Connie Johns of Black Hawk acknowledges that raising chickens is a lot of work, and somewhat expensive, and that the birds can be noisy and messy.
But for Johns, nothing beats the fresh eggs they lay and the enjoyment she and her children get from keeping the birds.
Johns has about 60 chickens on her rural property near Black Hawk, and she admits the birds do have their fair share of issues that make her wonder if it's a good idea to allow them to be raised within the limits of a municipality like Rapid City. Residents and the Rapid City Council are debating whether the city should begin allowing laying hens to be kept within city limits, though no formal ordinance has been proposed.
Johns said her rural 3-acre spread is a great place to raise chickens, but she worries if the noise and odors will fly in an urban area. Still, she advocates for keeping chickens if it is legal.
“I don’t have a bug or a grasshopper on my property, and we used to have a snake problem, but they will kill snakes,” Johns said. “It’s a good hobby to have for the kids. They love them, and they go out and gather the eggs.”
At about $2 a dozen, Johns said she doesn’t make a lot of money selling the two dozen eggs her chickens lay every day. The overhead expenses for things like feed and supplements usually aren't covered by the money the eggs bring in, she said.
“They’re not that cheap,” Johns said. “The sack of feed is about $15, and with 60 chickens, we go through a bag about every three to four days.”
Runnings, a farm supply store in Rapid City, sells an average of 10,000 to 15,000 chicks every year, said spokesman Lowell Heinrich.
“People want fresh eggs and I don’t blame them,” Heinrich said. "When you go to the grocery store, how old are those eggs?”
Heinrich said it’s relatively easy to get started with chickens. Runnings provides beginners looking to start raising chickens with a “chick check” list, which gives a rundown of everything needed to successfully start raising chickens, Lowell said.
Runnings' “chick check” includes a feeder, water tub, a coop, feed, wood shavings, a head lamp, heat bulb and supplement.
The amount of money you put into your chickens depends on how many chickens you want and personal preferences on quality of equipment, Heinrich said. The average number of chickens people buy is about five to 10, he said.
A typical chick costs around $2 to $3 and can reach up to $7 for some exotic breeds, Heinrich said. Chickens are fun to have around if they are managed right, he said.
“It’s like any animal, if you don’t take care of it and confine it to a restricted area, they won’t be clean,” Heinrich said. “But if you do, it’s like they’re not even there.”
Jeannine Bockwoldt, president of the Black Hills Poultry Society, said she raises a couple hundred chickens on her property east of Ellsworth Air Force Base. Bockwoldt said raising a few chickens in town should be a piece of cake.
As long as the chickens are in an enclosed area and not allowed to wander, the city shouldn’t have many problems, she said. One proposal is to allow six chickens per city property.
“As long as they're talking that small number, it’s not going to be an issue,” Bockwoldt said. “You’d have to be in someone’s back yard to know about them.”
Bockwoldt said hens aren’t that noisy compared to a barking dog. They may do some clucking when they lay an egg, but they don’t stand for hours on end making noise, she said.
Like all animals, chickens create waste, Bockwoldt said. With just a few chickens, it’ll take some time before the dung starts to build up, she said. It won’t take much work to clean the coop and people can recycle it, she said.
“They are going to poop way less than a dog, and the benefit of that is that their droppings are going to be very good for gardening,” Bockwoldt said. “It’s one of the best fertilizers for gardens.”
Making sure the chicken’s enclosure is secure will keep out natural predators, and reduce a lot of problems, Bockwoldt said.
Johns said she has lost numerous chickens to foxes, skunks and neighborhood dogs that roam onto her property. She said people with chickens do need to know the common predators in the area and plan accordingly.
“A fox will come in and take one and leave, where a dog will come in and wipe them all out because it’s fun,” Johns said.
In a lot of instances, people will have to replace chickens because of natural causes, Johns said. They die fairly easily because of heart issues, she said.
Despite the noise, expense and mess, Johns said she really enjoys her chickens. Everything starts out hard and with time it becomes easier, she said. As long as people understand exactly what they’re getting into, it’s enjoyable.
“We started it and we grew to love it,” Johns said.
Johns said her family doesn’t eat eggs all the time, but they love spending time with the chickens and interacting with people who want eggs. Fresh eggs are in high demand with her neighbors and co-workers at Black Hawk Elementary School, she said.
“I have people almost fighting for the eggs. They say, ‘No, I get the dozen this week,’” Johns said. “I only have a certain amount.”