Backyard chickens have become all the rage in my neighborhood in the last decade or so. The city of Nashville allows you to keep up to six hens (no roosters! Too aggressive and loud) with a permit in city limits. I was always curious, but it seemed like a big commitment. Aren't they dirty? Demanding? Expensive?
Short answer: no!
If someone had told me that keeping four hens in my backyard was easier than keeping my indoor/outdoor cat, and considerably easier than keeping my dog, I would have done it years ago! The initial startup cost is a bit, but they cost next to nothing after that.
I decided last winter that I wanted to surprise the kids with some baby chicks on Easter. I enlisted the help of my chicken swami, Erica. She had grown up on a working farm in North Carolina and had been keeping chickens at her house in my neighborhood for awhile. She found me the chicks, got me set up with a brooder tub and a bit of food, and dropped them off in the still of night during Holy Week, while the kids were sleeping. Baby chicks have to live indoors for a little while until they "harden off," or get old and big enough to make it through a cold night outside.
To say that the kids were excited about them is a vast understatement. Vicki Jo, who already has a big care-taking gene (loves caring for our animals and her little collections of things), was ready to keep them all to herself from day one.
We fed them, watered them, watched and made sure that Puppy and Rocky didn't bother them (in fact, Puppy showed off her maternal instincts by sleeping curled up next to the brooder tub and guarding them). After a few weeks, we moved them outside. Chris and Erica had come over and built the most magnificent coop for us! Chris designed it himself, and it has stood up incredibly well over the last year. (You can see it in the picture above.)
The only snag is that you really have to have a neighbor or friend who can come care for them if you go out of town. In fact, chicken-sitting businesses have been popping up in East Nashville, as there is demand for them! Luckily, I have amazing neighbors who have always been willing to help..
The chickens started laying around the beginning of August. We had four, but one wandered off and was never found again. Vicki named them, of course: Snow Flake is the white one (sometimes also Snow White?), Butterfly is the biggest, and then Rainbow and Flower are identical. One of them is the one who wandered off, so we aren't sure which one we still have.
They each lay about one egg per day. They recently went through a winter molt and stopped laying for awhile, but they have picked up again. I let them rummage in the compost bin and throughout the yard most afternoons. They go through about a cup or two of feed per day, which I get at the Farmer's Co-op. I change out the bedding in their nesting box once a week. They are dead easy, and they basically produce food for you for almost nothing. I've gotten so spoiled on the freshest eggs that I can hardly eat any others. Vicki and Todd prefer theirs hard-boiled.
So, if you're considering backyard chickens, my advice would be: do it! It's easier than you think, cheaper than you think, and there is nothing like it for teaching your kids about food and wildlife.