How to Live With Backyard Chickens

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backyard chickensFour years ago our family decided to embrace the backyard chicken movement and become, what I like to call Urban Homesteaders. My husband grew up in the Old North End of Colorado Springs and had fond memories of the fresh eggs his family gathered. It also seemed that raising backyard chickens was becoming popular.

We figured that it couldn’t be that hard.

I researched what was needed to get started, we borrowed a guinea pig cage and purchased a heat lamp. Then, on a random weekday afternoon, we headed down to a local feed store to pick out some chicks. I’m pretty sure that we paid less than $10 for four chicks. Later in the season, I actually purchased four for $1. I’m a sucker for a bargain. Turned out that two of those “bargain” chicks were actually roosters. Which was awesome when they started their cock-a-doodle-dooing – ALL DAY LONG!

Despite our “bargain” chicks, raising backyard chickens really wasn’t all that hard. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. 

 

Getting Started

Chickens are pretty low maintenance once you have your supplies together. We had a great place in our yard for a run and coop. My hubby built the coop from scratch, using plans he found online. I would guess we spent $250 building our own coop. However, if you aren’t that handy, there are lots of places to buy prefabricated coops. Although we live in a suburban neighborhood, we have quite a bit of wildlife in the area, so ensuring the coop and run were secure was very important. More on that later.

Setting up a brooder is simple. You need a feeder, waterer, bedding, and a heat lamp. It’s important to keep the bedding dry and clean. Some folks suggest a thermometer to make sure it’s warm enough, but I found that if the chicks are directly below the heat lamp, they are cold. Likewise, if they are as far away as possible, it’s too hot. We kept our chicks inside for about a month, cleaning their brooder frequently so our house didn’t smell like a barnyard.

Our kids became involved quickly. I mean, what kid doesn’t want to hold a sweet, fluffy, yellow chick? The more the chicks are handled (depending on the breed), the friendlier they become. Our kids are often seen toting a chicken around the yard and our chickens come running when we open the door to the backyard. They are hilarious to watch and it’s clear to me that chickens are direct descendants of dinosaurs.

Farm Fresh Food

It was important to us that the kids know where their food comes from. No, eggs don’t come from the grocery store…they come from chickens! We also incorporated collecting the eggs into their chores. Have you ever tried a farm fresh egg? There really is a difference. They are delicious; they taste more like an egg should taste. The yolk is brighter and the white is less runny. Our chickens have been known to lay five eggs per week and we’ve had up to six chickens at a time. That’s a lot of eggs! We give them to our friends, family, and neighbors. I even had cartons made for us! And, remember those roosters we had? They made for a tasty dinner for a friend of mine. Now our kids know exactly what’s in their favorite nuggets!

Lessons Learned

Even after all the research I had done, there were still quite a few things I wasn’t prepared for. For example, ‘pecking order’ is actually a thing, not just a way to describe a group of uppity women. The order is established very early and, when adding new chickens to the flock, the pecking order is reestablished. It’s critical that you never introduce just one chicken to the flock – the original chickens will peck the heck out of her. They are known to cannibalize each other. It’s super gross. Trust me. Also, if you allow your chickens to “free range” in your yard, expect to have the greenest grass on the block – their poop makes excellent fertilizer. But also, expect your kids to track in that same excellent fertilizer into the house. Also, super gross.

We learned that predators will find their way into your yard. Whether it’s your mother-in-law’s yellow lab (that’s a whole other story) or the neighborhood bobcat, you will lose some of your flock. Or in our case, your entire flock. Note to self: make sure you secure the coop every night!

Despite some of the hard lessons we’ve learned, our family will likely always have a flock around. We’ve grown addicted to the fresh eggs and watching them run around the yard. It’s a great conversation starter and we would encourage everyone to consider starting their own flock!

Have questions about how to live with backyard chickens? Leave them below. 

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Dana has lived in Colorado for the last 17 years. She met her husband, Ben, in Boulder and they made the move to Colorado Springs. Together, they are busy raising two children. Dana is the Director of Meeting the Challenge, Inc., a national disability compliance consulting firm. She is an active community volunteer and has served several boards. When she is not working, Dana can be found cheering on her son and daughter's travel hockey teams at area ice rinks. She enjoys spending time hiking in the mountains with her Vizsla, raising backyard chickens, and cheering on her Alma Mater's Michigan State Spartans!

1 COMMENT

  1. Well written and super helpful. Thank you for the info. My wife and I are thinking about taking the chicken plunge as well. Your article was very encouraging.

    THANKS…Ryan

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