How Much Trouble is it to Raise Chickens?

MilliCal wants to know. She read wendelin Van Draanen’s book Flipped! a while back, then we visited the Topsfield Fair and saw the Chickens on display, and it got her wondering how difficult it was to raise chickens, and what problems (if any) you’d have with the town and so forth.

My gut reaction was “Chickens/ Yuck!” I remember passing all the (no joke intended) foul-smelling chicken farms on the backroads of New Jersey when I was growing up, and thinking about trying to care for a coopful of birdds in a subzero New England winter – or bringing them into a houseful of cats. It sounded like a lot of trouble, but I don;t know.

Any Dopers out there with Chicken experience?

Depends on how long they’ve been dead.

I remember the turkey farms they used to have in the Antelope Valley. Stench. O. Rama. But those were turkey farms. I’ve never raised chickens myself, but my dad’s parents kept several chickens on their place. They had a coop and a fenced-in yard, and they let the chickens out once in a while. I don’t recall bad smells. As far as I could see, they required little upkeep. Spread some feed around, and make sure they have water. They could eat bugs when they were out.

Stupidest creature on the face of the Earth.

Smelliest shit around. Absolutely foul, and you won’t be able to spread it on your garden without letting it age for a couple of years.

Otherwise, maintain a shelter, chicken feed and water, and deal with the inevitable rats that will be attracted to the open food source. Don’t poison the rats if you’ve got other animals that might decide to eat slow moving (ie, poisoned) rats.

I raised chickens. Pretty trivial, but then I didn’t take the time to keep them cooped up - I just let them roam the pasture (I did provide shelter form them to roost at night). Just throw a handful of feed in the morning, and make sure they have access to water. If you live in a cold climate, you might need to provide heated shelter.

I live in chicken country on the Eastern Shore of MD. If you want to play around with a few chickens it’s no big deal if you have the yard space and zoning and neighbors etc are cooperative. Predators (including dogs) will take a toll, and they can be noisy and smelly, tend to wander off if left in a yard vs being penned in a chicken house, and really are not suitable backyard animals in most urban and suburban areas. Unless you are fairly rural I would recommend against it.

Funny you should bring this up:
My town, we are currently still debating allowing residents the ability to raise chickens in the backyard. Are there other considerations for raising chickens? as pets?
And I don’t know if this is relevant, but don’t chickens do something to the soil, like make it to nitrogenous for plants?

Una’s staff report from a few years back about the economics of raising chickens on a small scale may be of interest:

I keep two chooks in my back garden. I feed 'em vegetarian feed, plus non-meat scraps of kitchen waste. we have no problem with smelly shit. They get a bit of meat from bugs and slugs, but not enough to make their shit smell.

Left to roam, they turn over the soil very well (along with fertilising it, of course) and keep it weed-free. On the negative side, they also keep it seedling-free, and they’er not a good idea if you like your garden tidy. Even if it doesn’t smell, their shit is everywhere, and they will shift quite a lot of dirt from beds onto adjacent paths.

So we have them penned into an area of the yard which is theirs, and is planted with woody and shrubby things which they don’t eat. We scatter feed once a day, and ensure their water-tray is topped up. Once a week we empty, wash and refill the water tray, and clean out and replace the straw bedding from the chook-house. They’re quite friendly, especially if it’s feeding time. They get a bit vocal if not fed on schedule, but not to an extent that has ever bothered the neighbours.

Human shit is a bit worse I’d say.

Isn’t most rat poison anticoagulant-based (e.g. Warfarin)? I seem to recall that it is harmless to cats because the amount that a rat can ingest and die from is not enough to affect a cat’s cardiovascular system. Any other animal should be similar.

Driving from Virginia up the eastern shore to visit my parents in the frozen north of western NY we had a very existential experience.

We saw a dead chicken by the side of the road.:confused:

A few miles down the road, another dead chicken.:confused:

This went on for about 20 miles.:dubious:

We caught up to a poultry truck heading for the Purdue factory that had a cage section with a hole in it/open door [not sure which] so occasionally a chicken would get sucked out [or make a break for it] and splat on the road.


By the way, we have multiple cats in the area, and are on the edge of the woods, with coyote (yes! In Massachusetts – we’ve seen them in the yard), fox, and other random predators. If I had chickens, I wouldn’t let them be “free range”.

If you’re seriously thinking about raising chickens, I’d call Texas A&M’s Poultry Science department and ask for information. They may not do much research for cold climates, but they could probably point you to someone who can help. FYI, here’s their publications list.

My gf has a few chickens, and we both love having them. We are in a rural area, and they are housed in a spare stall in the barn. They are let out daily to roam, but their stall is closed at night to minimize predation (mostly raccoons). The eggs are great.

For less rural situations, read about “chicken tractors”, small, relocatable buildings.
Chicken Tractors
More Tractors

Oh, and unless you need to make more chickens, forgo the rooster or your neighbors are likely to bitch.:smiley:

I have had chickens for the last 8 years in NE Pa. It can get cold here, temps in the single digits to the low 20’s (F) in January and February. There was a couple of nights below 0 last winter. The cold does not seem to bother the chickens. They are fed shelled corn ($8 50lb bag at the feed store) along with some Layer ration ($10 50lbs). Our chickens are free range and wander over about hundred yards or so from the coup. The book “Living with Chickens” by Jay Rossier says chickens would be fine in Vermont without any extra heat source. They will need water and feed every day.

It’s a piece of cake if you have space. I grew up in the country; with 5 acres, we had plenty of space for animals, and we usually had two or three coops full of chickens.

Our coops were nothing fancy; posts driven into the ground, chicken wire (I think they sell it as “poultry netting” now) strung between them tall enough to prevent anything jumping into the coops, and a henhouse for them to lay eggs in and roost at night. Spread some sawdust around, and you’re all set. You might also want to run power for a heat lamp in the henhouse for when it’s cold.

For the most part, daily maintenance was just cleaning and refilling the water and food bins, picking up the eggs, and shutting the henhouse door at night. As long as the coops are a good distance from the house, smell isn’t an issue. The biggest problem we had was pigeons flying in and eating the chicken feed, which costs you money; we made a “trap”, a low structure of chicken wire with a door propped open with a board that we could tug out to drop it shut. Fill the trap with corn, wait, and pull the board when the trap’s full of pigeons. Then, it’s shootin’ time. First time we snapped the trap, we shot over 70 pigeons, to give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem.

Problem or opportunity? I know a guy who traps pigeons for municipalities that want them gone. He then sells the birds he has been paid to remove to a sportsmens club that uses them for training bird dogs.

My neighbor raises 2 chickens, and they seem pretty low-key, if you ask me. I live in one of the first ring suburbs of Minneapolis, and apparently it’s in our suburb’s bylaws that each house can have 2 chickens (which is why she’s got two and no more).

She has a pen for them with straw, a couple of hutches, and a roosting rod. Last winter, she also rigged it with some tarp to help out with the wind. Otherwise, she didn’t heat it in any way, and they made it through the winter (a couple of weeks of which were pretty nasty cold). Her pen’s about 8’x4’ - the Mr and I helped build it, out of plywood and two-by-fours.

I’ve helped out watching them whenever she was away for whatever reason. Make sure they have clean water, scatter some feed around, they do fine. She lets them out of the pen to wander the yard during the day. They don’t seem to smell overly - you notice it when you open their pen, a bit, but that’s pretty much it. There’s no odor from my yard, or even 10 feet away.

When I was growing up, I had a cousin who had a pet rooster. The thing would follow her around like a dog and even sit in her lap to be petted. That’s my two cents…

Plenty of “semi-free range” chickens in the Southeastern NH area. On my way to work, there are at least 3 homes which have, from the road, visible chicken coops, and periodically, I’ll see the chickens on or near the side of the road.

A childhood friend of mine had them in Ipswich MA (Next town up from Topsfield), and IIRC, they had no extra heat in the coop, though they may have had a lightbulb glowing in the coop. Plenty of folks raising them up here, and you can buy chicks at the Agway in Salem NH (and I’m sure lots of other places) in the spring.

I’d love to do it, along with raising a pig, but I don’t think my wife will let me. Just the droppings would be great to have, for my garden. Chicken poop is a fantastic fertilizer.

We had chickens and we lived in an urban centre. Mind you, this was in El Salvador and having chickens in your house was not a big deal. We got a couple of young chicks (I know, it’s redundant, but I wanted to say young chicks) from the market, a place where you could buy all kinds of animals.

They were wild chickens which were nice and colourful as opposed to the farmed chickens you see on TV (the ones that grow up white and plump). It was easy to take care of them. Like a dog, just leave the food and water out, that’s it! Just clean the crap out once in a while. The one chick grew up to be a massive aggressive rooster who’d crow like a banshee out of hell every 1/2 hour. The other chick, a hen, got really worn out by the rooster who went to work on her like a madman. It was amusing to see as a kid. He was so mean, he cat was scared of him.

Finally, we decided to eat that bastard up but he didn’t taste that good (wild chickens have a tougher, gamier texture).