Chicken and the Egg: Why I Love Keeping Backyard Hens

Courtesy of Dr. Patty Khuly
Dr. Patty Khuly with one of her chickens.

Ever thought that you might want to spread your wings and try something new in the world of pets? If so, maybe you should try your hand at chickens!

I’ve been keeping chickens for the past five years or so. I’d always wanted a flock, but I never quite knew how I’d make it happen, living in suburbia as I do.

Although Miami (where I live) is rife with free-roaming chickens — largely the product of a Hispanic culture that expects roosters to crow at 4:30 in the morning — the practice is decidedly not a thing that’s done in my neighborhood enclave, where manicured McMansions are slowly taking over.

I live in a tiny, old house set on a lush acre of land in the midst of all that high-priced construction. Although quirky and cool, my house is a tear-down by any real estate agent’s standards. But the good news is that I have lots of land compared with my neighbors’ maxed-out footprints, granting me the ability to give a big brood of chickens lots of room to maneuver.

Setting Up My Backyard Hen Spread

In the beginning, I had plenty of qualms about the idea: Where would I get chickens? How would I raise them with no experience beyond one course in poultry science and a few more in anatomy, physiology, nutrition and pathology many moons ago?

A trio of things finally got me past my reservations.

1. The understanding that my attractively overgrown, well-fenced property could contain my flock and conceal it from prying neighbors’ eyes.

2. The certain knowledge that it couldn’t be all that hard to raise hens if the existence of a book called Chickens for Dummies was any guide.

3. I really, really, really wanted fresh eggs!

Foodie that I am, this last point compelled me to overcome all psychological barriers and act decisively. Here’s how I made it happen.

I researched my project. This involved relearning all the relevant egg-to-slaughter husbandry practices I’d need to know; perusing plans for chick incubators, coops and living spaces; and investigating the initial financial outlay and recurrent expenses associated with raising chickens.

I set up an incubator. Then I drew a deep breath and ordered some chicks from an online outlet that came highly recommended.

It really wasn’t so hard. The chicks were a pleasure to play with, and their maintenance was a relative breeze — more so after I moved them to an outdoor interim space, at which point the cleaning became less of a chore. Ultimately, I built a coop using some plans that I found online (you can also buy a coop if you’re not terribly handy with plans and power tools).

The Egg-cellent Results

The next thing I knew, I was enjoying the kooky reptilian antics of a three-toned flock of hens — two barred rocks, two Easter eggers and seven red stars.

A few months later, I reached nirvana: fresh eggs. The first two arrived one fall day that I’ll never forget. I was exultant!

In retrospect, I have no idea why I waited so long to take chickens under my wing, so to speak.

Although I can promise that you won’t be saving money on eggs (supermarket eggs are way cheap these days), the flavor of my eggs can’t be beat. Even those expensive, organic farmers market orbs can’t compare with my truly free-range, insect- and avocado-eating hens’ eggs.

Some days, it seems the eggs are beside the point. Hens are just so darn entertaining that you could spend hours — with a lawn chair and a glass of cold lemonade — watching them interact, dust bathe and peck at the world beneath their feet.


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