Just to skip ahead a bit, this spring vacation Naomi and I went to South Carolina for 10 days. Our usual chicken sitter, Martha, was unavailable so we engaged some of the neighborhood kids to take care of the girls. As low maintenance as chickens are you just can't leave them without some basic care when you live it town.
Their normal routine is to be let out of the coop every morning. This means sliding the door that opens from the coop into the enclosed run. The water must be changed and food provided. Since I use a 3 gallon metal feeder for food I only have to fill it every couple of weeks. But water is another thing and chickens require access to fresh water, especially in the warm weather. At night it's just the opposite - shut them in the coop to ensure that predators don't break into the run. I don't know that every coop has to be closed but I always shut mine. I am very aware that the local racoons and skunks would love a chicken dinner so it's just part of the girls' normal care that the coop be closed tightly. Once it gets dark chickens will normally go back to their roost which makes the bedtime routine very easy.
I live in a great neighborhood with lots of kids and I've had many offers of help in the past year. It was nice to be able to have some of the older kids take care of the chickens while we were gone. Between Darcy, Jake, and Lauren we worked out a schedule for morning and evening coverage and the kids did a great job. Darcy has had previous sitting experience with the girls so she was able to let them out in the yard for some evening foraging before dark which they really love.
I think gathering the eggs was one of the high points for the kids. It really is wonderful getting fresh eggs every day and nothing in the supermarket compares to them for taste. I'm amazed by the daily miracle of the egg and since each girl has a distinctive style I can pretty much tell who is laying when. We get up to 4 eggs a day..
It was a big relief knowing the chickens were well cared for - we had a great vacation and I think they did too.
So if you're considering getting chickens and concerned about leaving them don't hesitate to involve the local kids. It's great for them and great for the chickens. It's not too much work and there are always parents to help out in an emergency, like a loose chicken! My girls see me coming and pace inside the run, hoping to be let out.
I really think that having chickens has been very positive for this neighborhood. If nothing else, heads turn when the girls are out front or in the driveway, and we're now a regular stop for some of the local moms pushing carriages. I would love to see a few more families start raising hens! It's a very manageable activity and something everyone in the family can participate in. The chickens are no more work than any other pet once the coop is built. Coops can be as elaborate or simple as you want - built from recycled materials, expanded dog houses, more complex buildings, or purchased ready made. Here's a great design that requires no building skills - the Eglu is already assembled - http://www.omlet.us/products_services/products_services.php?view=Chickens.
Haven't conviced you yet? How about fresh eggs higher in omega-3 and lower in cholesterol than typical storebrand eggs? How about getting rid of bugs in your yard? How about a free source of garden compost (once it's aged)? And best of all, chicken TV...they are just plain fun to watch! I also know that I'm raising hens in a humane way and that they have a very good life. I'm also a lot closer to my food source, just like when I grow my own vegetables. I am surprised how much I've enjoyed having chickens in the past year - it's really had a huge influence on my life. Just ask Naomi! But I promised her no goats! (-: