KP Gardens

Surviving and Thriving in the Cult of the Chicken Girl


When I was 12 years old, I joined a cult. Some people know it as 4-H, which is not generally considered a cult, but based on how I recruited others into it, you could have been fooled. Looking back now, I’ve come to realize that my dedication was never really to the 4-H program as much as it was to my project: chickens.

I was the “chicken girl,” which is a bold thing to be inside the precarious institution of middle school. Heaven forbid I caught wind that one of my classmates had chickens, was thinking about getting chickens, or ever saw a chicken, because that was always my “in” to start pitching how great 4-H was and how amazing it is to raise and show chickens. And when I say “show,” I mean “show off” at places like the state and county fairs. Most of those animals you see are there because of 4-H kids, so cluck at me all you want, mean girl whose name I don’t remember (but I do and won’t say); your mockery cannot penetrate my shield of blue ribbons.

But I digress.

Anyway, it’s funny how my passion for recruiting people into raising chickens has morphed into a passion for getting people into gardening, which always seems to have a way of turning back into a pitch for chickens.

It’s usually not a hard sell, as most people who are interested in gardening are also chicken-curious, and vice versa. The desire for one or the other tends to come from a place of wanting more control over where our food is coming from. But while gardening can take a few years to get good at, chickens, in my opinion, are a much faster track to building confidence in self-sufficiency.

Ironically, if you proclaim to have a black thumb but desperately want to grow something, I say scrap the seeds and pick up some chicks. That doesn’t seem like sound advice for people who say, “I kill everything I touch,” but I think with a living, breathing creature walking around, the stakes are a little higher and thus demand more engagement. It also helps that there are some immediate perks to having a small flock versus having a small garden.

Granted, if you start with chicks, the eggs don’t arrive until hens are about 5 months old, but until then, the benefits start stacking up pretty fast. One is that the chickens take up less space. You only need 5 square feet per bird, as opposed to 16-plus square feet for a decent harvest of anything vegetable-related. Take that same 16-square-foot garden bed and with three chickens that produce one egg per day, that’s 21 per week! At some point, eggs become like zucchini in that they never seem to stop coming. The only difference is that your friends won’t stop answering your S.O.S. texts begging them to take some off your hands.

Chickens are also a bit more predictable with their general care requirements. Take water, for example. A hen only needs around 1 pint a day, or 2 during the summer. With a large water fountain and small flock, you may only need to fill it once a week. Gardens, however, can vary greatly in their water needs. Depending on the weather and what is planted in any given bed, it can be hard to keep track of.

Buying food for chickens is typically the priciest aspect of keeping them. But that cost can be offset — drum roll — by having a garden. All those zucchinis your friends don’t want? Toss them to the chickens. Lettuce that’s bolting? Toss it to the chickens. Pile of weeds? Boom! Chickens. They are the best little composters. And it all comes full circle when you can take their soiled bedding, let it age for six months, and then use it in the garden.

If you and your kids (between ages 5 and 19) are already working chickens into every conversation, 4-H might be the appropriate next step. As of now, the nearest 4-H groups with a poultry project are in Orting, Silverdale, and Bremerton. However, if something closer to home would be more appealing, you can always start one here on the KP. How can be found on the Washington State University extension website at