You may have seen them at the local hardware store. They’re cute. They’re fluffy. They make a soft whistling peep sound that is irresistible. And the idea of fresh eggs appeals to that suburban homesteader in you.
Before you cave in to the kids and buy a box of biddies, there are some things you should know about backyard flocks.
- Different breeds have different temperaments. They also lay different colored eggs. Trust us, you want kind chickens.
- Even “free-range” birds need some kind of housing to protect them from predators. Chickens can run surprisingly fast and fly with varying levels of success, but when night falls and they sit on their roosts, they’re … well … sitting ducks … for foxes, coyotes and dogs. And, even in the daytime, eagles can swoop in and carry them off.
- Do you like hunting for eggs? ‘Cuz you will be, on the daily. Hens like to lay in a nest, but they also like to switch things up periodically, which will keep you on your toes.
- They’re noisy. Roosters just don’t have filters.
- Just like you need to register your dog, you need to register your flock. (It’s so that if there is an outbreak of avian influenza, the state can reach you.) It’s important to protect your birds and the ones on the Shore that were responsible for an estimated $3.96 billion in total economic activity throughout Maryland in 2016, creating or supporting as many as 15,009 total jobs. In Maryland, the industry and its employees pay about $112.82 million in state and local taxes. Julie Oberg, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture and herself a small flock owner, says, “It’s important for your flock and for other people’s flocks that we can get information to you. Disease outbreaks can travel quickly, so knowledge is power when protecting your animals and your farm.”
- Both roosters and hens can be mean! Roosters take their job of “running security” for the flock very seriously, and they sometimes attack humans. Spurs on the back of their legs, sharp beaks and a very small brain make for a nasty foe.
- Chickens like to sample everything, and will eat everything from bugs to lizards, snakes and mice … and even your favorite plants. Be prepared for them to leave their mark. Speaking of which …
- Those free-range chickens? They come with free range poop. Everywhere.
So, just like a cute puppy or kitten, know that the little peeps will grow up — and have their own set of needs.