How much damage could one chicken do?
August 3, 2015 11:37 PM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to adopt a single, mature, anti-social chicken to keep in my yard. Will she destroy the yard?

I'm in a debate as to whether to adopt a chicken to keep in my yard. Ideally I'd like to have a small chicken hut, but no run - just let her run around a 800 square foot yard. Will she completely destroy the yard? Eat all the plants?

Let's pretend there are zero predators here, the neighbors love chickens and this chicken hates all other chickens so needs to stay solo. Anyone have chickens and have a sense of how much damage a single one could do?
posted by Toddles to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much, yes, in time. It will become dirt and mud.
posted by wilful at 11:39 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

My neighbours have chickens, and the feed they spread for them draws rats, which burrow and gnaw at bits of our house.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:11 AM on August 4, 2015

My experience was different - between two neighboors, I had 12 to 16 chickens running around my yard. They ate the weeds out of the underbrush but left the grass alone, and took the mosquito population from a gazillion to zero in one season. It was great! It's been a few years since I lived there so I can't say how it looks now, though.
posted by mibo at 1:46 AM on August 4, 2015

It depends on the chicken. My sister keeps chickens and some of them are plant murderers and some of them are very sweet and stick to just the little patch they like. They all dig around freshly planted seedlings unless you mesh them though.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:28 AM on August 4, 2015

Does antisocial apply to people as well? The stable where I took lessons had a mean hen who would run up and peck people
posted by brujita at 4:07 AM on August 4, 2015

She will need somewhere safe to roost at night. Chickens look for a place to be at dusk (tree or hutch).

We started our hen experience with a henhut. Protected against most predators, but not all. A raccoon or fox can remove your animal in pieces. Sorry.

She may wander and is likely to achieve vertical loft, too.

Good luck with your decision. Something like the henhut could work for you if you're assiduous about moving it around to avoid the dirt and mud result. You'll be able to let her out when you're there.

If you're someplace snowy, you'll have a winter problem. New England last year...lucky to have given our hens away around Christmas as we couldn't have kept their run dug out.
posted by xaryts at 5:43 AM on August 4, 2015

You will need a secure fence, chickens like to wander & also to protect them from dogs. Think a 6 foot tall privacy fence, she will be able to flutter over anything lower.

She will most likely peck at any veggies you have growing. It will scratch at any freshly turned over ground so anywhere you've weeded might get some extra working over with no care taken for freshly planted seedlings.

Poop will be an issue. If the bird likes people or gets to realise you come out a certain door with the food scraps/dinner every time it will start hanging around the door & poop will accumulate. Chicken poop is not nice & is very smelly, but is easily washed off concrete with a hose and an old broom to scrub with, chicken poop is like mana for flies but not as bad as duck poop as they can shoot it backwards about a foot & it sticks like velcro. They like to dirt bath, but tend to do this in one or 2 favourite spots so if she finds an area let her keep it otherwise you'll find them dust bathing in the middle of a flower bed.

If you pick up uneaten food every night & keep food stored in a secure container rats/mice are not so much of a problem. With one bird this is much easier as you won't have as many scraps or as much food out. Also keeping the run clean is much easier & that too will discourage vermin.

If it gets snowy/freezing cold where you are you will need to find a way to heat the coop in winter as one bird won't produce enough body heat to keep the building warm by itself & it won't have anyone else to snuggle up to.

One the positive side, I love chickens. Love the little bock bock noises they make as they faff around eating bugs, love them running up to say hello whenever I go out the back door, love the fresh eggs, love the company when I'm gardening, I love watching all their little dramas as they scratch around. If I could have a chicken where I live now I would in a heartbeat.
posted by wwax at 10:14 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

OK, rewrite your question but substitute "puppy" for "chicken and that's your answer. A lot, but it depends. I love chickens but they do scratch and poop everywhere. I would no sooner have an unfenced chicken as an unfenced dog. But like dogs, some are pleasant and content to eat a few bugs and lie in the grass and others will be in the neighbor's yard digging up petunias in a second. It sounds like you're already acquainted with this bird, which kind is she?
posted by epanalepsis at 2:49 PM on August 4, 2015

What climate do you live in, and what type of vegetation do you have in your yard? In a place with marginal plant growth (dry, hot climate), chickens may scratch up what little vegetation there is, and it may not be able to recover unless you're irrigating a lot. On the other hand, if you are in a wetter climate, your chicken won't be able to make much of a dent in the ground covering given the rate of growth. We have three chickens in a yard about that size in the midwest and don't have a problem - the grass is as lush as when we moved in.

If you have any flower beds, assume that the chicken will wreak a bit of havoc in there (kicking dirt and mulch around, but not necessarily eating those plants, unless they produce seeds or fruits the chicken likes). If you have a vegetable garden, fence or net it off, because chickens like to eat many of the same plants people do.

Chickens will always endeavor to scratch at least one spot free of vegetation in order to make a dust bathing area. You can try to influence what spot the chicken chooses (and thus minimize chance of destruction of other spots in the yard) by providing a relatively sheltered spot (e.g. not in the middle of the yard, where the chicken would be exposed to aerial predators while lying down) covered with fine dirt.

The poop from one chicken isn't going to build up that much in the yard, unless she's confined to a very small area. But it is true as wwax points out that if the chicken becomes fond of you or accustomed to getting treats at the door, she will wait and poop around that spot.

Also, it sounds like the chicken is older - is she still laying many eggs? If she's dropped down on production, she won't be eating as much and thus foraging or pooping as much.
posted by scrambles at 6:01 PM on August 4, 2015

Chicken poop completely ruins your yard. I had a friend with chickens and she just moved and good god, do I feel sorry for her landlady if/when she sees the horror that is that backyard now. Ditto the friend who kept chickens out on her back patio. Chickens are incredibly messy, lay eggs in weird places, and as others have mentioned, raccoons may make off with them in the middle of the night. Plus they make a racket for a half hour while laying. Hoo boy, I would never have chickens.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:29 PM on August 4, 2015

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