Real Life Backyard Chicken Advice from Experienced Chicken Owners

So you're thinking about getting some chickens. You've eyed a spot in your backyard, been poring over chicken books and perusing chicken breeds online to find your favorite one. You might think you're ready (or maybe you're still on the fence), but whatever step you're on, you could probably use some advice from real "parents" who have been through it!

Angel Schatz and Dusan Kwiatkowski are neighbors on Austin's East Side where we visited them to meet their chickens and see their coops. (Dusan built his from reclaimed wood, Angel got hers from a friend who wasn't using it anymore.) Dusan and his wife Maegan have been chicken owners for almost four years and Angel's been raising chickens for over a year.

If you've been thinking about raising chickens, first do your research. Favorite online sites of Angel and Dusan are Backyard Chickens and My Pet Chicken. We asked Angel, Dusan and Maegan to share a few insider tips that beginners to raising chickens should know (and that they wish they had known when they first started):

Before you get a single chicken
• Have a secure area. Dusan explains that chickens don't really have any safety instincts and it's your duty to protect them. Angel's netted her entire chicken area to discourage any adventurers.
• There are nearly 60 different breeds of chickens out there so do the research to find a breed that fits your needs and your area's weather. "A chicken breed to fit your need" is a good place to start. For an intense chart breakdown check out "Henderson's Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart."
• Know your city codes and neighborhood association rules.

Need-to-know
• Chickens like to be high, and you can build your own luxurious coop if you build up. Just don't build only for the chickens; build (or buy) a coop that you can easily get in to clean and get eggs.
• Decide if you want to start with babies or mature adults. Babies are very needy (lots of water and warm light) but allow you to bond with them. (It's also not always a guarantee you're going to end up with a hen if you buy them as babies.) Adults are ready to go, but it might be more difficult to establish a connection with them.

Never would have thought of
• Chickens aren't like mammal pets. Angel and Dusan both say their chickens make them happy, but the connection with them isn't the same as it might be with a cat or a dog.
• Maegan suggests finding your nearest feed store and familiarizing yourself with all the chicken stuff so when an emergency arises you know what's available.
• Keep in mind eggs won't always be a guarantee; chickens respond differently to daylight, temperature, stress and age.
• Have a back up plan — what you'll do/who you'll give the chickens to if you ever move — before you invest any time or money.

Bottom line
• Raising chickens takes an adventurous, curious, kind spirit. It's a lot like real parenting — you can read up beforehand, but you won't really know how it is until you dive in. You'll have to be prepared for unforeseen issues but you'll also discover unexpected benefits. And watch out: raising chickens can become a totally engrossing obsession if you're not careful!

Stay tuned for more backyard chicken raising posts on Apartment Therapy.

(Images: Adrienne Breaux)