Today I’m going to talk about the downsides to keeping chickens in the garden. Hopefully this won’t put you off having chickens for good, but you need to be fully aware of what you’re getting into and just how much work chickens can be.
Unfortunately, chickens come with their downsides too…
Anne Shooter knows exactly what sort of mess that chickens can end up causing. She describes herself as “one of the first wave of middle-class town dwellers to buy a chicken coop and hens”, but now she’s sort of regretting it, you might be needing a new lawn if you don’t watch where you put them. She recounts a tale of chickens ripping up her garden, chickens making ‘screaming noises’ when confronted with foxes at night (can you blame them?) and the amount of money she’s spent on sheltering and feeding them, it’s not been for the frugal gardener. But the worst problem for her seems to be dealing with chicken poop!
Yet, even after all this, she relents that she has a ‘soft spot’ for the little birds.
Let’s be honest, she’s got a point here, there are more than enough reasons why owning chickens is a bad idea. However, you need to go into it knowing full well what you’re getting into. If you don’t mind dealing with the things I’m about to mention then, by all means, go ahead and get some chickens; just don’t complain much when you’re stepping in poo at 4am whilst simultaneously trying to shoo foxes away from your noisy flock.
- It’s not a clean job: It would be a bit weird for you to expect that keeping chickens wouldn’t force you to get your hands dirty once in a while. It most definitely will, and it will be often too. You’ll be picking up poo, fallen feathers, cleaning out the coop. Chickens poo an awful lot, so if you hate the smell and even the idea of touching poo then keeping chickens really isn’t for you.On the plus side, it’s a step closer to high quality soil. If you have kids then also remember that they could end up stepping in the poo too if you’re not consistent about cleaning it up. You need to clean up for the sake of your toddlers safety. One way to resolve such a situation is to place hard boards under their pen, this way once the bulk of the poo is cleaned you can then get a pressure washer which will make light work of anything remaining.
- They cause mess other than poo: Letting your chickens roam freely around the garden will give them free access to plants; such as those prize cabbages you’ve been tending. At least they’ll serve as a great slug control. I touched upon how chickens can be good for the soil yesterday, but they can also churn it up into a mess too. If you don’t want your perfectly aerated, manicured lawn getting damaged by rampaging chickens then make sure to build a fenced in confined area where they can make mess to their hearts content.
- They’re noisy: Sorry, but you’re never going to get a flock of chickens that will happily listen to your shouts of “SHUT UP FOR 1 MINUTE!!!” so you have to be prepared to put up with the noise. Unfortunately your neighbours may not be prepared to do that, so if you’re going to keep some in close proximity to neighbours then be sure to let them know about the situation. It’s brilliant if you live far apart from your nearest neighbour, but if not you could always try giving them a few eggs so they can share the benefits with you!
- They attract foxes and rats: Urban foxes are on the rise here in the UK; attracted by all the food we throw away and a reduction in prey in their normal hunting grounds. A flock of chickens will make a tasty treat for a fox, so be sure to make your chicken coop fox proof and keep your chickens inside there at night. You can also try purchasing a fox deterrent device. Rats are also attracted; chomping through chicken feed supplies, stealing eggs, chewing through fences/wood and helping spread disease. Check for any suspicious holes in the chicken coop daily, as it was probably done by a rat trying to get inside. Make sure you keep plenty of wire to tie these back up and reinforce. You can put rodent traps down if needed.
- Chickens don’t lay eggs for long: Chickens can live up to 15 or even 20 years if they’re living in a healthy environment where they’re well looked after. Unfortunately they will only lay eggs on a regular basis for around 2-3 years, so for the remainder of their lives they will be pottering around not doing much. Despite this you still have to continue to feed and clean up after them, both of which cost more money and time. You could always use them for meat at this point, but you’ll probably have grown too attached to them to stomach having to slaughter them. Chickens are fun animals and can come to be seen as pets by the family; and you wouldn’t kill your cat or dog, would you?
There’s another interesting fact in that Daily Mail article too; apparently 700,000 people now own chickens in the UK. Given that the article was published in 2011 it could have risen considerably in the last 8 years, but it’s hard to come by correct figures as you don’t have to register to keep chickens until you own over 50. In any case, it remains clear that people are still keeping chickens regardless of the downsides, but these are definitely some things to think about before you take the plunge into fully-fledge chicken ownership.