Whenever people hear reports of contaminated food and worry about the ethics of factory farming, they want to take control of their food in whatever way they can. For many, this means starting a garden, and for more and more, this means having backyard chickens. However, myths abound! Sadly, this misinformation slows people down or stops them entirely from having their own fresh eggs.
Myth #1: I can’t have backyard chickens because I live in town.
Not so fast! Have you actually checked your city’s municipal codes? Most are available online. Cities such as Chicago, New York, Austin, Minneapolis, and Portland, Oregon, allow chickens. In fact, more than 90 of the top 100 biggest cities allow chickens. And in cities where chickens were not allowed, such as Madison, WI, and Wake Forest, NC, citizens have been getting the laws changed.
Here are seven things to consider if you want chickens in the city.
Although roosters can be noisy, you do not need one to get fresh eggs. Hens lay eggs, even if a rooster is not present just as women ovulate even if there are no men around. However, if there is not a rooster present, the eggs will be sterile and won’t hatch.
Myth #3: Chickens have diseases.
Chickens are not inherently sick, and if they are kept in clean conditions, they rarely, if ever, become sick. They are the healthiest animals on our homestead. In fact, we had owned chickens for more than 15 years before I could no longer count on one hand the number of chickens whose lives did not end as someone’s dinner — either ours or a predators. That means that in a flock of about 50 to 80 hens and a few roosters, we lost less than one chicken every three years to some type of illness. For example, we lost one to egg binding, and one had a giant tumor grow on her chest.
The safest option for having healthy chickens is to buy day-old chicks from a hatchery whose stock is certified free from diseases. Then keep a closed flock. Don’t accept rescue chickens that need a new home, and don’t bring home a chicken that you find wandering around in a park.
Then check out these tips for preventing the top five causes of death in chickens.
Myth #4: Chickens stink!
I usually hear this from someone who lived or worked on a factory farm. You would stink too, if you had half a square foot of living space. Chickens do not stink. Mountains of chicken poo do stink. Three or four chickens do not create mountains of poo like thousands of chickens. In fact, your chickens will provide you with some great fertilizer for your yard or garden, in addition to the great eggs.
Myth #5: Chickens have lice, and they’ll give them to my children.
Okay, I admit this one slowed me down for a few years when I heard it. I wanted to get backyard hens when we were still city slickers, but then I read a book about chickens, and I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this. However, there are a few hundred different species of lice in the world, and most are host specific, meaning that chicken lice don’t like the taste of humans.
And again, chickens don’t hatch with lice. So, unless your chickens are mingling with other chickens (at a poultry show, for example), the odds of them getting lice are pretty slim.
In fact, chickens are a great ally against bugs. We’re especially grateful to our chickens for keeping down the mosquito and tick population on our farm. We’ve had many visitors over the years express surprise that we have no mosquito problems at all. We know the chickens (and turkeys and ducks) deserve 100 percent of the credit because if we go into the woods to pick raspberries, we get eaten alive!
The same is true for ticks. When we first moved here, each person in our family found at least five or six ticks on our bodies during the month of May, but after we got chickens that number went down each year. After a few years, we’d only find one or two ticks each year total on all the humans.
What are you waiting for?
If you think you just might be ready for backyard hens, here’s more information on being a responsible backyard chicken keeper.
Most people start with day-old chicks, but they do require a bit more pampering than adults. Check out this post on how to care for chicks.
You can purchase chicks from hatcheries year round, so you don’t need to wait until they have them at the local farm store in the spring. In fact, I prefer to buy chicks in the fall.
If you’re worried that your winter are too cold for backyard chickens, think again. We are in Illinois, after all, and our hens have survived 25 F below zero — real temperature, not wind chill! And no, our hens do not have an insulated or heated coop. Here is more on what chickens do NOT need during winter.
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Want to learn more about backyard chickens. Check out my favorite chicken book — The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery.
After having our own fresh eggs since 2002, there is no way we can ever go back to store-bought. They taste so much better! Plus I know my hens are living a happy life, and I know the eggs are safe to eat. And there is also the entertainment factor — chickens in the yard are just plain fun to watch!