Having backyard chickens can be very rewarding, they offer a great form of distraction from the monotony of… blah, blah blah. I thought about being philosophical about how batshit crazy the world is, and how the hobby of Poultry Keeping, a farming swatch woven in our past, is an enjoyable distraction from it all. But the truth is, well, I have a confession: there are some aspects of Poultry Keeping that are not fun.
Chickens are prone to illness and injury, if you become a Chicken Keeper you will definitely have to care for a sick or injured bird, it is inevitable. The reality is that Avian Veterinary medicine is specialized, so not very many vets would have the knowledge base to treat your ill bird, and you may wince at the cost for their help. There is loads of information online to help you determine why your bird is sick and give you advice on how to help them. Once you learn the basics, you will surprise yourself with the knowledge you’ll accumulate. (I have a post on this Blog about First Aid Kits and basic medications you should have on hand, scroll down to find it).
At some point your bird may not be able to recover and as a Keeper, you have a responsibility for the humane welfare of the animals you look after. In other words you may have to take them to the Pearly Gates and push them in, because you know they’ll feel much better and happier on the otherside.
I recommend you read the blog of an Avian Veterinarian, “mikethechickenvet”. He has a fantastic post about euthanasia methods for the Backyard Chicken Keeper.
We had to drop one of our favourite hens off at the gates the other day. I had tried to help her recover for 4 weeks, at one point she started to eat again, got her strength back and I thought, “wow, I did it!”, then she relapse and started passing blood, I knew she wouldn’t recover and I didn’t want her to suffer anymore. It is the worst part of being a Backyard Chicken Keeper, but it is the most important part, you have to be able to make those tough decisions and follow through with them.
Another part of Chicken Keeping that is not all that fun is the winter. By about February you’ll see lots of ads for people wanting to sell their flocks and all their equipment. They’re sick of messy coops, higher feed and supply costs, frozen waterers and cold chickens. You can deal with all of this if you prepare and you plan for winter. You are Canadian after all, you can get through it! You will have to clean the coop more regularly as the birds will spend more time in it, clean it up daily to keep up with the mess. Occasionally you will have to dig a path to the coop, think of it as a way to get off your arse in the winter and get some exercise. Waterers will freeze, but they do make electric heated waterers, or there are lots of DIY chicken water heater ideas online. Vaseline rubbed into the chickens combs and waddles will protect them from frostbite, also ensure that your roost is wide enough that they can stand flat footed, they will sit on their feet to keep them warm and protect from frostbite. Your feed costs will spike a little, as they will eat more to create the energy needed to keep warm, you may also want to add higher carb grains like corn and oats. You can employ the “Deep Litter Method” in your coop to help create an insulation on the floor to help keep the birds comfortable, you will have to turn it over daily and add new shavings to keep the bedding dry, but at the end of winter, you’ll have a wonderful composted mulch to add to your flower beds! As long as you have enough birds in your coop, they’ll keep each other warm. If you don’t have enough, they’ll struggle through the winter, so make sure you have enough birds before the cold months come.
As far as I am concerned, their enjoyment factor outweighs the few unpleasantries of having chickens. I have found it rewarding to be able to learn how to look after chickens. It is an amazing feeling to be able to help my chickens through illness and injury and know that I did that, I can do that, all on my own.
My chickens have helped me learn to never underestimate myself or my capabilities, and in turn they have amazed me with theirs.