, Newburyport, MA


August 28, 2013

Considering chickens?

A hard-boiled assessment of maintaining a backyard coop


“People said, ‘Oh, when they lay an egg, they do a little thing’ ... but it’s longer and louder than I imagined,” she says.

Both Schmidt and Sandbank say their neighbors report hearing the chickens, although some claim to enjoy the sound (and the regular gifts of eggs they receive to help keep the peace).

Schmidt started out with one of Phillips’ rental coops, which she planned to return if the neighbors complained. About half a dozen such businesses across the country have opened in the last few years, so this kind of trial chicken-keeping is a growing option.

Besides neighbors, there are other chicken-keeping issues to consider. Be aware that chickens:

might not mix well with your current pets. Schmidt knew she couldn’t have chickens with the dog she used to have, and Sandbank had to gradually and carefully introduce her chickens and her cats.

need to be cared for whatever the weather, and when you go on vacation. Schmidt’s coop from Rent A Coop is portable and fits in a minivan, so she took it to a friend’s house before a recent trip. But for a conventional coop, you’ll need an agreeable friend or a pet-sitting company.

produce fertilizer and eat bugs, but also have less beneficial effects on your garden. “One thing I didn’t anticipate is that they like to scratch in loose dirt,” Schmidt says. She’s had to add stones or chicken wire to some beds to prevent digging.

require qualified vet care, which may be hard to find. Sandbank’s one experience with an avian vet was less than satisfactory, and Phillips suggests going first to experienced chicken-keepers online for tips to pass on to any vet that you consult.

Finally, if you decide that chickens will fit into your lifestyle and your neighborhood, there’s one big long-term issue to consider: Hens don’t lay eggs their whole lives.

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