But before you go running off to the farm supply to purchase a flock of your own, please take a few moments to think about how you will manage your birds over time. Below are 6 meaningful and important questions you need to answer before you purchase your birds:
1. Can I be responsible for the daily care of chickens in all seasons?
Chickens live for several years, and as outdoor animals need to be looked after, even when the snow flies and the temperature drops. In New England birds may require heaters or fans if the temperatures get too cold or too warm. Chickens need to be protected from the weather, provided with food and water year round, and also be protected from the many predators that are all too happy to consider a bird from your flock as lunch. What is fun in the summer can be torturous in the winter, when snow and ice makes going outside to care for the birds much more difficult.
2. What will I do if I get a rooster?
Many companies sell chickens in batches of either males, females, or straight run (mixed sexes). However, there are times when a rooster will slip into an order of females- it happens more often than you'd think. Since most homeowners want eggs and not the noise or problems a rooster can bring, many times the males are unwanted members of the flock and must be disposed of. Having a plan just in case is an important step in planning for your flock. Most farms are not interested in keeping additional roosters, no matter how beautiful or well mannered they will be, so giving one to a farm should not be part of your plan. Likewise, other homeowners are unlikely to want a male that crows and doesn't lay eggs, so most other backyard chicken keepers will also say no. If you get a rooster in your flock that just has to go, it is likely that you will have to be okay with the fact he's likely to go to someone who will process him for meat. Although it can be difficult to accept, that is the fate of most male farm animals, including chickens, cows, swine, and others.
3. What will I do if my hens don't get along?
We have all heard of 'the pecking order' regarding many things, but in chickens the pecking order is very real. Birds will assert their dominance in the flock by pushing other birds around, or even pecking at them. Often this is mild and fades quickly, but at times the fighting can be quite intense and can lead to death if unattended. You should be prepared to recognize the signs of excessive fighting between birds and have a way to keep them separated from each other.
4. How many birds do I need?
People often think of buying chickens in dozens, probably because we all think of dozens of eggs. But chickens in their prime can produce an egg or more a day, and flocks of a dozen chickens can produce a dozen or more eggs each day. While it is fun to try new egg recipes for awhile and friends eagerly take a spare dozen every now and then, soon family members quickly tire of quiche and friends begin to avoid you when they see an egg carton in your hand. Having a small flock of just four birds can supply more than enough eggs for most families to have enough to eat and share.
5. What will I do when I need to get rid of my birds?
When just starting out, no one likes to think of what will happen in the end. However, when working with live animals it is essential to have an exit strategy in mind, should it ever be needed. There can be many different reasons for needing to get rid of all or part of your chicken flock, including:
- Chickens that no longer produce eggs
- Changes in local laws or bylaws
- Changes in family circumstances
- Change in interest
- Birds that can't get along with coopmates
By answering these questions ahead of time, you can save yourself alot of aggravation later if your situation changes. Though it can be somewhat unpleasant, it will be easier than trying to make a plan when you are in a more serious situation.
6. Do I have the knowledge I need to care for chickens properly?
Chickens, like all animals, have specific food and housing requirements in order to be happy and productive. They need to be kept free from disease and protected from predators. Reading books and articles is one way to gain insight into the needs of your flock, but it is even more helpful if you can connect with someone who is local to your area. Local experts have experience taking care of birds with the same regional conditions you will be facing, so their knowledge can be very valuable to beginners. Look for clubs, groups or classes in your local area that can help get you the information you need to take good care of your flock.
We want to support all of the present and future backyard keepers in their efforts to have a healthy, happy, and productive flock. The best way to do this is to educate yourself and think things completely through before buying any live animals. Once you're armed with the planning and knowledge you need, the experience is much more likely to be better for you and the birds.
Not ready to commit to a flock of your own? Consider renting a flock for the summer! There is at least one farm in southeastern Massachusetts that rents out small flocks for the summer and provides the housing, food, and bedding they will need. For a fee, it may the the opportunity for you to try owning chickens before you commit to owning them all year round. Search 'southeastern Massachusetts chicken rental' for ideas.