Backyard chickens bring an exciting and rewarding experience to any property, homestead or not. As with anything, there are several pros and cons of keeping backyard chickens.
Cons of Keeping Backyard Chickens
For me, the good will always outweigh the bad because I love my chickens and will deal with a lot before they go. Truly we find our chickens to be extremely easy and low maintenance. I hardly find this “cons” list to be much of a downside to keeping chickens, because we don’t struggle very much with many of these things.
When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere! This is, of course, if your flock is free range. If you are wary of having chickens poop on your driveway, your porches and decks, your yard, your patios and sidewalks… maybe don’t free range your birds. Honestly, we have accepted the fact they poop everywhere and it is worth it, personally, to know they are free ranging and getting the health benefits. We typically will just hose off the patio or driveway if we know we will be using it or having a gathering. Even a broom will do the job if it is completely dry. We teach kiddos about safe practices when it comes to being around animal feces. They are old enough that it is not a concern. You have littles that are still putting everything in their mouths, be extra careful or just don’t allow the birds in certain areas.
Destroying Flower Beds or Garden Beds
If they have access, they will scratch around in the dirt, mulch, or gravel looking for bugs, and destroy the landscaping. They also will eat almost anything, including your perfectly ripe produce in the garden if you don’t get to it first.
Chickens do not have the best defense mechanisms, making them easy targets for predators. I highly recommend keeping a rooster in your flock. They are always on guard and ready to alert the flock of potential threats.
If you do not have fencing in place, your flock will wander as far as they can. This means they will go into neighbors’ yards, into the road, or into corn fields, woods, brush, and other places that are ideal for predators to hide.
Sickness or Health Issues
Chickens, like any other animal, will get sick. It’s important to be aware of your flock’s normal behavior so you can easily and quickly identify when someone is acting off. Read up on common chicken health concerns so you know what to look for. We have a “chicken hospital” set up all the time in the case that someone needs to be separated. Personally, we have not had many health issues come up and I wholeheartedly believe it has everything to do with free ranging. Free ranging allows chickens to eat fresh grass, bugs, and any other naturally occurring things on your property. This helps reduce their time in a stuffy coop (lots of fresh air), as well as diversifies their gut microbiome, making them more resilient to health issues.
Pecking Order Can be Brutal
The pecking order is a real thing! Flocks will form their pecking order naturally and it can be a potential death sentence for those on the bottom. I have heard of flocks prohibiting chickens on the bottom of the pecking order from eating or roosting with the rest of the flock. This is also the reason you have to keep baby chicks separate from the rest of the full grown flock. If they don’t have a mama hen to protect them, they will likely be bullied or killed. We have not experienced many issues with this but there is potential for it to happen.
Coping with the Cons
While these “cons” may seem like big red flags, keep in mind there are easy fixes to eliminate many of these issues. For chicken poop, get a quick cleaning routine down when you need it. For flower and garden beds, put up fencing to keep them out. When it comes to safety, I wholeheartedly believe roosters are the best defense mechanism you can give your flock. For maintaining boundaries, fencing is the best choice. Health issues will pop up, being prepared can reduce stress and increase positive outcomes.
Like I said, I truly believe free ranging your flock will help reduce health issues. Lastly, in terms of the pecking order, it is what it is. This is the flock’s natural behavior. There are methods out there for breaking bad habits within the flock. Additionally, giving the flock plenty of space to spread out and keeping the proper ratio of roosters to hens will definitely help reduce issues.
Also note, if these do not seem like viable options for you, maybe free ranging your flock is not right for you. That is perfectly fine! Many people designate a space for their coop and run to keep their chickens safe and out of their gardens. Keeping chickens in a coop and run is a much better option than not keeping chickens at all!
Pros of Keeping Backyard Chickens
On to the positives! Obviously we have a backyard chicken flock, and a pretty large one at that! We have over 60 birds on the homestead at the moment. The Pros outweigh the Cons tenfold, in my opinion. I love my chickens and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Here are the Pros:
Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but I am completely captivated while watching my chickens roam around, scratch up the ground looking for bugs, and interacting with one another. There’s just something about the way they bob their heads as they walk that never fails to put a smile on my face!
Chickens love to eat bugs. When we first moved to our property, we saw ticks everywhere in the yard. In the spring, as the grass began growing, so did the tick population. By the end of summer, I didn’t see a single tick! They also help keep the fly population down. Flies love animal poop. On a farm, there is no shortage of animal poop. Chickens help keep the fly population down by eliminating the fly larvae before they turn into more flies.
While I mentioned one of the Cons of free ranging chickens is the poop everywhere, however, it is also a benefit. Chicken poop is full of nitrogen, potassium, organic matter, and other nutrients that feed our soil. As the poop gets rained into the grass, it actually feeds the microbiome beneath our feet. This, in turn, feeds the plants we grow in the soil, and eventually, feeds us as well! We also collect and compost the chicken manure from their coop to amend the garden beds.
Nutrient Dense Eggs
This is probably the most obvious benefit to keeping chickens. Not only are fresh free range chicken eggs the most nutrient dense eggs you can eat, they are also a homegrown source of protein. With the cost of eggs soaring in 2023, it is such a blessing to have the best possible quality eggs coming from my chickens, fresh every day!
If you get your food and water set up to last several days, chickens can manage themselves fairly well. If we have to go out of town for a weekend, we feel confident our chickens will be safe and happy in their coop and run for a few days without us. Before getting into homesteading, I worried about never being able to travel. Turns out, chickens are so easy to care for, friends and family are always willing to stop by every couple days to check in on the flock!
Less Food Waste
Chickens will eat just about anything that comes out of your kitchen. Most whole foods are safe for chickens to eat. I do not feed my chickens citrus, onions, beans, or any highly processed foods. Always do your research before feeding your chickens food scraps and decide what is best for your own flock.
Yes, our birds are primarily for egg production. However, they also serve the self-sufficiency need by being a potential meat source and having the ability to hatch out chicks. By keeping a rooster in the flock, the eggs from our hens are fertilized and can be incubated. If we needed to grow our flock, we could do it without purchasing any hatching eggs or chicks from the store.
I hope this helps broaden your understanding of the pros and cons of backyard chickens. Owning chickens has been one of the most rewarding experiences of homestead life. The good truly outweighs the bad and we experience very few issues with our flock. I highly suggest making the jump and diving in with chickens if you haven’t already!
I hope you enjoyed this peek into Life at Metzger Acres!