I’ve been a backyard chicken owner for a little less than 8 months and although the way we have them would be considered easy, it’s not what you would think it is.
In the whole spectrum of things, raising backyard chickens in an urban setting is hard work if you care about the way your chickens eat and how their environment affects their happiness.
I know it seems kind of silly, but I believe that the animals who nourish us should be living exactly the way nature intended them to be living — free, in the sunshine, and happy (whether they are in my backyard or someone else’s).
While some may say — okay actually, MOST — my chickens are spoiled, it doesn’t come easy and I truly believe they aren’t living the way they ought to be. Yes, I treat them with love. Yes, I feed them only the best feed (non-GMO, soy-free, organic feed at $40 a 50lb bag). Yes, I made them a chicken swing so they wouldn’t be bored. Yes, I make sure to save all our kitchen scraps and scrounge the 50% off bin at our local market for lettuce and other foods for them.
They still aren’t able to free-range which means they don’t get what their little hearts truly desire — bugs. Less bugs equals more feed. More feed equals more money.
I had this realization a few days ago when I found myself hanging out with my favorite chicken expert and homestead store owner, Dacia of The Main Street Homestead, and I was buying my second 50 lb bag in 2 weeks!!! We had just changed our DIY PVC feeder to a different style of PVC feeder and all of a sudden, I found myself needing more food. I usually go through a 5olb bag in 3-4 weeks. Either I was starving my chickens before or the new feeders allows them to waste more.
Either way, that means $80 for feed in a month. That’s A LOT of eggs I need to sell at $5.50 a dozen to make up my feed cost. I’m not quite sure my ladies lay that many eggs for me to make up my cost. I’m probably going to change my price to $6 a dozen.
The reality that I’m realizing with chickens is that they truly do need A LOT of space. One, because they are seriously destructive with their scratching and can go through and tear up an area of grass in like a few hours. Two, because their desire for bugs is never ending. When your chickens are cooped up in an enclosed run, the bugs eventually learn to stay the hell away.
Do I regret ever jumping into this whole backyard chicken endeavor? Absolutely not! I love my chickens, I love the eggs they give us, and I love that Andrew gets to see first-hand where his food comes from. Scott even admitted to me a few days ago that he finds being outside with the chickens a form of therapy and a way to de-stress from work. It’s seriously amazing how those birds have weaseled their way into all of our hearts!
I think it is important for anyone jumping into backyard chicken raising to know that in order to give them what they truly want, it’s an on-going pursuit of finding ways to do things more inexpensively without compromising quality. It requires you to become innovative and think outside the box. It involves time, energy, and cost to make things fully functional so your hens are happy and your pocket book does not quickly become drained.
If you’re okay with that, then by all means, get you some chicks (here are 10 other things chicken newbies ought to know).
A few things Scott and I are going to work towards this year are:
- Building grazing boxes so the girls can have access to greens
- Creating and extending an outdoor run from the coop (see photo above)
- Growing chicken friendly foods in the garden to help supplement their feed
- Creating an herb garden for chicken/human care
- Establishing a worm bin and feeding excess worms to the girls
I can’t wait to share our progress along the way with you. In the mean time, I’d love to know how you have supplemented feed for your chickens in an urban setting when kitchen scraps are not enough.