that some have figured out how to reduce this, but it must require entirely free-ranging chickens.
Roosters can be an enjoyable part of your flock.
Operative expression: “can be”. A rooster with a nice disposition will help create a pretty calm and healthy flock. Hens seem to enjoy having them around, and their ‘shepherding’ skills can be very helpful and healthy for the flock. We enjoy the crowing and quite honestly, don’t get why people don’t.
It is hard to have too many hens, but very easy to have too many roosters!
Though we enjoy roosters, you can have too many, and when you do – it’s like an MMA cage fight to the death – only over time. Roosters will edge out the weaker roosters after a protracted period of rooster gang wars. It can be brutal to behold.
Chickens die, get used to it.
I don’t mean that chickens die more often that other animals, but they aren’t immortal. While we like to keep healthy animals, sometimes a chicken just isn’t long for this world. As a homesteader, I don’t want weak chickens in my flock. If they survive illness, great – that’s a good trait to have, but if they don’t and perish, it’s best to just move on (assuming you’re not seeing huge mortality rates). Chickens are not the hardiest of creatures, though some more so than others. When a chicken appears to be on death’s door, it probably is. Decide if you’ll hasten the process, or spend your time trying to nurse it back to health.
Hens spend their lives providing you eggs, don’t turn them into soup.
Old hens are hardly tasty and in our opinion, not worth the effort to cull for food. They spend their lives providing eggs for our family, the least we could do is allow them to live out their days in peace. Yes, they will consume food. Yes, it might not be economical. For us, it feels like the right thing to do. They don’t generally stop laying eggs entirely, they just slow down some. They’re can still contribute, they’re just beyond their prime. We wouldn’t support killing the senior citizens among us because they stop working, why hens?
Low egg production is ok!
We don’t light our coops during the colder darker months. Give the chickens a break. Get more of them to increase production. Again, not economical, but also allows chickens to have the break their creator designed them to have.
Happy chickens = more eggs.
We notice that when we withhold table scraps to the chickens, we get less egg production, despite the layers have plenty of high-quality feed and water. They just enjoy table scraps! When we have pigs, they often get the bulk of table scraps, and the chickens protest by providing less eggs.
Meat chickens are worth the hassle.
Despite being a messy and stinky job, raising meat chickens has been worth. We’ve done from 50-100 a year for our family and the results have been great. It’s a very economical means to get high-quality meat for the freezer or canning. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small investment that yields big results.
Give chickens animal protein occasionally.
Chickens enjoy meat. If you can manage to give them some to eat, they’ll be happier. Don’t worry, they won’t turn into aggressive attack chickens. If you raise other meat, you probably have the opportunity to feed them some of the byproducts of doing so. Ofal (heart, lungs, livers, insides, etc) can be a real treat for chickens, and make use out of something many have few other uses for.
Chickens need air.
Duh, all animals need air, right? Yeah, but chickens need more flowing air than most animals and may seem counter-intuitive to new chicken owners. Chickens don’t have the most robust of respiratory systems (one reason they get sick relatively easy). Don’t build an airtight coop believing your little chickies are gonna be nice and snug – you’ll just be subjecting them to harsher conditions. Allow for some airflow, particularly at or above their head level where they’re roosting.