The “Hens” and the Bees
I love it whenever I run into someone I know and the conversation turns to my chickens. Since there are a few questions that always seem to get asked, I thought I’d just do a whole blog post and answer them since I’m sure that there are others of you out there that are curious as well. Folks always start with:
“So are they high-maintenance?” – The answer is no, not really. At least no more work than your average pet. If you’re down with walking a dog, scooping cat litter box, cleaning out a hamster cage or buying food for your fish, you can probably handle chickens. We have an automatic food dispenser that we fill about once a week, and an automatic waterer that we fill every 3 days or so. In addition, we collect eggs once a day, and I take a shovel and remove any large piles of poop from under their roost branch every 3 days or so. (The girls apparently go potty like crazy while the snooze at night.) All that takes about 15 minutes. The most time-consuming part is the set up process….choosing/building a coop, and the first few days of making sure everyone is ok. Then it’s pretty easy going unless you have a sick chicken, etc. But again, that’s with any pet.
“So are you doing this just for the eggs?” – I like to call the chickens our “pets with benefits.” Because the start up costs even for a small flock of 2-6 birds are more than a goldfish or hamster, or even a cat or dog sometimes (a good coop will cost you anywhere from $500-$1000 to buy or build), you can’t go into it thinking that you’ll save money on eggs. Plus, our family usually eats about a dozen and a half eggs a week, more if I’m baking or cooking something, and a chicken only lays an average of 4-6 eggs a week, so between our three laying girls, there are still days that we have to supplement with a dozen or so from the farmer’s market or grocery. Plus, “pullet eggs” which is what they lay up to the first year, are about the size of the “medium” or “large” eggs at the Kroger. So if you’re used to purchasing the “Extra large” or “jumbo” eggs, you’ll need about two backyard-hen eggs for every one egg. All that being said, our eggs are for certain way more delicious. We look at the chickens as a hobby, and the fresh eggs as a yummy return on our investment.
Bottom line: if you’re looking to save money, this isn’t the way to go. But if you’re looking for super yummy eggs, a fun hobby, and a great way to teach kids responsibility, then chicken farming might be for you!
And then after that, there’s always one person that lingers a little and pulls me aside, casually, of course, and says something to the gist of…..
“So how do you get all these eggs if you don’t have a rooster?” Um, err….well…..so……I’ll try to do this to where things won’t get awkward for either of us. Once a hen reaches maturity (read “goes through puberty”), her body produces (on average) one egg a day. (If you missed 8th grade biology, this happens to female humans too….just….thank goodness…..not once a day.) If there’s a rooster around….and, um, “the daddy chicken loves the mommy chicken VERY MUCH,” then the egg that the hen lays might have a baby chicken in it. There are methods of finding out called “candling” that show if there is an embryo (chick) inside the egg or not. However, if you don’t have a rooster around, that doesn’t mean that the hen doesn’t lay the egg. Her body still makes it, and she still lays it….there’s just no way for the egg to have a baby chicken in it. An unfertilized egg is what we enjoy making into breakfast and there’s no chance that you just prevented a chicken from being born.
Whew. I’m sweating. And for any of you trying to figure out how to have “the talk” with your kids, do not send them my way….unless you wanted to read this blog together…but that just seems weird.
Anyway. For any of you contemplating chickens, I hope this helped just a little. And I say go for it!