METHUEN, Mass. — Watching them waddling around their coop and calling out to their friends is a reminder that just like any animal, chickens need the right environments to thrive.
"These birds have been tested by our Department of Agriculture for avian influenza as well as a strain of salmonella," said Rachel Diersen, the barn manager at MSPCA at Nevins Farm.
The current bird flu situation has affected almost 60,000 poultry in the U.S. and it's made some people question if owning their own chickens is the answer to their current grocery store sticker shock.
Mike Keiley, director of adoption Centers and Programs for MSPCA-Angell in Methuen, Massachusetts, points to money spent on feed, housing and equipment.
"This idea that maybe it's better to raise our own and that'll reduce cost, I think fundamentally as a person who has a backyard flock and also works at Nevins farm, I don't think there is much cost savings," Keiley said. "So when you put all those costs together, I don't think you're really saving on eggs. However, the real joy of having a backyard flock for us is that they are really great animals."
The number of eggs a hen produces isn't easy to plan for.
"I think the challenging part that is often unknown about hens is that they aren't going to produce eggs at the same level every single year as they age," Keiley said.
Add seasons into the mix and their production becomes even more unpredictable.
"In the wintertime, their egg production actually goes down as well in the colder weather, so having a backyard flock with seven hens of my own, I have to go out and buy eggs right now because I like to call my flock the winter freeloaders," Keiley said.
The reality is caring for chickens requires more work than most realize.
"Unfortunately, what comes along with that is people who are unprepared for some of the common issues you have with backyard flocks," Keiley said. "Safety-related issues, health-related issues, neighbor issues and sometimes noise issues that attract a lot of attention."
Diersen says the process of owning a backyard flock is a lot different than caring for a barn full of hens.
"You don't actually need too many hens to be successful with a backyard flock. I would say at least four is going to be a good number. They need friends so you do need multiple. They are used to being in a flock. They don't like to be by themselves," Diersen said.
While roosters aren't necessary for egg production, they do help with egg success. Hens don't need a rooster to produce eggs, but roosters protect them from outside predators.
"If they see something dangerous, they are going to warn the rest of the flock and then will even fight off a predator," Diersen said.