So, needless to say, we think chicken-keeping is worthwhile. Still, if you've never had chickens before, there may be some surprises in store for you. Here are some things that surprised me when I first started keeping chickens as an adult.
1. Some hens lay a lot less than others. Actually, I did know this before I got my first flock of hens, but it took a while for me to realize just how dramatically the choice of breed affects egg laying. For example, we once had a neighbor who chose fun, fancy-looking hens, and even though they were in their prime, they only laid one egg a week. On the other hand, the chickens we kept at the same time (which were Plymouth Rocks) typically laid an egg a day. At one point, we also adopted some fully-grown Silver Wyandottes; they were sweet, mellow hens, but they weren't nearly the layers our slightly more ornery Plymouth Rocks were. (Nowadays, we're loving our Australorps; they are sweet and gentle, but excellent layers.) So before you buy, be sure to check out a good chicken breed comparison chart that offers an idea of how well each breed lays.
2. Free range birds lay fewer eggs than birds in a smaller run. At least typically. We started out with hens in a small run, letting them free range for perhaps an hour or two most days. Six birds laid six eggs a day. Then we expanded our run, and suddenly the egg production dropped to just four eggs a day. This isn't uncommon. Chickens expend a lot of energy scratching around, and may receive less balanced nutrition if they don't eat much feed; hence, they lay fewer eggs. On the other hand, hens that are given high-quality land to free range (i.e., there are lots of different kinds of bugs and plants for them to eat) produce healthier eggs. Click here to read more reasons why we no longer free range our hens.
3. You really don't have to buy store bought eggs again. It's common to read that despite having backyard hens you'll still have to buy some store-bought eggs. Assuming you don't have severe restrictions on the number of hens you're allowed to have, and assuming you don't have a huge family, this simply isn't true. Choose your breed carefully, selecting excellent layers. Keep in mind how many eggs you currently use before determining how many hens you keep. Plan to store extra eggs in the fridge; if you don't wash them before storage, they last for at least 6 months in the refrigerator. Or, freeze extra eggs instead. Then, when your hens begin molting (and therefore stop laying), you'll have plenty of eggs in the fridge or freezer to last until they begin laying again.
4. Backyard eggs are actually cheaper than store bought. Again, before we got our flock, I'd read repeatedly that keeping chickens wouldn't save us money on eggs. This definitely wasn't true; read about our .06 cent eggs here.
A version of this post originally appeared in August of 1012. This post was featured at Farm Fresh Tuesday Blog Hop.