Did you hear? We're getting chickens. Real 'cluck cluck', scratch at the dirt, poop everywhere chickens. The response from friends and family have been a mix of "So cool" to a reserved and quiet "hmm, neat?". If you didn't already know, we live 3 minutes from downtown Dallas...pretty urban. But we do live in the Chicken Owning Hipster section of Dallas according to this map so I guess it's okay. ;) (By the way, I need to grab coffee with some of those artisanal yarn bombers. I've always wanted to learn how to do that.)
But, seriously, we have our reasons for wanting to get chickens and some are valid and some are just for fun. So here goes:
1. Homesteading Training - Now, we're not about to move off onto 500 acres somewhere and live off the grid (although some days I'm totally tempted). But we are wanting to lean less on others and more on ourselves...and not in a circle-the-wagons kind of way but in a why-not-provide-rather-consume kind of way. I'm almost finished with Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal (get.it.right.now.and.read.it.tomorrow). It is SO good. It beautifully illustrates how, yes, we've come so far as a culture in the last 100 years but is that really a good thing? Have we gone too far in some ways? I think so. Did you know that the food shelves at your local store is only 72 hours (prob 24-48 in an emergency situation) away from being totally emptied.
"Long distance distribution now defines the modern food system, and yet as recently as 1946 the average food-miles in America was less than one hundred....Today, in Canada and the United States, only 5% of the food consumed in a bioregion is actually grown there. In other words, when you go to the supermarket, 95% of what's for sale came from some other state."
So when a natural disaster or weather storm (or God forbid something more serious) stops transportation, your food supply gravy train is halted. Another great reason to shop local, yes, but even more of a great reason for us to have a consistent food source right out in the back yard. Some nice garden beds are soon to follow (my poor husband is not excited about all this building in this Texas heat). It may just be a few hens but they will provide our family enough eggs (and then some) and we help 'free up' if you will eggs for another family. It also encourages our children to learn about responsibility in the chores that they can help with and a sense of pride and accomplishment when they see what their contribution has brought (eggs).
2. Money - There is an initial investment when you're getting hens but it really does come down to how creative and resourceful you are. We set a budget of $500 for building the coop, buying feed, supplies and of course the chickens. You can go way lower than this or you can WAY higher.
Coop - We actually found a LOT of free scrap lumber and metal from family and friends so the main cost of what we spent was on the hardware cloth and hinges/locks. The other bit of money went to new metal feeders and waterers. I did see feeders and waterers on craigslist but they were all plastic and with our summer heat, I really wanted to go with metal. With feed and grit, our supplies cost came to $264.
Chickens - We opted to start with pullets (i.e. - teenager chickens). They're not laying quite yet but they're not babies who need a ton of care. Sure, we'll have to deal with late night curfews but it'll be worth it. jk ;-) Getting pullets are definitely more expensive than just starting out with baby chicks but we really wanted to get eggs coming soon and didn't want the time and stress of babysitting the chicks (although I think it will be great fun once my own little human chicks are a smidge older). We got some breeds that are well-suited for our north Texas heat and that have been fed non-GMO feed and fully free ranged (something that is important to us) so that put them at more of a premium price point than others that may be out there. For 5 pullets, we spent $150.
So, we stayed under budget (yay!) and they should start laying within the month. We spend between $56 and $70 on eggs every month (we buy local, free range ones) so it should take about 6 months to start seeing a return on investment. Like I said, we could've taken an even cheaper approach and got chicks or bought used feeders/waterers but we had our reasons for going the route we did and believe the investment to be worth it. Plus, our reasons for getting them were for more than just money. Which leads me to...
3. They're fun! - We don't have any pets due to allergies (and sanity). We're not opposed to a future pup or cat but, for now, the hens will fill that void. What I like is that they will encourage my kids to be outside more. We limit their TV/iPad time as much as we can and, although they have fun things outside to do, the chickens provide a whole different level of entertainment. Watching the chickens in their element fosters learning about God's creation, nature and the circle of life more than any re-run of The Lion King ever can.
I'm sure over time we will find even more reasons that having our own chickens was a good idea for our family (and, yes, I'm sure we'll find other reasons that make us second guess the whole thing!) But, all you can do is go for it, right? That's what makes life fun.
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