There’s more to hens than just eggs. (Courtesy BC SPCA)

There’s more to hens than just eggs. (Courtesy BC SPCA)

Ask about rooster return policy when getting chicks for the yard: BC SPCA

These eggs aren’t free, they cost in cash plus time and sweat

Hatching a scheme to gather “free” eggs with backyard chickens costs time and money and isn’t for everyone.

Abandoned chickens are on a slow decline since a spike in 2020, according to the BC SPCA.

In theory, it’s possible to save money having backyard hens, but gathering eggs shouldn’t be a main motivator, says the farm animal manager for the BC SPCA.

“If you’re looking for a companion animal that has a bonus of making eggs, hens are awesome,” Melissa Speirs said.

The spike in abandoned chickens, primarily the noisy males, hit a high in mid-2020. That’s when folks found themselves at home more and filling the days with new endeavours.

Each municipality has different rules – for exampl, Victoria allows for up to 15, Esquimalt seven, Oak Bay up to five or 10 based on lot size and Sidney is still working out if it’ll allow for them at all. Each has rules around enclosure types and other care.

In general, roosters are prohibited from urban coops.

READ ALSO: Pandemic spurs egg-citement for backyard chickens in Greater Victoria

When purchasing chicks, folks didn’t know or just didn’t ask about a rooster return policy. Hens and roosters look similar as chicks and even experienced breeders can mistake them. Some businesses will take a bird back if it turns out to be male. Other times, roosters are ditched or surrendered to agencies such as the SPCA, to adopt out.

“There are homes out there for roosters, it’s just a little more tricky than with hens,” Speirs said.

In Greater Victoria, the CRD Animal Shelter has on occasion dealt with abandoned broods. The latest batch of 35 hens discovered Feb. 6 was rehomed within hours.

Full brood drop-offs or surrenders are not common, but do occur, Speirs said. While it’s hard to know why, potentially people weren’t prepared for the work involved. Unlike cats and dogs, there aren’t a lot of resources when one is overwhelmed with poultry.

“Having backyard hens is a lot of work,” Speirs said.

There’s more to hens that just eggs. They create incredible fertilizer, can keep pests at bay and make good companions.

But they’re not easy – and it’s an investment.

Anyone looking into backyard birds should learn about how to house them. That means a coop and fencing to allow them a grassy or dirt area to stretch their wings. It means finding a veterinarian – again that deals in animals other than traditional pets – and appropriate feed.

“You can’t just give them scraps from the kitchen, they do need feed to make sure there’s a balanced diet,” Speirs said. “It’s not something I would jump into without doing some research.”

Hens can live for five to 11 years, with egg-laying diminishing significantly after the first year. Chickens may stop producing well before their natural end of life and like any older animal, may require special care.

BCSPCAWest Shore