Is Caring for Chickens a Huge Time Commitment?
How to Care for Chickens, as Revealed Through Interviews
by Kim Ellsworth
You’ve probably seen those chicks sold in hardware stores and feed outlets. They’re cute, fluffy —absolutely adorable. But if you take some home, how much time will you have to sacrifice?
Four women were interviewed about their many years of caring for chickens. They shared their joys, their woes, and, for two women, their reasons for ending the backyard chicken lifestyle. Nearly 35 years of cumulative experience among these four women is a testament to the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes with chickens, even if some chores take more time than they would have liked.
From their setup to their daily life, and even their decision to discontinue, the stories of these four women are as intriguing as they are honest.
Growing with Ease
Katie Painter’s backyard farm has grown to 20 chickens in seven years which is about 14 chickens over the city’s limit, but who’s counting?
When they started on their grand adventure, Katie’s husband Marty built a simple coop out of recycled wood, and they placed it inside an area of their yard that was already fenced. Overall the chicken setup was fairly quick and easy for them, and chicken care overall has also been a breeze.
“Probably the biggest hassle is when we want to go out of town and need to have someone come over and put them in,” Katie says. “I want to get one of those solar-powered doors that closes by itself at night but I’m not sure there’s one available that’s large enough to accommodate my turkeys. They all live in the same house.”
Aside from these special moments of travel, sick chicks have been the only real issue they’ve dealt with, and in order to prepare for it they often purchase more chicks than they’ll need. Chicks are incredibly hard to care for when they’re ill, but starting out in Katie’s heated garage tends to give them a good start in life.
Katie’s family loves their chickens and doesn’t anticipate changing their lifestyle anytime soon. With a four- and a six-year-old at home who are learning the ropes of the farm, it’s only going to get better (and maybe bigger) for them in the long run.
Passing on the Gift
Growing up with chickens was a memorable part of life for Melissa Nodzu Williams, and for eight years she’s been enriching her son’s life in the same way her own life was enriched. This time she started with eight chickens, a couple of ducks, a bunny, dogs, and cats, which all live together in her yard.
“Some people have a tendency to pamper their chickens,” Melissa asserts, “which makes them less resilient to the elements.” So with that thought she repurposed an old dog house and covered it with five wire panels that measured 5’x16’ in length. Her coop and hoop-like run took a single day to put together.
As time has gone on, Melissa’s regular chores and unexpected chicken issues haven’t been overwhelming for her. Every day, twice a day, the hens are given fresh water. During the summer months their coop bedding is replaced weekly, and during the winter months bedding is regularly added for additional heat. And unfortunately, one time Melissa dealt with bumblefoot which she believes was caused by the chicken coop being located too close to a berry patch.
Overall, caring for chickens has been an experience described as “very low maintenance” and one that’s she’s been happy to share with her son. Melissa believes that the value of learning animal husbandry has been worth the time commitment.
Lessening the Responsibilities
After eight years and up to four chickens at any given time, Lisa Reddick was ready to move on. It’s a decision that Lisa is still coming to terms with.
“I find myself looking out the window and thinking [about them being gone],” Lisa says. “We had a lot of eggs for a lot of years. It was a lot of tending but it was worth it.”
Rewind to the days when chickens were an exciting adventure yet to be had, and Lisa referenced Backyard Poultry magazine about what to expect for the first year. She and her husband Bill also took tours of the local neighborhood to learn how to care for chickens where neighbors showcased their own coops, runs, and flocks. Eventually Bob took multiple days to built an expansive coop and run based on a drawing he found online.
Even through all their research, caring for chickens was still a big learning curve that took more time than she had anticipated. She was hit with a mite infestation and a rat infestation, both of which required extra care and cleaning to resolve.
Still, none of those issues crossed Lisa’s mind when she excitedly jumped out of her hot tub to scare away a hungry hawk, and the issues also didn’t cross her mind each of the times she filled her neighbor’s empty egg cartons that were left on the fence. Even while Lisa misses those days, she’s ready for the next phase of her life.
Leaving the Flock Behind
Susan Ellsworth had chickens for nearly nine years before she decided to find new homes for the last hens, which were the remainders of a fluctuating flock of up to four.
When she first began she planned on raising chickens for eggs. But then it came time to build the coop, which was a bit daunting for her. “Setting up the coop and run, and then retrofitting them as needed to keep predators out … takes a fair amount of time,” Susan reminisces.
She started out by building her own small A-frame coop that she could move around the yard, but once she moved, Susan went the easier route and purchased a used coop off Craigslist and a new 10’x10′ dog run at Lowe’s. According to Susan, it was a “lot easier, and probably didn’t end up costing that much more in the long run.”
She spent considerable time playing with her baby chicks to make them friendlier as adults; although, this became less important over the years. She also spent time researching the loss of one of her hens due to the often fatal issue of crop impaction, which is a when food becomes stuck inside the esophagus located near the neck. However, in general she’s easily weathered the storm by keeping an eye out for symptoms of a sick chicken and then by offering them lactose-free kefir and hard-boiled eggs.
Even through all of the ups and downs, Susan misses her chickens and thinks that if she were to ever return to the lifestyle that she’d “need at least six in order to get enough eggs for the family [of three] on a consistent basis. [Plus she’d] need to rotate in young hens every year or two to sustain egg production over time.” That’s just not a time commitment she’s ready to undertake again anytime soon.
Four Women in Retrospect
It’s clear that Katie, Susan, Melissa, and Lisa have thoroughly enjoyed caring for chickens, irrelevant of the time commitments involved.
In some situations, the upfront needs were lessened by choosing the easiest methods of coop and run construction. In other situations, it seems that the ongoing commitments have been a roll of the dice, since not all four women experienced the same issues.
For Susan and Lisa, the two women who have since stopped raising chickens, things are looking up though they both look back with a mixture of sadness and happy memories. Lisa described it best when she said, “It’s pretty amazing to be connected to your food source. [My chickens] were bonded to me, and they would come running. I would definitely do it again.”