Backyard flocks are a lot of fun and can be a solid business opportunity too. About five years ago we had chickens (30 of them – which was too many for the hobbyists we were) for a few years. Miss Moe used to drive around the property in her bright pink Barbie jeep with her three amigas – one ol’ girl riding shotgun and two little ladies in the back. Her shotgun partner also used to ride under Miss Moe’s arm while she rode along on her bicycle (training wheels and all). Miss Moe had her ride or die before it was cool.
Why it was great:
- Good clean eating. The eggs are phenomenal. I can tell a huge difference between the rich orange yolks of a backyard flock and even the “cage free” varieties at the store. Our eggs were more buttery, rich, and decadent than any I had ever tasted. We knew exactly what was going into our food. We ate poached eggs on toast every morning.
- Free dog food. Our dog loved having a bit of eggs on her breakfast every morning and her coat never looked better.
- Business opportunities. Selling farm fresh eggs just to friends offset much of the feed cost. Then, friends told friends and your circle of friends/customers grows wider. You meet people that appreciate where their food comes from and it turns out, you’ll probably have a lot in common with them. We never delved into the fresh “meat” market for our flock, but it’s something that can be explored for others that want to treat it like a business opportunity.
- Free entertainment. They are spectacularly entertaining creatures as they run like baby dinosaurs through the yard, jump in your lap, and scratch around the yard.
- Moral and life lessons for your child. Your kid will learn the lessons of life and death, compassion, and kindness with these critters. Some won’t return to the coop at night and others will fall victim to predators (predators have to eat too).
- Free fertilizer. Everyone poops, and chickens poop is rich with all sorts of nutrients that kickstart a nice compost pile and will feed the garden.
- Recycle your leftovers generating less overall waste. Chickens eat anything, really anything – just don’t be the person that feeds them chicken (because they’ll eat that too).
- Pest control. These ladies gobbled up grubs and stinkbugs by the handful.
Why it wasn’t great:
- The Mess. They are messy creatures, though not as messy as ducks (we had those too). Also, egg cleaning could be kind of gross.
- The initial investment. The sunk costs can be a lot, they need food, water supplies, heat (if you live in a really cold area) and housing.
- Their diet. They eat a lot, including things you don’t necessarily want them to (flowers, tomato plants, lettuces, and others). They can be destructive.
- The wait. If you raise them from chicks (which is a great experience for those with children) you will need to wait 6-9 months for that first egg. On a positive note, you will be delighted when you see that first egg, and it is a powerful lesson in patience – which adults and children alike can learn from.
- Everything has a season. Eggs are seasonal. In the cold weather months (unless you install lights) when the days are shorter, the chickens don’t lay much. But they still eat. And feed can get expensive.
- Eggs aren’t forever. After a few years, if you don’t do something “else” with your chickens – you’ll be hosting a retirement home for your ladies. Which means a lot of expense and less pay back.
- It’s a lot of responsibility. You are responsible for these helpless creatures that live outside – so if it’s snowing, freezing, sweltering, etc. you must still tend to the chickens. You can’t just pick up and go on vacation – you must find someone to care for your unconventional critters.
- Predators can be daunting and voracious. Every time Miss Moe selected a new “favorite” the fates instantly marked that chicken for death. Every time. Make no mistake, there will be casualties (opossum compromised the coop, hawk attack, and my final straw – river rats moved under and inside the coop). So, you have to have some patience (and a stronger stomach than I) and be willing to deal with some of the more unpleasant creatures that will love your chickens as much as you do.
While I have no regrets about having our backyard flock, and found it a rich experience for Miss Moe it isn’t something I’m looking to do again in the next decade or so. Perhaps when we’ve gotten all of our wild oats sown we’d reconsider. Even now, reflecting on the experience, I can’t help but think of the family of river rats that decided to burrow under the coop. Still gives me the heebiejeebies. If a backyard flock is something you are interested in, then be sure to check out your city/county ordinances. Ultimately, we moved closer to the city and could no longer keep them. However, we found a great home for the girls with another family who had a teenage son raising them for eggs.