Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why We No Longer Keep Backyard Chickens

It isn't always fresh eggs and roses so I am going to share why we no longer keep backyard chickens.

Hubby told me it was time I wrote this post. Yes, our chickens are gone, they left at the end of summer, and I have decided that keeping backyard chickens is not in my future, at least as long as I live in this house.

backyard chickens, coop

The reasons we got rid of our chickens are numerous, so I will lay it all out. Folks often act as if everything online on Facebook or blogs, is perfect, but I feel it is important to be honest and that is fair to the folks that might read our blog looking for backyard chicken keeping advice.

Before I begin, I still love the idea of keeping your own chickens. It can be very rewarding and the fresh eggs are so delicious, so I am not in any way advising people to not keep chickens in their urban yards. It works wonderfully for many but I will explain why it ended up not working for us.

Why We No Longer Keep Backyard Chickens

1. Keeping chickens is a big responsibility and does not fit every lifestyle. Chickens may not take as much time as other pets but one thing they do require is a safe home and being locked up tight in the evenings. Chickens can tie you down. I only forgot to lock up the coop once, and that very night we had an opossum get in the coop. Thankfully we were here to get it out.

So if you are a homebody, and I am, locking up the chickens at night and letting them out at the crack of dawn, may work for you, but the real issue came when we knew we would be gone in the evenings. I was always having to see if one of the girls could be home to lock to the coop. There are automatic closers but we did not have one. They are not cheap. But the real difficulty came when we traveled and our poor older girls would have to not only maintain our other animals, but maintain the chicken schedule. It was very difficult at times and stressful when only one was here on our last vacation. I feel I have to consider her feelings and the future trips we take. Our coop was small so you could not just leave the poor chickens locked up.

2. Chickens attract lots of critters and rodents. Now if you know me, I kept a clean coop. Food was only up in the coop, always locked tight and waterers were covered every night, but animals, particularly those stressed by prolonged drought, will seek out anything they can smell, see or try to get to. This was not the worst factor but one we did have to be vigilant about.

3. Chickens, like other pets, can get infested with pests. This is an issue we had not dealt with until this year but it was a huge factor for me. I noticed in a regular check, that one of my hens had some kind of infestation. I now believe it was mites. I believe this was a result of the open run we had. Because the coop was small, we had that great shaded run. A perfect storm for wild birds. We had never had much of an issue but this summer, with the prolonged drought, the wild birds became a real nuisance. I am sure it was the cause the infestation. Despite our best efforts, we could not totally get rid of them and then we would get bites when in the coop. I freaked out. I am not hiding the facts because it is important to know.

Now, I truly believe a totally enclosed coop where no birds can ever get down into the chicken area may have prevented this. But at this point, to build one would be expensive and require removing one of the trees. California had such mild winters for several years I believe the pest populations had exploded. My #1 priority had to be for my daughter and her health and her well being while playing outside. I was not thrilled for my own health to have to use strong treatments on the chickens and expose my own self to what it required to get rid of them, and know they would be right back with our current set up. Natural treatments had not worked. My vet helped me to treat them before they went to their new home. But I made sure it would be one with a totally covered coop so they would not have the issue again.

This may never be an issue for other folks, but here in our yard it was a very real problem. Southern California is very warm and we do not have freezes and cold temps that help as much as other areas.

4. Backyard chickens do not always guarantee fresh eggs. Now, I know this and it was not the real reason we kept them. But just know that of the four chickens we had, I was lucky to get one egg a day. I was fine with this. The chicken waste makes great compost and that was gift enough.

5. Backyard chickens attract flies. Here in southern California, with many months of warmth, this is a real issue. I kept a very clean coop and changed bedding daily and cleaned droppings and used the fly predators but they cost money. We had a balance that was acceptable but it does require a lot of upkeep to keep the flies down in a backyard chicken coop setup. So if you are going to keep chickens, or any other pets or have lots of flies in your area, I can't say enough about Fly Predators. They do work amazing and were worth the cost. We still use them even though we don't have the chickens, cause they work so well with dogs and other yards that attract flies.

6. It costs money to keep backyard chickens so you have to decide if this is a factor for you. If you add up all the upkeep of the above conditions we were working with, the costs were outweighing the benefits. I was honestly stressed a great deal about the mite situation. The costs were not worth it for me any longer.

Where did the chickens go? After treatment and a costly vet visit, I re-homed the chickens to a nearby garden that had a large enclosed coop and the owner wanted to add to the flock and was thrilled to have them. I was so glad they could stay together and be with a kind owner.

Now again, I love chickens. If we lived in a different home with a very large yard, where we could have a large, enclosed coop, I would love to have them again. This was a very difficult decision for me and my hubby made me keep the coop in case I changed my mind, but I have not. I have done what was the best decision for our family, other pets, our daughter and my own sanity. It is okay for me to admit I was not happy with the situation at the end. I am kind of wound tight as they say. I just could not battle it any longer.

I love that we tried this, that my daughter was able to have chicks every spring for four years, and for all we learned. My honest account of chickens leaving is just to help anyone else who may have similar issues and to be very upfront and open with anyone who reads my blog. I see I have said way too much, that is typical of me. I especially thank my husband who indulges all my projects. He was so supportive. I feel a bit of failure as a chicken mom but I am content with my decision. Thanks for following on our chicken journey.

Updated 10/10/2016: 

I now see that chickens in a small urban setting really has its limitations. I think you cannot have it all in the urban setting. Just not enough land. We were able to visit our chickens that were rehomed and they are doing fine. My daughter loves to check in on them from time to time.

Our garden however thrives and you can see what we are planting here.

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  1. I don't think you need to feel like a failure Elaine. You did the best you could with what you had for the chickens for four years. I'm going to be blunt, but I think farm animals belong on a farm where people have the room, the knowledge, and the time to truly devout to give livestock the best life they should have. I think you are right to finally see this and do what is right for both your family and the animals.

    It's easy for blogs to make the independent lifestyle look Little House On The Prairie perfect and kind of look down on us who don't want to or can't life that way. I think because of how simple and picture perfect some make it look online, others think it will be fun and easy without understanding what they are truly getting into.

    Kudos to you and others like you who are willing to tell the downsides so others will have a more educated view of what this lifestyle is like so they can make not only a better decision for their family but also the animals.

    That being said, I know you put a lot of time and effort into this and really enjoyed your chickens. I'm sorry things didn't work out for you.

  2. My goodness, who would dare think that a life experience that brought you some joy and taught you a lot could be called a failure?! That's my definition of success. And I found your comments very helpful, as I have often wondered if I could handle chickens on my little city lot or whether I should wait until I own that dream property with better conditions. Thank you!

  3. It was a learning experience and something your kids will always remember, good and bad. :-) I don't think you should feel bad about it at all. How would you have known if you hadn't tried? Thanks for being honest and sharing.

  4. What a tough decision to make. They were so cute but you're right everything looks PERFECT online. Sounded like you were diligent in giving them the best care and I'm sure they felt loved. Great post and very informative. -Bev

  5. Maybe I read this post differently, but I think you were a success for three years, and your circumstances certainly changed during the fourth. I think you made the smart decision for your family. Health is #1!

    I've enjoyed your chicken posts, but I enjoy your other content, too. I appreciate your honesty so much, and it's refreshing to read your reasons for not keeping chickens. You're encouraging me to be a better blogger when it comes to change and when things don't turn out the way we originally planned.


  6. I also made a decision not to get chickens in my new home. I had them for years in my old home....and was considering them when I bought this house. And then I remembered how they would get attacked by predators and I couldn't deal with that on my own. When I was married my husband used to deal with the bodies. I would have a very tough time. I am very fortunate that we have a neighbor that keeps chickens for fun and is constantly looking to give away eggs - so far that's working out perfectly for me!

  7. Great honest story to learn about life with chickens. My adult daughter and I bought 10 baby chick's this past September. Honestly I never realized just how much work it would be to raise 10 chick's in our house for the first 4 months. I don't think our laundry room downstairs will ever be the much daughter and I developed a bad case of bronchitis from all the hen and pine shaving dust. We had a custom coop built so now our girls are enjoying life outside in a 10 by 10 foot kenn er l run with cover over it. We live in Seatyle and have our fogs who scare off any rats, our biggest problem in suburbia. We are down to 6 h r ns because I gave my coop builder 4 hens to sell at his farm. I use construction sand in their run and pine shavings in their c oop. If we ever have a problem with mites, my hens will likely be finding g a new farmer . They have a nice dusting area under their coop which they use all the time. No eggs yet as the girls are only 4 months old.

  8. Oh Elaine, I'm so sorry. I know how you loved your chickens. I appreciate your honesty very much. I too am "wound a little tight." I would have flipped over the mite bites. As I've always said: "You're such a good mom to your girls, and always do what's best for them."

  9. Oh Elaine.....I know you said you are okay with this decision, but my heart breaks for you. I hope that one day you, if you have a larger property, you can do it again. I am glad you are keeping the coop!! And it is a darling piece of yard art anyway.
    I am so sorry.
    : ( Kris

  10. I'm sorry you had to give them up, but I know how much work they are. We at one time had 12! My daughter still remembers the fresh eggs, but not the work! Your kids will have great memories!

  11. Thanks for sharing your decision about not keeping your flock. I think that keeping chickens is easier than it may be once you get started but pests, rodents, and death are a big factor that I did not consider when I started my flock. But I am a firm believer that having a flock should give you joy and the moment something in your life does not fit, you have to make a change. I applaud your courage to make the change and share it with us.

  12. Bonjour chère amie,

    Je comprends ce que vous ressentez. Je crois que vous avez pris une sage décision.
    Vous vous étiez impliquée et investie avec l'élevage de vos poulets et c'est une lourde tâche.

    Je vous souhaite plein de bonnes choses.

    Gros bisous ♡

  13. Had you not had the experience, how would you know that it's not for you? Everything we do that helps us learn is not wasted. Your hens and your family benefited for a time and that's valuable in itself. We are never failures as long as we do our best. You did that. Stop beating yourself up.

    We enjoy your blog for other reasons, so we will keep right on reading. Thanks for your honesty. It's refreshing. ;0D

  14. Elaine you were the best caregiver ever for your chickens. I would always watch in admiration and enjoy it when you would blog about them. I thank you so much for honestly telling what it was like. I am 64 and live by myself. I have watched what you do and wanted chickens to care for and enjoy. I'm a city girl and have never been around anyone caring for chickens. Now I will enjoy farms that have chickens and not have them myself. You have saved me much money and many tears. I have lost my three older pets a dog and 2 cats in the last couple of years. More loss would just hurt to much. Thank you again I could hug you for your honesty.

  15. I think you did the right thing for you and your family. It should not be stressful to keep any kind of animal. I was given a stern lecture by a woman when we got rid of a cat that wouldn't use a litter box (she used my son's bed.) She said once you take on an animal, it's your responsibility. Well, it wasn't working, so we found a good home for her. You have to do what's right for you and your family. Good for you!

  16. That's very eye opening! Thanks for sharing! We're not allowed to have chickens because of the homeowner association. So, that sounds like a good thing now.

  17. Thanks for your honest assessment of your chicken keeping experience. Too often we gloss over the hard parts of our daily lives. I keep a flock of 11 hens and have done for the past 15 or so years and I can agree with all you've said except for the pest part. Perhaps because we have more space and we experience more cold to control bugs? The hardest part for us is worry about the birds when we travel and for that reason we have decided that we will not get more birds once these go to their natural reward. (I seem to be running a combination old age home.chicken spa. No experience is a failure which has taught us lessons and brought us pleasure.

  18. We also have chickens so I know exactly what you're referring to. We go out of town every fall and finding someone to care for the animals is very much of a challenge. We arrived home at midnight once and found the top of our chicken tractor left open. Nothing like gathering 50+ chickens in the middle of the night. Once we had to camp out at night because a weisel got into the coop.
    Poop! All over everything, they're messy little critters. I'm forever having to hose off my front porch. But as bad as that sounds, I still enjoy my girls, All 3 of them + 1 rooster! At least you had the opportunity to raise chickens. You can now say, been there, done that! Take care!

  19. I didn't realize you didn't have chickens anymore. Your reasons are totally valid and understandable. Please don't feel guilty! You rehomed them with someone who will take care of them. It's all good. :-)

  20. i had no idea chickens were so much work and maintenance. I don't blame you one bit! At least they have a good home now and you in turn have more peace of mind.

  21. When I read this post, Elaine, it made me very sad -- not because you're no longer keeping chickens, but because you a) felt somehow like you'd failed and b) felt that you were hesitant to tell the 'blogosphere'.

    You're absolutely right about everything being a happy and always-perfect on the blogs (and, I'd add, pinterest and instagram...) The internet is much like the world's biggest Christmas letter that way. Thank you for being transparent! I had to do that in November when I came clean about going from two mall booths down to one -- I felt like I'd failed and now was making it public. But in the end, it's not's exactly as Thomas Edison said about all the tries at a light bulb that weren't successful -- THey weren't failures, because then knew what DIDN'T work.

    I've been envious over the years of your SoCal chicken coop with flowers green year-round. I never thought of my snowy, frosty Michigan climate as a plus, but I think it has advantages. Yes, I have to keep a heat light on in the coop when the temps go below zero and yes, I have to have a heater under the girls' water for 6 months of the year. But, when we had an infestation of mites, the winter killed them off when nothing I tried worked (you're right, they're awful!) AND we have so much water here, in both rain and snow, that drought and its complications are never an issue.

    Look back on your chicken days with happiness and satisfaction, Elaine, and move on to the next thing you want to do. And thank you once again for sharing this with us!

  22. I so enjoyed reading about the chicks. I was wondering why I had niotread anything in a while. Yes, I did miss this post. But I understand completely and am so glad you shared with us.

  23. Thank you for writing this post, I think it is important to share information whether you consider it a success or failure (although I wouldn't say this was a failure.) :)

    I see a lot of people (at least in my area) getting not only backyard chickens but also goats, and being an adopted mommy myself (we take farm animals that need a home once people decide they can't keep them) I can say that goats take a LOT of work. Sometimes in their enthusiasm people get chickens and goats (and many other animals) with the best intentions, but they are unprepared for those animals. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for realizing that keeping chickens was not for you and especially for finding them a good home once you realized you could not care for them the way you wanted to.

    Thank you for sharing honest information with others who might be considering getting a flock or a new animal.

  24. Thanks for your honest feedback, it has really helped me in my decision as to whether I should keep chooks or not, we have a small section and I think that it will be a no for me for now, maybe if we day sigh. Love your blog keep up the good work.

  25. I just found your blog post with the 'tour' of your adorable chicken coop when I noticed the newer post that you no longer have chickens. What a shock since I was drooling over your great set-up! That being said, no need to feel like a failure, yes they can be a huge amount of work and responsibility and that is not for everyone. You enjoyed your chickens for 4 years and who knows, sometime in the future you may again. I enjoyed reading both posts and looking at your great pictures. Keep them coming!

  26. I think a lot of people see these beautiful coops and hens on Pinterest and fall in love with the idea of having a backyard flock. The reality, however, is quite different. I've had chickens for over 30 years, anywhere from 4 in a little backyard coop to 80 running loose over 20 acres. I always love seeing the lovely coops on Pinterest, but my mind's eye quickly photoshops those photos with copious amounts of dust and poop because that's how they'll look about 10 minutes after they get an actual chicken inside them, lol. Some of the prettiest breeds are the sorriest layers, flies always love chicken poop and quickly orchestrate massive family reunions wherever it can be found, and mice have a well established underground railroad to ferry in their country cousins once they locate your chicken feeders. Eggs get bound, crops get impacted, feet get bumbled. They're like any animal, often a joy to have around but always more work than the pretty pictures let on.

    I will say that with experience comes a lot of tricks to lessen the workload... my hens have automatic watering systems now, and a feeder that can hold 400 pounds of feed, so going away for a week is no big deal as long as a friend can swing by to pick up eggs every day. And, having raised pretty much every other type of livestock large and small, I still consider them the easiest ones to keep around. Good article tho, def one that noobs should take into consideration before building the Chicken Palace in their urban backyard.

  27. I just now saw this post, Elaine. It sounds like you made a very balanced choice that was the right one for your family! You know I have wanted to convert Abby's playhouse to a coop for years, but our friend who manages a community coop warned us that each of those lovely organic eggs they lay actually costs about $10 ;) I know you are enjoying your pups now and I still enjoy seeing all of your photos!! Hope all is well there in beautiful Cali. xo!

  28. I didn't know you decided not to keep chickens any more. Kind of sad but I understand the work involved. It was probably a good learning experience though. With our cold winters we don't have those pest issues luckily. Maybe you have opened up that area for more gardening? It's always more space too...

  29. You certainly shouldn't feel like a failure. We live in the country and raise cattle. City folks often ask if we have chickens... Or why don't we have chickens. For all of the reasons you've explained, is why. With our cattle, we can leave town for a week or even two... We let a close by family member know we're gone, and he keeps an eye on things... By driving by in his truck... Our fences are in good repair, our water trough is automatic and we plant rye grass in the fall for winter feeding. It's amazing how such large creatures need so little daily attention, and the small ones require constant vigilance ! I've often marveled how folks keep backyard chickens! To get a good daily crop of eggs, you really need at least 6 and maybe a dozen laying hens. I'm sure it was a difficult decision to quit keeping your chickens. They're pretty great critters, and easy to get attached to. (Another reason we don't have them... Anymore.) as for fresh farm eggs, I usually make a run to the local farmers market in my way to the grocery and pick up a dozen or two each week.

    I'd say, good for you, recognizing that your hens had become a problem for your family and then having the courage to take action. I'm sure your children will learn one of life's most difficult lessons to teach... Disappointment and then the courage to face and handle a problem. Thank you for sharing your story!

  30. Thanks for this! 1st, you're not a failure. You took honest consideration if everything and made the best choice. I'm still planning to get them, I have the space and time. This was a very helpful article for me though because you brought up things I hadn't thought of, like flies. Now I can prepare more. Thanks for sharing this vital info!