Challenges of backyard chickens

Urban chicken farming is pretty trendy these days, and I’m glad for it. It’s fun to raise your own food, and it’s one step beyond gardening toward breaking away from the industrialized food system. I’m lucky to live in a city where there’s almost no resistance to urban poultry; we have no limits on quantity or required distances from neighbor’s property (though roosters are not allowed in city limits). I was quoted extensively on the topic in the article Raise Backyard Chickens without Ruffling Neighbors’ Feathers on

We built our coop three winters ago; the “blueprint” was a drawing I sketched on the back of a bank statement, and it was built with a combination of materials resourcefulness, my husband’s good carpentry knowledge, and some best guesses.

the coop

The coop; the chicken run extends far beyond what is shown in this photo.

Since our chickens would be living in such close proximity to the house, we wanted animals that were fun to look at. “Chicken TV,” we called it. But we weren’t willing to give any free rides either, so they had to be good layers. And finally, since we were going to have some “fancy” breeds with poor eyesight (Polish hens), they all had to be very docile. We ended up with NINE chickens, 2 Silver-laced Wyandottes, 2 Light Brahmas, 2 Buff Polish, 2 Silkies, and 1 Americauna.

That was too many chickens for a backyard coop. It became quickly apparent that the Wyandottes (large beautiful birds) had too strong personalities for our flock, as they quickly started bullying the others. At a couple of months old, they were easy to rehome. The remaining 7 have lived (mostly) harmoniously together for the past 3 years. We assumed raccoons and illness would claim a few more, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Chickens have a short window of active egg-laying. After two years, egg production starts to decrease, from 4-5 eggs/week to 1 or 2, or none for weeks at a time. So that’s where we’re at. We’ve got a lot of free-loaders who aren’t earning their organic layer pellets. It’s time to raise some new chicks and integrate younger blood into our flock, but that means decreasing the number of the old gals.

And here’s the challenge for us. They’re somewhere between farm animals and pets. I mean, they have names.

Sven, Ole, and Beaker

Swedish Chef, Puck, and Falcor

And since we chose “cute” chickens, it’s that much harder to cull the flock. Despite my best intentions to stay unattached, I’m…attached.

If we’re going to make chicken-raising a sustainable food source, then we need to buck up and be willing to use the chickens for a different type of food when egg laying slows, and not feel guilty about it. Because they’re not pets. Based on this logic, we need to keep those that are still laying well, and cull those that have slowed down.

Urban chicken farmers out there, I need to hear from you. How do YOU cull your flock? Do you butcher yourself? Do you euthanize and dispose? Do you use a local butcher? Or do you accept that these birds are now pets and keep feeding them until their natural life comes to an end? I would LOVE your feedback.


12 thoughts on “Challenges of backyard chickens

  1. We had to cull one of our breeder bunnies for eating her babies. We just did it. We always thank our animals for their sacrifice first. We ended up selling her meat. Once they’re strung up and the fur starts coming off they quickly go from the cute little bunny to meat in my brain.
    I also make a point of naming my animals somewhat ironically. We have a chicken named Extra Cispy and the rabbit w culled was nicknamed “tasty”. That way I am alway reminded of their end purpose.

    • This is good advice. I’ll definitely choose different names next time! Maybe “Cup ‘o Noodles.” Did you have experience butchering rabbits beforehand, or did you look it up on YouTube?

      • I had no experience with it before and wrote a post about it. I had never processed any animal before, really. It was harder than expected, just physically. I think the chickens will someday go in the stewpot and will be easier to kill but harder to clean. The rabbits were so very easy to clean.

  2. We’re getting to that point with the 2 remainders we had from 6 two years ago. One is a steady egg-a-day gal, but another has completely gone ‘dry’ for 6 months now. She’s still youngish and seems healthy, but I’m at a loss. I saw last year in our area, someone on Craiglist had posted wanting ‘spent’ hens simply to be summertime lawn-pest/tick eaters.

    If you don’t want to deal with processing them yourself, you could also post an ad up on Craigslist for them- some people are happy to purchase older hens at a reduced price/free and butcher them, or just keep them as a flock if they don’t need so many eggs…

    • I did rehome the two silkies via a local chicken group, though I still feel bad about it. They’re just so cute! I’ll miss seeing them in the flock.

  3. I think that this dilemma s a very common one for most chicken keepers. I have five chickens and I can’t imagine killing them, ever. I wouldn’t mind increasing the number of ex battery hens that I have, even if some of them are non layers

    • Thanks for posting a link to my blog on your facebook page! I’m curious how much space you have for your chooks? I’d LOVE to have a huge flock and keep them all into retirement, but due to our city-size 5000 sq/ft lot (much of which is taken up by a vegetable garden), I just don’t know where to put them. I was able to rehome our two fluffy silkies yesterday, but our mean Americauna is going “to the market.”

  4. Pingback: Chicken is chicken | baD.I.N.K.adink

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