Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension
I have been a proud chicken owner since 2014. It was a dream of mine to have feathered friends happily clucking in my backyard for awhile and finally made the decision to invite them into my life. It took quite a bit of planning and infrastructure, but I have really enjoyed my ladies. Last week I lost one of my oldest hens, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, and it hit me harder than I expected. She was a beautiful buff orpington, with golden yellow feathers, and was very proudly "fluffy but not fat". (Note, all of my girls are named after women in Beatles songs - and our henhouse is Henny Lane.)
|Lizzy in her fluffy glory. (Photo by Fred McClanahan)|
Like having any pets, there are ups and downs. Losing chickens is definitely a downer. But there's so much good!
It sounds romantic, doesn't it? To wander outside and gather your own breakfast? The eggs are a wonderful perk and there are times when I have so many eggs that the thought of eggs makes me turn up my nose. If you want to be a hero, give someone fresh eggs. And the colored eggs are really spectacular. Egg laying isn't consistent - the first couple years are the best, but laying can stop with really hot weather or stress. Chickens are lay best when days are long. Unless you provide light in the coop, they usually will stop laying during winter months, but resume in the spring.
|Eggs, glorious eggs!|
Chickens are free entertainment
Chickens have personality - and you get to know your girls really well. Rita? She's the chatterbox of the flock. Martha? Fastest chicken in the coop. Prudence? A beautiful dusty lavender and will stare down Maple the Beagle all day. But throw a few worms or a head of lettuce in the run, and watch the show! They are great at "keep away" and Lizzy was always the quickest and the best at stealing treats from the others. I love hearing them chatter and often find myself asking them questions about the neighborhood gossip. Sadly, I only get a lot of clucking. But you can make incredible videos of them running! This was a promo for the Chicken Olympics event we had at the farmers' market last summer.
I think they know their names
Or at least they know my voice. And my voice usually means I have treats for them (sparingly, of course). But they usually come running when I tell them hello or good morning. I am pretty convinced that Rita knows her name though, because I've shouted it from the upstairs window and she always chirps back at me.
Pest control at its finest
Boy howdy - chickens love eating bugs. They are experts at eating beetles, moths, larvae, grasshoppers, and anything else that might cross their paths (including mice). Earlier this spring I had someone drop off a cup (!!!) of bumble flower beetle grubs to identify and the ladies thoroughly enjoyed them. I was a bit squeamish, since the grubs were huge and juicy. But they loved it.
|Lizzy working her way through the bumble flower beetle grubs.|
Chickens aren't without their challenges, and one of the biggest is:
The pecking order is real
You've heard of the pecking order and it's a fierce and competitive ladder. I had two hens, whom I called the "Mean Girls" that I had to rehome because they were ruthless with one of my older hens. Chickens will seek out and attempt to destroy those they feel are weaker. There are always nips and pecks, but it can turn deadly. With Lizzy gone, my hens are currently reshuffling and it's interesting to watch.
|Harmony for a moment eating acorn squash...|
They can get mites
Yes, chicken will get northern fowl mites and it doesn't mean you're an unclean or bad chicken owner. I just had a mite infestation and it's enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. Mites are commonly found on all birds, but when populations are high, it can cause major health issues to the chickens. My first sign was what looked like a poopy rear end. Upon closer inspection, it was a significant mite infestation. After treatment with spinosad (yes! the same stuff you use on plants, but labeled for chickens), and many plucked feathers (the tweezers were thrown in the trash), the girls are all much happier. Older chickens are more likely to have mite issues, because they may not work as hard at dusting to keep themselves clean. If one chicken has mites, it's best to treat all of them.
Losing your feathered friends
It's never easy to lose any pet, and my chickens are very much part of the family. Lizzy was over eight years old, which is an amazing life, but she's greatly missed. I am very fortunate that I've never lost any to fox or skunks - every backyard chicken owner has heard those horror stories. You take a lot of precautions to keep your hens safe, with lots of fencing and security measures - I joke that my entire coop is held together with zip ties. We've added extra netting to protect against the avian flu and made adjustments for better sanitation.
So is it worth it? Without hesitation: YES. I adore them. I love talking to other chicken owners. I love following Instagram accounts of people who are as crazy about their hens as me. I love buying them treats at the grocery store (spinach is their favorite, followed by sweet corn). I love seeing them run on their clumsy legs. I love seeing Loretta stretching her long neck to reach the pumpkin leaves in the garden. I love Molly's aloofness, but her attempts to be friendly. They are amazing. 10/10 highly recommend. (So...do you know all the Beatles songs their names came from?!)
|The ladies of Henny Lane|