Categories: Life & Arts
I’ve been reading about egg shortages in the pandemic, although I haven’t seen any in my neighborhood. Rosemary the duck is laying a huge white egg every day, and the chickens are laying plenty of brown and green eggs, too. The neighbor to the west has his “Eggs For Sale” sign out, as do two other neighbors a mile in either direction.
Spring means eggs, and eggs mean omelets and quiches and pound cake. Our hens are happy they can scratch for bugs and worms and fresh green sprouts again, and their abundant eggs, with bright orange yolks, are making us happy, too.
It seem that the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders mean more and more people are ready to plunge into chicken rearing and egg appreciation. Maybe they are worried about food shortages or trying to avoid stores. Maybe they are looking for projects for their home-schooling kids. Or maybe they are just finally spending more time at home and feeling like settling in.
Whatever the reason, friends in Albany, Troy, New Hampshire, Connecticut are all sharing photos of adorable baby chicks or writing to ask for chick-raising advice.
I have lots of advice. I raised chicks for the first time when I was a teen, and I have to say I did everything wrong. My husband and I have had chickens — quite successfully — for around 30 years, so I think by now we know most things you can do, right and wrong.
I think raising chicks and living with chickens is great. Chicks are adorable — it’s fun to watch them grow up from little puffs of down to gawky poults to fully feathered-out hens. If you handle them from a young age — pick them up, hold them, hand-feed them — you’ll have tame hens that run up to you to be picked up, even as adults.
Chickens are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. We’ve had hens who know their names, hens who nurse and protect injured members of the flock, hens who fly onto our shoulders to walk around with us. And then there are the eggs. Fresh eggs are so good you’ll probably never want to go back to buying eggs in a store.
But it’s a commitment. They need food and water and shelter and protection — every day. It’s fine during a prolonged isolation period, when everyone is home anyway. But eventually you’ll have to figure out what to do if you ever do go away, for a weekend or a two-week vacation.
That could mean training and hiring the teen down the road, or deciding never to leave home again.
Your hens will need appropriate shelter. People will sell you fancy chicken houses for exorbitant prices, or you can build something simple for much cheaper — another good home-school project, incorporating planning, design, measuring, construction.
And you need to know there will be predators, whether you’re in the country or an urban setting. Chickens and their eggs are tasty. Foxes, raccoons, dogs, hawks, eagles — they all like chicken. Opossums, skunks, crows, snakes and rats will go for eggs.
Fencing or vigilance during the day and a secure nighttime shelter will keep them mostly safe, but you can’t prevent every danger.
Is it worth it? Depends on who you are and what you want. For me, I don’t ever want to not have chickens. I love their quirky shy/friendly ways, and I love the eggs. I love that my kids grew up understanding animals and connecting with natural life cycles — and eating fresh eggs. But we have other animals, too, so we basically never leave home, at least not at the same time.
Raising chickens is a great home project and a great home-school project. If you set things up right, you can keep a small flock in your backyard with little effort and few problems.
Still, I think a lot of new chick-raisers will give up on the project long before their hens are old enough to lay eggs, which is around 6 months old.
That’s why I think the best advice I gave was to some friends thinking about a small urban flock, long-term: Prepare a henhouse and wait a few months. By then there should be plenty of the new chicken fanciers who got tired of the experiment. They’ll all be giving away their flocks.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on May 10. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.