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What It’s Really Like to Own Chickens

Confessions of an urban chicken farmer

I've always dreamt of having a little farm, a sort of "back to the land" fantasy complete with milking cows, and rows and rows of vegetables. Alas, I live in a suburban neighborhood where a cow would be frowned upon and a massive vegetable garden would never fit. We do however have room for several raised beds and five fat and happy hens. And in the three years since bringing home those tiny adorable chicks, I've become convinced that they make the perfect family pets. Admittedly, they may not be for everyone, but in my opinion the pros of hen ownership far outweigh the cons. Still not convinced? Read on for the good, the bad and the ugly of raising chickens.

The joy of chickens starts with those fuzzy little chicks. They are so adorable and remarkably entertaining. And quite honestly, even as adults our chickens are downright fun to watch—they've got personality for days. In fact, watching "chicken TV" is my one-year-old's favorite activities. Aside from entertainment, they also have educational value: My older son learned all about being gentle with babies from those sweet little chicks. He has also learned the value and importance of caring for animals.

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Another plus to owning hens is that they are incredibly low maintenance. No need to take them for walks or give them baths, and aside from making sure they have food and water and cleaning the coop about once a week, they pretty much take care of themselves.

The funnest and tastiest lesson our hens have taught our sons is where eggs come from. For my kids, eggs aren't just another product you find nestled in styrofoam at the grocery store, they are a gift from our beloved birds. And what a gift they are. Those eggs taste amazing. Just as an heirloom tomato grown in your own backyard tastes leaps and bounds better that even the best ones at the supermarket, homegrown eggs are almost too good to be true.

Cleaning the coop is not my favorite chore, but then that horrible by-product does become the best compost I've ever used, so even the poop has a silver lining.

It's always important to truly know what you're getting into with any pet, and chickens are no exception. Though they are few, there are downsides to chicken ownership. The first bummer is the noise. We had no idea how loud chickens could be. When they lay their eggs, they announce it to the entire neighborhood in a call that can only be described as obnoxious. This sound isn't as bad with certain breeds, but unless you choose very carefully, you're bound to end up with one screamer in the bunch.

They will also ruin your garden if given the chance. Our chickens have a large coop and sizable chicken run but I still like to let them "free range" in the backyard whenever possible. However, they can only be free when I have time to watch their every move, otherwise they would dig, scratch and eat their way through my entire garden.

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And, let's be real—it wouldn't be a conversation about chickens without mention of their poop. This is by far and away the ugliest side of owning chickens. They do it a lot, they do it everywhere and it stinks. Cleaning the coop is not my favorite chore, but then that horrible by-product does become the best compost I've ever used,—so even the poop has a silver lining.

If you're on the the fence about owning chickens, I recommend you hop off and start building a coop. But be warned, you might fall in love with those silly birds, and you'll never be satisfied with store- bought eggs again.

Image via @smallfriendly

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