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Chapter 2: Okay, chickens are great. But are they right for you?
Chickens aren't right for everyone - even if you love the idea of having them. Here are a few things to think about:
Do You Think They're Cute?
If you're reading this book, you probably do. Excellent! Off to a good start.
Seriously though, if you've spent time around chickens and you're not particularly fond of them, or having them doesn't
appeal to you, you may be less inclined to care for them, which isn't good for you or your chickens. And be forewarned:
if you love them but your spouse or partner does not, be prepared to be the sole caregiver!
Can You Dedicate Some Time Each Day?
Although low-maintenance, chickens do require a small amount of daily care as well as some monthly and semi-annual
maintenance. Plan on spending 10 minutes a day on your pet chickens, an hour or so per month, plus a few hours
twice a year on semi-annual chores. If that sounds like too much, then chickens aren't right for you.
(See Chapter 7 - Caring for Chickens
for more on the necessary daily, weekly and annual chores.)
Do You Have Enough Space?
Chickens don't require a ton of space. If they'll be "cooped up" with no area outside to freely roam, your coop will need to
provide a minimum of 10 square feet per bird. On the other hand, if they'll have an outdoor "run" area or will be allowed to
range freely, which is preferable, they can get away with just two square feet per bird inside the coop, as long as they also have at least 10
square feet per bird in the outside run. (See more complete coop specifications in
Chapter 5 - Chicken Coop Requirements.)
That said, the more space the better, both indoors and out! Chickens are great foragers, eating insects, grasses and weeds,
and many other tidbits they find in the yard. The more foraging they do, the healthier - and happier - they will be.
Also keep in mind that the less outdoor space they have, the more they will destroy the area they do have. Chickens obsessively
scratch up the soil, peck at what they find, and scratch some more. They also dig holes for "dust baths". And they REALLY love to
eat plants and weeds. Consequently, if their run area is small, they'll make a dustbowl out of it in a week. On the other hand, give them a
large run area - or better yet let them range freely, and your yard will benefit immensely. Their scratching behavior aerates the
soil; their droppings fertilize it; and they'll eat pests such as grubs and ticks.
In case you were wondering, chickens don't "potty train" easily. (Though we do have two customers whose chickens have
learned by watching their other pets to either go in the litter box or wait to be taken out, so it is possible...!) However, you CAN
keep chickens indoors. Many people do just for the fun of it, but if a chicken is ever injured and needs TLC, it can be a
necessity - at least for a while.
Chicken diapers can come in really handy in these situations!
Does Your Town Allow Chickens?
Not all towns do. Check before you get chickens. In our suburban town, the health board had no regulations against keeping
chickens, but the zoning board did. We had to apply for a costly zoning variance to keep our chickens. Even in towns that DO allow
chickens, there may be regulations relating to waste disposal, the minimum distance required from the coop to the property lines,
and so on. Research this first and you'll avoid unwelcome surprises.
In addition, if you're planning on keeping roosters you should find out about local noise regulations. If your neighbors complain
you may be forced to get rid of them. Which takes us to...
Considering Your Neighbors
If nothing so far has given you pause, you still need to consider your neighbors, especially if they're close by. They may not
be educated about chicken-keeping and so could have concerns ranging from noise, to smell (which shouldn't be a problem if you
follow the guidelines in Chapter 7 - Caring for Chickens
), to feelings that you're "downscaling" the neighborhood. It might be a good idea for you to check in with them
early on and address any concerns. When you do, don't forget to mention all the free, fresh eggs they'll be getting! (Plus, having
their support could mean free pet-sitting when you go away for vacation.) Still, if it's legal to keep chickens in your town, even if your
neighbors aren't on board, you can rest easily knowing you're in the right.
The Cost Factor
Having chickens won't save you money any more than backyard gardeners save money on their tomatoes. There are plenty of good reasons
to keep chickens, but this isn't one of them. Between building or purchasing a coop, supplies, and the birds themselves, getting your
brood up and running involves some significant upfront expenses. These along with ongoing expenses for food
kind of undermine the idea that the eggs are "free." (Shameless self-promotion: at My Pet Chicken we sell handy
chicken coops and kits
containing everything you'll need to care for your chickens, at really affordable prices! Click on "chicken coops" at left
to take a look.)
Note: If you're still trying to decide whether or not chickens are right for you, the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section of our website is another helpful resource.