Backyard chickens are surging in popularity recently and it is possibly due to so many people being “cooped” up at home during the pandemic. They are realizing how fun and rewarding it can be to have chickens. There are so many types of chickens, laying different colored eggs, that it intrigues the collector in each of us. There is a community and camaraderie among chicken owners where you can learn a wealth of information and make many friends. Each chicken has its own personality, and time can melt away just watching them interact.
Emma Staats, a local chicken enthusiast, says it is fun to sit and watch the chickens. One of her favorites, Goldie, will sit in your lap as you read a book.
It is possible to get by with just three chickens, but ideally, you should have at least six for a healthy flock. Chickens need to be in a flock, and each flock has a pecking order. If you buy a group of chickens that are all the same age, they will likely form a good flock. But bringing new chickens into an established flock can lead to some conflict during the transition. Chickens can be free-range, because they are prey animals and if they grow up in the protection of the coop, they will not stray far from their food and shelter. You can simply create nesting boxes for them in the coop and they will naturally seek the protection of home at night. Beware: chickens can be noisy, especially roosters. If you have neighbors close by, you should take this into consideration. In fact, the City of Danville will only allow residents to have four hens and no roosters in their yard.
Backyard chickens may not be a very profitable business, but they are rewarding. Staats, whose chickens are depicted in the photos, says “if you love them and take great care of them, they will produce more eggs because they are under less stress.” I believe that this is one of the great truths of the natural world that we can learn from animals. The love that you send out to the world will come back to you in a natural flow if you just let it go, but if you try to take from the world, you end up with less. In this case, if you try to force a chicken to lay eggs, it will cause stress and result in fewer eggs. Chickens can be a perfect choice for creating a human-animal bond. By putting time and effort into caring for a flock, you get the satisfaction and accomplishment of producing something for your family; in the process, you develop a bond with the chickens and they provide emotional support as well as food for your family.
It can be pretty easy to take care of chickens. If you put eight to 10 inches of deep litter in the coop with an ammonia neutralizer, you will soon be blessed with lots of rich compost for your garden. You can set up a rain barrel watering system and the chickens can almost take care of themselves. Of course, you will have to feed them, and I recommend a commercially available balanced diet that you can get at the feed store. For strong egg production, you can add oyster shells for calcium and omega-3 supplements. Marigolds and red pepper will make the egg yolks a brighter yellow.
Your veterinarian can be a great source of information. You should do weekly exams on your chickens’ feet and check the keel bone to assess their body condition. Talking to your vet about space requirements and spring and fall checkups is a great way to keep you on track. If you want to get some chickens, your phone can be your best resource, whether it is through online groups or calls to the vet or chicken experts. There are lots of little bits of wisdom out there for you. Egg production naturally drops off in the winter, but if it drops off in the summer, it could be a sign of a problem. An illness in a chicken is usually an emergency, as they have probably been instinctually hiding it for a long time before you have become aware of it.
Chickens have been used for therapy to fight depression and to help people with disabilities. Chickens are very vocal, and this naturally encourages people to talk to them. Talking things out has a way of clarifying your mind, and people with difficulties articulating words can get a lot of practice talking to chickens. Chickens are smarter than you think and can be taught to do many different things. Time and interaction with chickens leads to fun and laughter which has natural healing effects. The routine of caring for chickens gets people up in the morning and gives them a responsibility to manage. Getting up every day and going outside to care for the chickens can lift you out of a funk and add stability to your life that translates to other successes. Having chickens, you will find that they need your attention, and you will cherish their affection.
Dr. Jeff Smith is a veterinarian at Danville Family Vet and has been serving the area for over 25 years. Sophia Decker is a Licensed Veterinary Technician and Hank is a Basset Hound.