Now, in early 2023, there’s a worldwide egg shortage in supermarkets. Yet somehow, there’s no shortage of articles & news reports telling us that keeping backyard chickens is a bad idea. This media negativity, despite the shortages, raises serious questions on a number of levels.
I believe that the argument against keeping chickens is misguided at best, and blatant propaganda at worst. And it concerns me that those who are considering becoming chicken owners may be put off by such misinformation.
In this article I’ll de-bunk 6 of the main reasons (lets call them myths) why some people say keeping chickens is a bad idea. I’ll also give you an ideal method for maintaining egg output, by sharing my own chicken-succession plan.
Myth #1 – Chickens Don’t Lay Every Day
In fact, chickens very often do lay every day. Shortly after a hen lays an egg, she will ovulate a new yolk. After this ovulation, it takes 26 hours for a new egg to fully form. This means that a hen will lay at roughly 26-hour intervals, so the time of egg laying becomes later and later with each passing day. Eventually the hen will lay too late in the day for ovulation to be signalled. She will then skip a day or more before laying another egg.
In practice, that means they may skip the odd day or two, depending on their ovulation stage. They also may not lay while they are moulting, but in general, in dedicated laying breeds, you can count on one egg per chicken per day.
Myth #2 – Chickens Live for 10 Years But Only Lay for 2 ?
This one simply isn’t true. Just like humans, cats and dogs, the lifespan of a chicken is an individual thing. Some will die unexpectedly at a young age, while others will do the extreme opposite- but most backyard chickens live for about 7-8 years.
What we hear about most often from the media is the short lives of battery hens. It is true that they don’t lay or live as long as backyard or heritage breed birds, but then they are specially bred to lay daily and have a very stressful life.
The egg production of backyard hens usually decreases once they reach around 3 years old, but they can definitely lay for up to 5 or even 7 years. It’s not unheard-of for hens to keep laying for a decade or more.
The underlying theme here is that because a chicken might not lay right up until it dies, keeping it is a waste of resources. But there are many benefits to keeping chickens, because they are more than just egg providers.
Old hens that have stopped laying can still be eaten- and I would do this if I needed to (apparently they make excellent stock). They make great workers, too. Chickens never stop, and their constant activity keeps pests down & can help turn your kitchen waste into a rich compost fertiliser, which in turn helps you to produce more home-grown food.
Old hens make valuable teachers, too. When you add a couple of new pullets to your flock, you’ll see the older hens showing them what’s what. All chickens have keen eyes, and and young ones will learn through observation how to use a drinker, a feeder, where to roost & lay, and how to avoid potential dangers.
Chickens are renowned as companion animals, which may surprise the uninitiated. They may not chase a ball, but they can definitely be great pets, often flying up to sit on shoulders and following humans around. This isn’t so surprising, really, as familiarity generally breeds friendship, and your chickens have known you for a long time. I’m sure it’s not just me who has chickens that actively listen for the sound of my voice and the fall of my footsteps every day.
Myth #3 – Chickens are So Hard to Keep Healthy
Just like any other animal, there are certain things you need to do in order to keep your flock healthy and happy. But I argue that chickens are easier to keep than most dogs and cats.
While there will be times when a problem such as illness or mites occurs, these issues are generally few & often fixed with common remedies. You can always turn to a veterinarian for help if you need to, but there is a huge knowledge base around chicken keeping to be found online, which makes self-education easier than ever.
Myth #4 – Backyard Eggs are Unsafe
Supermarket eggs are no more safe than backyard eggs. Despite commercial farmers washing their eggs in disinfectant (a questionable practice in itself), there is no guarantee that buying eggs avoids salmonella, and product recalls often happen.
The key is to practice good egg hygiene, both in the chicken coop and in the kitchen. Give your hens a clean, dry place to lay & collect their eggs daily. Keep their bedding material fresh and make sure the coop has adequate airflow. Don’t ingest raw egg, and don’t use dirty or cracked eggs. Once in the kitchen, date and rotate your eggs so that the oldest are used first. All of which is common sense, really, but doing all these things reduces the chance of getting food poisoning to virtually zero.
Myth #5 – Chickens are Messy
There’s no doubt that chickens like to dig. Whether they’re looking for food, giving themselves a dust bath or just keeping themselves amused, they can be destructive. Anyone with a vegetable garden who has tried to let chickens free range through their yard will have learned this the hard way! This is why I keep my chickens in a fenced-off area down at the bottom of my yard, away from the veggie garden. If you have a smaller property with gardens that you don’t want dug up, chickens can be kept in pens or mobile coops that can be moved around to limit damage.
Myth #6 – Chickens are Too Noisy
Quite simply, chickens are not noisy. They can make noise at certain times, but this is always for a reason and will be brief. For example, they’ll be a bit loud right after laying an egg. And if they’re getting chased by a predator (human or animal), they’ll definitely make some noise- wouldn’t you? These instances of noise will happen during the day, as chickens are always quiet overnight.
There are positives to keeping roosters, too, but they’re very noisy & can be a problem. For this reason, they are banned from urban areas in most countries. The 3 acres we have here at the self sufficient me home property allows us to keep roosters, but we personally choose not to.
The most common concern I get from people wanting to keep chickens is, ‘what do I do once our hens are older and have stopped laying? We have a succession and retirement plan for our hens, and this is how it works.
Once our current flock drastically drops in production or ceases laying, its as simple as getting new point-of-lay hens or pullets. As the name suggests, these are young chickens that are at the age where they’re just about to start laying. We keep the older hens rather than replacing them- as outlined above, we believe old hens are worth keeping. Adding new girls to the flock every year or two will ensure a steady supply of eggs & a useful span of age ranges.
Unless you have a particularly small space or are breaking your local councils poultry-keeping rules, the extra birds will be more of an asset than a problem. Chickens don’t need a lot of space, and are definitely easy to keep in an average backyard once you have made provision for keeping them safe and contained.
For more detail on why keeping chickens is *not* a bad idea, check out our youtube video.