Back when we first started hearing whispers of a mystery illness blighting the city of Wuhan, China, few of us could have predicted just how much coronavirus would change our lives. Several months in, and it’s getting harder and harder to recall life pre-COVID. And just as the pandemic has changed the global economic environment, it’s had a huge impact on the home front. As millions came under order to shelter in place, we began to look for new ways to pass the time… with the result that raising backyard chickens has become the surprise new hobby of 2020. And it’s not the only homestead activity that’s enjoyed an unexpected rise in popularity… canning, gardening, baking, jam making – it’s like the 1950’s never ended.
But back to the chickens… according to Tove Danovich of The New York Times, poultry has form when it comes to providing consolation in times of trouble. “Apparently when times are tough, people want chickens,” she writes. “Chick sales go up during stock market downturns and in presidential election years.” And then, of course, there’s the eggs. When people start panic buying toilet roll, you can bet your life eggs will be the next thing to suffer a shortage. For some people, the thought of going a few days without some eggy goodness is too much to bear, with the result that stockpiling eggs became a national activity for much of the spring. And what better way to deal with empty shelves at the store than by keeping a fleet of egg-producing little helpers in your backyard?
But for all their wonders, keeping chickens isn’t something to enter into lightly. As with all animals, they’re going to need a ton of money, time, and energy spent on them – things that, for many people, aren’t exactly in high supply at the moment. Here’s when it makes sense to keep a backyard chicken, and when it doesn’t.
Backyard chickens make sense when… you know what you’re doing
If you don’t provide chicks with a heat source, those chicks won’t live to see adulthood. If you don’t know this and you’re not willing to put in the effort to find out more, don’t get chickens. Hens aren’t playthings – by inviting them into your yard, you’re asking a living creature to put its life in your hands. Don’t take that responsibility lightly. If you’ve read up on the basics of animal husbandry and have dedicated time and effort into researching what raising chickens involves on a daily basis, then you’re good to go. If you haven’t, it might be best to stick with store-bought eggs for now.
Backyard chickens make sense when… you’re prepared for the long haul
You know that saying about puppies not being just for Christmas? Well, chicks aren’t just for COVID either. We might all be stuck in our homes for now, but at some point or another, we’re going to get out. Those chickens that have been keeping you so royally entertained in lockdown will still be there. And they’re still going to be there 10 years from now. Chickens start producing fewer eggs after around 2 years: at 5 or 6, they stop laying altogether. But a healthy chicken won’t bite the dust until they’re about ten years old. Are you prepared to stick with them for that long? The other alternative, of course, is that you raise them as much for meat as for eggs, in which case, problem solved… but are you capable of wringing a chicken’s neck, especially if you’ve raised that chicken from the time it was a little fluffball? When you buy a chick, you’re not just handing over your money, you’re handing over a good portion of your time for the foreseeable future… and that’s not something to take lightly.
Backyard chickens make sense when… you’ve got a plan
If you go on holiday, your chickens will still need to be fed. If you’re sick, their coop will still need to be cleaned. If you’re not around to do it, who will? Before you buy any kind of animal, have a contingency plan in place… and no, kennels and catteries don’t generally accept chickens for overnighters. If you have a friend or family member who’s willing to look after them when you can’t, then great. If you haven’t, think seriously about whether you’re willing to compromise your lifestyle to the extent that raising animals demands.
Backyard chickens make sense when…. you want to take back control
There’s something to be said for self-sufficiency, especially in the current climate. When the whole world seems to be hopelessly outside of your control, knowing you can rely on yourself can be remarkably reassuring. “It’s something, when everything else in the whole world is out of your control, that you can actually do and manipulate with your own hands and see results,” new chicken owner Christina Wong tells Salon, “And that’s really comforting and satisfying.”
Backyard chickens make sense when…. you’re prepared to dig deep
Having a constant supply of eggs from your own backyard might be lovely, and it’ll certainly work out cheaper than buying store-bought in the long haul, but it comes with a sizable initial outlay. Not only do you need to buy the chicks themselves (which admittedly isn’t going to take a big bite out of your wallet), but as Cheapism notes, you’re also going to have to invest in bedding, a deep container with smooth walls, a heat lamp, and nutrient-rich chick feed (not the same as standard hen food, and don’t be thinking you can substitute one for the other). Then, once they’re ready to fly the container, you’ll need to think about getting an adult coop (you can make one yourself out of salvaged materials, but unless you’re a DIY expert, a store-bought option will do a better job of keeping predators away). None of these things come for free. With time (and providing the hens keep laying), you should see cost-savings, but that initial investment isn’t one to take lightly.