With increasing interest in homesteading and self-sufficiency in recent years, many people want livestock for food production. Chickens are a good option for small acreage, and some Florida cities even allow small flocks of hens in urban yards.
Benefits of backyard chickens
- Fresh eggs –A flock of four chickens can provide 8-12 eggs per week; so many omelets, frittatas, and custards! If you didn’t grow up on a farm, you’ll soon learn that eggs from your own chickens are the best-tasting eggs in the world (it’s the fresh grass and bugs they eat).
- Entertainment – No joke, chickens are hilarious. Their antics provide endless hours of fun and some of them, like Silkies and Turkens, are just funny-looking. Chickens can even be trained to do simple tricks, like jumping through a hula hoop!
- Good outdoor pets – Not everyone wants indoor pets, but not many animals can live happily outdoors. Chickens can, and despite what you may see on videos online, chickens really are not suited to be indoor pets. Chickens don’t bark and you don’t have to take them for walks, but they do love belly rubs.
What chickens need
It’s not all fun and games with chickens; it’s important to understand the potential challenges of having chickens before you bring home any tiny, peeping, yellow fluff-balls from the farm store.
- Protection and space – Chickens need a safe coop to roost in at night, and a completely enclosed, outdoor “chicken run” for dust baths, scratching and pecking around, flapping, and other generally ridiculous activities that chickens do. Provide shade so chickens don’t overheat. If you let your chickens “free-range” in the backyard, they may not stay in your yard, they will dig up your flowers and vegetables, and they may get eaten. Dogs and cats (your own little angels or others from the neighborhood), and hawks can all pose a danger to chickens roaming about in the daytime.
- Help staying healthy – Chickens aren’t very high maintenance compared to other pets, but providing a constant supply of fresh food and cool, clean water is essential. They also need dry living conditions and manure must be cleaned out of coop and run area regularly. Chickens aren’t super-hygienic and will scratch and peck at anything on the ground, including manure, which can make them sick if they eat it. If a chicken has an issue, veterinarians who work with chickens may be difficult to find, so you may be doing your own chicken health care.
Other random things you should know about chickens
- Hens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs.
- Chickens don’t naturally lay eggs all year long.
- You won’t save money on eggs by having a few backyard chickens. Even if you don’t invest in a boutique chicken condo, you’ll still be spending some funds on structures and fencing, food, health care, and chicken-sitters when you’re on vacation.
Before acquiring chickens, find out whether you are allowed to have them at your location. Then, if you’re ready to become The Chicken Lady or Chicken Guy on your block, attend a basic class on keeping chickens, available in person and online through the UF IFAS Extension – Osceola County and other UF IFAS Extension offices.