Backyard chickens

My hens: Wilma, Ester and Amelia. (Journal photo by Lacey Newlin.)

Of all the narratives the coronavirus has brought forth in our society, one I’ve been noticing over and over again in many segments of our daily lives, has been consumer’s desire to get back to basics when it comes to food. People who’ve never grown a vegetable garden are planting seeds in their back yards, many are learning how to bake their own bread and some are even canning their own jams and jellies to enjoy throughout the pandemic. Sounds just like early pioneers homesteading way back when, only these days we’re catching a favorite movie or TV show on Netflix in the down time. To me, the fact that people are getting back to the fundamentals of food, where it comes and how it’s made is great, however, there is one aspect of this movement that is concerning to me.

            I’ve seen a lot of people turning to farm stores and purchasing live baby chicks to start backyard chicken flocks in an effort to sure up a constant supply of eggs. While this its admirable that consumers are willing to become hobby farmers during the pandemic, as a backyard chicken farmer myself, I hope the people purchasing these chicks understand the responsibility that comes with them.

Just like a cow, horse or pig, chickens are living beings. Although they do not require as much food, they require a lot of care and although they seem low maintenance as chicks, they grow up quickly. Also, chickens poop. A lot. If you’re not willing to clean out a chicken coop a few times a year at the least, maybe chicken ownership isn’t for you.

            To me, the biggest question potential chicken owners must ask themselves is will I want live chickens in six months when the pandemic is over and we are back to normal for the most part? Additionally, it takes six months for a hen to start laying eggs, so if you’re hoping to skip trips to the grocery store for this food staple, don’t expect anything in your laying box for quite a while. Chickens are all about patience when it comes to eggs.

Another thing to remember is that if you buy baby chicks right now, they will probably be ready to start laying eggs at the end of fall or beginning of winter—depending on the breed. One thing novice chicken owner don’t always know is that egg laying is governed by the hours of sunlight in a day, so as the days get shorter and colder, chickens slow down and even stop laying eggs through the winter.

            Another bullet point I’d like to point out to those brooding over the idea of chicken ownership is that although many cities allows backyard hen flocks, many do not allow roosters. When you buy chicks at Atwoods or Tractor Supply, it is almost impossible to determine what sex chicks are when they are so young. Take it from me, it’s a bad deal when you end up with five of your eight chickens growing into full-blown, testosterone bursting roosters. Talk about drama—it was like reasoning with five bird versions of Rocky Balboa on a daily basis, and in the end I had to find new homes for all of my roosters.

            Just like with any pet, when you take it home, you are accepting responsibility for its livelihood and that should never been taken for granted. Backyard chickens are lots of fun and collecting their eggs is very rewarding, but the purchase of chickens needs to be a well-thought out decision on the part of the buyer.

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or lnewlin@hpj.com.

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