Pet chickens are becoming increasingly popular. It is now pretty common for suburban homes across Australia to have a few pet chickens in the backyard. Chickens  give back way more than they take, which make them pretty unique. That’s why I think they deserve the title of the best family pet. They are relatively low cost to set up and maintain, require very little of your time each day and provide a whole lot of goodies that make your backyard vegetable patch more self sufficient. I have compared pet chickens against four other popular pets - Dogs, Cats, Fish and Birds. This comparison is based on cost, time required and benefits (what they give back). The comparison is pretty crude, but I think it paints a pretty fair picture. why chickens are the best family pet

Cost of pet chickens: Moderate

Setup costs: $200 - $1000

While there are a few setup costs, its pretty cheap to keep pet chickens. Average setup costs are between $200 to $500, however you could easily spend over $1,000 if you buy a large coop with all the bells and whistles. To break it down a bit more: Chickens: Cost of purchasing chickens ($5 to $30 each), depending on age and breed Coop: Cost of the coop, feeder and waterer can vary a lot from a cheap DIY to a brand new top of the range coop.
  • DIY from recycled materials: On one extreme, you could make your own coop for free from reused and materials.
  • DIY from purchased material: A solid homemade coop made from purchased materials could cost from $50 to $300, depending on the size and materials used.
  • Second hand: A good second hand coop can easily be found online for $50 - $150.
  • Brand new: A brand new coop could cost between $250 to $2000, depending on the size and materials used.

Ongoing costs: $240-$360

Feed, worming medication and other miscellaneous costs required to keep pet chickens in your backyard ($20-$30 per month)

Cost of pet chickens compared to other pets?

Pet

Setup costs

On-going

chicken

Chickens

$200 - $1000 $240 - $360 moderate icon
dog icon

Dogs

$500 - $6000

$300 - $2,500

high icon
cat icon

Cats

$500 - $3000

$300 - $1000

high icon
fish icon

Fish

$100 - $1000

$20  - $500

low icon
bird icon

Birds

$175 - $1300

$150 - $950

moderate icon

Time required to keep pet chickens: Low

Setup

There is a bit of setup time needed for pet chickens which often involves assembling or making the chicken coop, putting up fences and 'chicken proofing' the backyard.

Ongoing care and maintenance

Once everything is setup, pet chickens usually only require 5 minutes a day to  make sure they have plenty of food and water and to collect any eggs laid for the day. The coop also requires cleaning out every month or so which would take 30 minutes at most.

Benefits of pet chickens

Eggs

With 4 pet chickens, you are likely to get 2 or more eggs per day. That saves more than $10 a week on eggs. Not to mention that eggs from pet chickens are way better than any eggs you can buy from the shops, even compared to so called "free range" or "organic" eggs. Eggs from pet chickens are:
  • Highly nutritious:  Studies show that eggs from pet chickens are much more nutrient dense, with much higher amounts of good fats, vitamins and minerals.
  • Free from cruelty and bad stuff like antibiotics: You know exactly where your eggs come from  and what conditions your pet chickens are raised in. You know that your eggs come from happy, healthy, free ranging hens - that roam free in your backyard, eating bugs, grass and grain.

Fertiliser

Forget paying $20 a bag for manure or compost. Four pet chickens will easily give you that in a week and they even spread it out on the lawn and garden for you while they peck at grass and search for bugs. My lawn is luscious and green and I have never had to buy lawn builder. Our pet chickens also love to hang about under our fruit trees, which keeps them well fed and piled with fruit.

Weed and Bug control

Pet chickens love to snack on bugs, so you will never have a problem with lawn grubs or ant mounds. They also keep insects like grasshoppers at bay, that would otherwise be feasting on your vegetable patch.

Reduce waste

Between pet chickens and composting, you can pretty much reuse all your food waste. Food waste is usually about 5% of total household waste, which is pretty big drop in the amount of waste that would otherwise end up in landfill.

How does this compare to other pets

Pet chickens will never be as cute and cuddly as dogs or cats. Looking at it practically though, I think there is a pretty clear case for chickens to be crowned as the best family pet.
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Anyone who has free range chickens, will know how frustrating it is when your hens don't lay where you want them to. If your wondering where all your eggs have disappeared to, it may be that your hens have hidden nesting boxes. If your hens are not using the nesting box you provided, you need to sort this out fast. The longer they use hidden nesting boxes, the harder it will be to change and the more eggs you will miss out on. To fix the problem, there are 3 key steps you need to take: I had 4 hens that were laying regularly in the nesting box provided, without any problems. However, one of the hens (Ruby) decided to start being broody and was sitting on the eggs in the nesting box all day.  I caught this early on, so locked Ruby and the other hens out of the nesting box to stop her getting comfortable. The trouble was, I forgot to open up the nesting box again, which meant it was closed for almost 2 days. I got home from work and saw there were no eggs in the nesting box, which is when I realised what I had done. I guessed all would go back to normal once I opened the nesting box again, but for the next couple of days I only got eggs from 1 or the 4 hens. I needed to figure out what was going on, so I did some investigating After some  searching I found a couple of well hidden nesting boxes. They found a dark, secure and cushy spot to lay eggs. I could see why the hens found it comfortable, but I was annoyed because the eggs were wet from some recent rain. I took the eggs out and put a bucket in the hidden nesting box to deter the chickens from laying there. The next morning I watched my chickens to see how they would react. One of the hens (Cluck) went to lay an egg and was pretty upset  when she realised her hidden nesting box had been blocked. Cluck roamed around the backyard for a while looking irritable, searching for a spot to lay an egg. After a lot of flapping and a lot of noise, Cluck finally went back to the nesting box inside the coop. From then on, things went back to normal and all the hens started to lay eggs where I wanted them to. This just shows how temperamental chickens can be - it only takes a small change to throw them off completely.

3 Step solution - get rid of hidden nesting boxes for good

Step 1. Investigate the problem

If you suspect your chickens have hidden nesting boxes, the first step is to find where they are.
  • Search the backyard: If your hens are confined to a backyard, do a scout around your backyard. Look for spots that would make an ideal nesting spot. Anywhere dark, hidden and soft. Under hedges, below other plants, or on flattened area of grass.
  • Spy on your hens: If there are no obvious signs of hidden nesting boxes, another approach is to spy on them. Chickens are very much creatures of habit, which means they generally lay eggs at the same time each day and in the same place. Keep and eye on them at the usual laying time and follow them to their secret nesting spot. Another obvious sign is to listen out for the loud clucking noises chickens make when laying an egg. If you can hear this coming from somewhere other the nesting box provided, it should make it easy to find hidden nesting boxes.

Step 2. Sabotage the competition

Once you have found the hidden nesting boxes, the next step is to block them off. Anything that disrupts them from using the spot should do the trick. I have found that an upturned bucket works well.

Step 3. Make your nesting box irresistible

Now that their hidden nesting boxes have been blocked off, the trick is to attract them back into your nesting boxes. To do this, you need to make your nesting box irresistible by providing them with the ideal spot to lay their eggs:
  • Free from physical barriers
  • Free from animals, rodents and insects
  • Secure
  • Soft and dry bedding
  • Away from the elements like rain and wind
  • Warm but not too hot.
Another good trick to encourage your hens into your nesting box, is to use a decoy. Put an egg (or a fake egg) in your nesting box to encourage your hens to lay there. You may have noticed that hens do everything together, follow each other around and copy each other. This means if one hen lays her eggs in a certain place, that encourages other hens to lay there.  Anything that is roughly the right size and has a bit of weight to it should do the trick. I have found golf balls to work well. An irresistible nesting box is the key to keeping your eggs where you want then. If your nesting boxes give your hens everything they need, they will not bother building hidden nesting boxes in random places around your yard.
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There is a common myth that eggs cause heart disease. It's simply not true and I am amazed that egg white omelettes are still around, based on the idea that egg yolks cause heart disease because they are high in cholesterol.

Where the idea came from

This craziness started with the low fat diet and the food pyramid. One of the biggest myths that came from the low fat diet is that food high in cholesterol such as eggs, causes blood cholesterol levels to rise which causes heart disease. Because of this advice, in 2012 Americans ate on average fewer eggs than almost any other time in the pas century. Wow, how could they screw things up so badly. The food pyramid is one of the reasons why our society is so fat and unhealthy today. The low cholesterol, low fat message has been so deeply ingrained that change is happening very slowly. Our whole food system has been built around the low fat diet with high sugar breakfast cereal and low fat yogurt still dominating our supermarket shelves. We need to move on from this, fast!

Why you can start eating egg yolks again

There has since been a stack of studies that show cholesterol in the food you eat (dietary cholesterol) has a minimal affect on your blood cholesterol levels. Thats because most of the cholesterol from food can't be absorbed by your body. Recently the US Government (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) has dropped its caution about eating food high in cholesterol. And when it comes to eggs, research has even found that eggs have a lipid that lowers cholesterol absorption even further.
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My tip for today is that Styrofoam and chickens don’t mix!

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