Why you should probably not raise chickens


On the news a few nights ago I heard that there’s a surge of people buying baby chicks and hens because the cost of eggs has gone up. Silly people!

Has it crossed their minds that the cost of building a chicken house would buy an awful lot of high-priced eggs?

Think about this:

Chickens require protective custody. A secure chicken house and yard needs to be safe from predators that can dig under a fence, jump over a fence, or break through a fence.

Chickens also want to be dry. Perhaps you have heard the old-timey expression “madder than a wet hen.” This means that in our rainy climate, they need outdoor space with a roof.

If you value your garden, chickens need to be confined to quarters 24/7. They will devour your lettuce and any other greens except kale. (Maybe there are chickens who like kale; I haven’t met them.) Their feet are very efficient digging tools, made to turn over the soil in search of bugs and worms. They do not care what flowers you have planted.

So if you are a decent person, you will build a righteous chicken house and an at least partly covered yard. (To keep them safe from avian bird flu, a totally covered yard that wild birds cannot poop in is safest.)

You will also commit to providing them with fresh water, nutritious chicken food, and protection from their enemies. Daily treats – a handful of corn, some dried worms, or vegetable peelings – are also a quality of life issue.

You will also want – or perhaps I should say you will be obligated – to clean their house and yard regularly. If the smell of chicken shit offends you, cross chicken ranching off your to-do list right now.

Here’ the essential truth: People do not keep chickens to save money on eggs; people keep chickens because we like chickens, enjoy looking after them, and value really fresh eggs.

Also, the chicken house and yard cleanings (in my case, mixed with lots of straw) are wonderful additions to a compost pile.

But for me, another big reason is this: If you grew up in a household with chickens, having them just makes home homier.

In my childhood, we butchered and ate the chickens rather than raising them for eggs. That’s a different vibe, I know, but still . . .

Now I have a valued friend who is my chicken executioner. When a cohort of hens gets too old to lay, he takes them to his rural home and turns them into chicken soup, and I start over with new chicks. I do this for two reasons: I think my urban neighbors and their dogs would be alarmed by the smell of chicken butchering, and also I’ve become a wimp.

I have friends, however, who keep hens until they die of old age. They are horrified by my heartlessness, but I know their dark secret about squirrel stew.

I’m just asking you to think carefully about your impulses.

If the price of eggs bothers you, ask Alexis for advice about how to cope with your discomfort, and leave the chickens to those who have better reasons to raise and keep them.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com 


5 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Coug66

    Love this article. Tell it like it is!

    Friday, February 3 Report this

  • pheong

    Huh. One, laying hens and game hens are different breeds. A mobile laying roost is not really so expensive. Children benefit greatly from learning where their food comes from. People who can routinely pay $6 for a latte can certainly afford the 'luxury' of raising laying hens. Who needs to compost when chickens will eat most of what would otherwise be composted? Sorry Jill, this is utter claptrap. So, everything must come with financial profit? Well, you must then be in favour of dismantling the United States Post Office since it turns no profit, but only provides a needed service. You can raise chickens for either eggs or game yet others are not qualified? Utter nonsense.

    Saturday, February 4 Report this

  • Digger

    My biggest reason not to keep chickens is that their food attracts rats.

    Saturday, February 4 Report this

  • pbaron1902

    It's simple. Either you are a chicken lover or you are not!

    Juxt sitting and watching chickens is a zen thing....and they can be really funny, too.

    Saturday, February 4 Report this

  • FirstOtter

    I've been in on a 'chicken butchering' session, where several of us purchased a membership in a private consortium. One person bought all the chicks, fed them, housed them, fenced them in a small paddock. At the end of the very short period of time when they grew like crazy, we all came to the butchering to take turn at the stations, and then took our freshly killed birds home-cleaned, gutted, defeathered, sanitized and put on ice.

    We borrowed the processing equipment from Thurston Conservation District, and, of course, cleaned it all before returning it.

    We did this outside. I don't remember it 'smelling' up the neighborhood. It didn't even make a lot of noise. Most of the smell came from the jugs and jugs of bleach we used to clean and sanitize everything.

    Would I do it again? No. I will admit that I couldn't bring myself to actually kill the hen when it came my turn at that station. I saw too much killing in the wars. But everything else was just work, wearing rubber gloves, sanitizing everything, and, honestly, learning a lot from the others.

    But monetarily wise, it really wasn't worth it.

    The one thing I DID learn is how there are people out there who will go to "Farm Fresh Egg" sellers, (meaning people who have chickens and sell the eggs from their private home). and not want eggs. They want roosters.

    Most private egg producers don't want roosters. Roosters don't lay eggs, so most producers are more than glad to get rid of them. and in urban situations, there are neighbors who complain about the roosters crowing at 3 AM.

    Egg producers BEWARE.

    These people men offer to take your roosters off your hands.


    THey're NOT taking them home to butcher themselves and then eat.

    NO. They're taking them to some out of the way spot in rural counties, putting spurs on them and fighting them. That means, the rooster is put into a 'cockpit', a small area about the size of a large kiddie pool, and made to fight another rooster. To the death.

    They have to fight to the death because the people running this horrid 'game' don't allow them to give up. THere's no place for a beaten rooster to escape. It's fight to the death, which is horribly bloody and painful.

    It is ILLEGAL. It is inhumane and it is cruel.

    If someone comes to your egg producing home to 'buy your roosters' or 'for free', you can say, sure, but only if you take them dead. We can kill it right here and now. Got ice in your cooler?

    IF they agree, then you know they're honest.

    If they come up with some half arse excuse as to why they don't want it killed, you know they're using the rooster for fighting.

    Get their license plate number, a good description of the people, take their pictures if you can, and call the sheriff.

    Tuesday, February 7 Report this