They get diseases with odd names, like pasty butt and the fowl plague. Rats and raccoons appear out of nowhere. Hens suddenly stop laying eggs or never produce them at all. Crowing roosters disturb neighbors.
The problems get worse. Unwanted urban chickens are showing up at local animal shelters. Even in the best of circumstances, chickens die at alarming rates.
“At first I named them but now I’ve stopped because it’s just too hard,” said Sharon Lane, who started with eight chickens in a coop fashioned from plywood and chicken wire in the front yard of her north Berkeley home. She’s down to three.
Ms. Lane, who is close friends with the restaurateur Alice Waters, wanted exceptional eggs, plain and simple. But her little flock has been plagued with mysterious diseases.
She has not taken them to the vet because of the high cost, but she goes to workshops and searches out cures on the Internet. She has even put garlic down their throats in hopes that the antibacterial qualities of the cloves might help.
“I’m discouraged but I’m determined to figure this out,” Ms. Lane said. “I still get more than I give.”
The last line I quoted might be the most important one in the story: Raising chickens, or any other kind of livestock, is often discouraging. But there is a wonderful reward that comes from the very struggle to figure out what the problems are and in trying different solutions. And along the way, you learn that --- despite pouring your heart out and doing everything you can imagine doing --- animals die. But you keep going. You learn. You do things differently the next time.
And you know what? Whether your next batch of chickens dies or thrives...you get more than you give. Because you've learned, and you've grown, and no one can take those experiences away from you.
And, yes, you will eventually get some really really good eggs. Just keep at it and never give up.