An urban chicken movement is afoot in this country. More and more people are discovering the benefits of keeping a small flock in their residential backyard – including fresh, healthy eggs, fertilizer for their garden and just plain fun.
Thinking of joining them? Here are ten tips to help you bring chickens into your urban setting.
1. Is It Legal?
Before you invest your heart and money into your birds, make sure the city ordinances allow it. Call the local animal control office; they can tell you what city laws say about backyard chickens. Some cities limit the number of chickens you are allowed to have, while others forbid roosters. And some cities – such as Denver – insist you prove your bird enclosure is clean and pest free. Avoid trouble by following the rules.
2. Avoid the Big Boys
Roosters are noisy fellows. Our boys start crowing around five in the morning and continue through the day until dark. Unless you plan to butcher your “roos” before they are three months of age, get only female chicks. Leave the bad boys to country dwellers.
3. Find the Right Breed
If you have children and chickens in the same yard, then you want a bird that is non aggressive. The Ameraucana is a good choice for this. Plus, their eggs are fun, because they are blue or bluish green. Another gentle breed is the Australorp. If you want brown eggs, you could get the Plymouth Rock or the Brahma, although they might not be as friendly as the Ameraucana or the Australorp.
4. Recruit Your Neighbors
The folks next door might wake up and find a stray chicken in their yard some day, so hook them in early. Offer them free eggs from time to time. If you have six hens you will likely have eggs running out of your ears before long anyway. Why not use them in a friendly relations campaign?
5. Find a Community
Get to know other city folk who have backyard chickens and learn what they are doing. If you cannot find any urban chicken keepers, then locate someone in a nearby rural area. Stop by the farmer’s market and talk to someone selling eggs, or go online and see if there is an online support group in your area.
6. Build It Before They Come
Be sure you have a shelter for your chickens before you bring them home. Even if you plan to let them run free in your backyard, they will still need a safe haven to sleep and lay their eggs. Your shelter will need a roost (a long bar for the chickens to perch upon) and one nesting box for every two birds. Line the nest boxes with straw.
It doesn’t have to be traditional – a friend of mine had an old dog house converted into a coop. Just make sure it has plenty of airflow. Also, your chickens will need shade in the summer and heat in the winter. If the winters are cold in your area, you may need to set up a heat lamp in the coop. In milder climates, you can get by with draping a blanket over the coop.
7. Fence Them In
It is absolutely crucial to have a fenced area to keep your hens. Neighborhood dogs are a chicken’s worst enemy. Don’t just assume a friendly dog won’t harm your beloved birds. Killing chickens is a natural instinct in dogs. I have a sweet, gentle Labrador who killed seven chickens in 15 minutes one morning. Your chickens can also be attacked by hawks. The safest place for your fowl is in a coop with a chicken run covered by netting.
8. Feed Them Right
Get feed from feed stores or purchase it online. Chickens love table scraps, but don’t give your birds onion or garlic – this could flavor the eggs. Also potatoes, avocados and chocolate are toxic to your flock. Make sure your chickens have fresh, clean water that is cool.
9. Find a Sitter
Your birds will need to be tended to at least twice a day, so if you plan to be away from home longer than a day, find a chicken sitter.
10. What If It Isn’t Legal?
Then get proactive. You can change the ordinance in your town, but it will take persistence and an information campaign on your part to get it done. If you want to learn how to make chicken keeping legal in your city, click here
Sue Merriam is author of the website, Organic Gardening and Homesteading.