Raising City Hens

It’s a lot easier than it looks.

This is our little “How To” page on chickening, but please keep in mind that we are not experts and are very new to the chicken scene. This page will soon give you a link to our helpful e-book. We’re hoping to help guide and fuel a love for these animals that have given us so much in such a short time. Chickening has literally become a nationwide movement. The book will explain in very simple language what you need to get started, what has worked with our small flock, our experiences, and personal tips. It will be condensed and simplified so that you get the most important and basic information to get started. We’ve added links below for more detailed information and facts.

If you are new to chicken keeping and are just considering a small flock, we’re thrilled! For us, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences. We’re glad we took the leap. The world of chickens is richly rewarding, easy, and feels more natural than anyone can imagine. Less than a century ago it was normal for people to have backyard chickens. They would supply themselves and their neighbors with eggs and meat, and no one complained about it. It was the most natural thing to know where your food comes from. To experience that with animals is simply harmonious.

First, make certain your city allows chickens. If they do, find out how many and exactly how many feet they should be from the neighbor’s property. If they don’t, many people have applied for a permit with their city… this is the first step people have to take in order for any changes to come about. More and more cities are allowing urban chickens because they are not a nuisance, don’t make noise (as long as you only have hens). Most dogs are far more disruptive to neighborhoods than chickens. Click here to see a fairly thorough list of chicken laws across the country. If your city isn’t listed, call city hall.

As you’re playing around with the idea of keeping a flock of your own, here is our list of Top 11 Benefits that may sway you chickenward:

1) Eggs from well fed, happy and loved backyard chickens are significantly healthier. Factory hens never touch their feet to the soil, never peck around in the grass, and never get to eat bugs. They’re fed an unnatural diet, never socialize, and are given no love. They suffer greatly. When you eat them , you’re not only consuming what they’ve eaten but the suffering, too. Most importantly you’re supporting an inhumane industry. Even if store eggs are marked “Cage Free” or “Free Range” keep in mind they still have less nutrition, and only have to be given a minimal amount of space. They’re not necessarily happy birds. Nutritionally speaking, backyard eggs have 25% more Vitamin E, a third more Vitamin A, and a whopping 75% more Beta Carotene. They also have significantly more Omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed eggs. When we eat our backyard eggs in Winter, we don’t have that dreary headed feeling that often accompanies less sunlight. Daniel says “That’s why chicken yolks look like the sun!”

2) Local source of protein. It’s easy to give  yourself fruits and veggies from the backyard, but it’s harder to find protein rich sources. Eggs are valuable in that regard. We don’t consume meat, but some people eat their chickens if slaughter is legal in their city.

3) Backyard eggs taste amazing. They have a much richer flavor due to the fact that no flavor is lost in transit. Store eggs can be days, even weeks old. As eggs age, air seeps into the porous shell, degrading nutrition, taste and consistency. Backyard eggs have firmer whites, brighter yolks (that’s the Beta Carotene), and the taste is more robust and delicious. Once you taste them, you’ll never want to go back to store eggs.

4) Chicken droppings are the perfect fertilizer. Anywhere your chickens graze, you’ll notice the ground greening up. Their waste is rich, and makes perfect compost. Many gardeners keep chickens for the sole purpose of fertilizing their gardens every year.

5) Excellent insect control. Chickens will eat up every insect around your home, and have even been known to gobble up mice. They’re excellent pest control, so we keep ours close to the house. They keep the ants, slugs, and beetles down better than any insecticide.

6) They aerate the soil. Chickens naturally loosen the soil by foraging around, and accelerate the decomposition process. It’s good to let chickens loose in your vegetable beds prior to planting, just to loosen up the soil with their beaks and talons. In the Fall, when crops are finished, they’re great at stirring up old roots and vegetation, helping you put your beds to sleep for the Winter. Again, they’re the perfect gardener’s companion.

7) They’re a great conversation piece. Whenever we have people over, they always end up talking about and looking at the chickens. It gives you something fun and interesting to discuss. I’ve had new people come over and exclaim with fascination, “Oh, wonderful, you have chickens!” People seem to love it, and several of them have said they’ve always wanted a little flock of their own. Something about chickens just warms people’s hearts, and we think it’s a primal urge to get back to nature.

8) Chickens are a blast. They are quite seriously one of the most fun and funny animals you can keep. We can watch our chickens for hours, and they are a constant source of laughter. That’s why it’s good to make sure you place your coop in a location that is visible from somewhere in the house. Their presence has brought our family closer together. They’re an excellent animal for children because they are so docile, and teach about animal care and the wonderful inter-relationship of loving, sheltering, feeding, eggs, and the reward of delicious meals.

9) Chickens are beautiful. Of course, this is subjective, but beauty is a necessity to us. We think they’re gorgeous, from comb to talon. They are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. There are literally hundreds of breeds of chickens. They are rich and varied in color, pattern, temperament, and each individual hen has her own unique personality, just like people. They’re very soft to hold, and if raised as chicks they can be friendly enough to sit in your lap as adults. They have their own language, and have several different squawks and clucks that have very distinct meanings. They’re much smarter than they are given credit for, and have been proven to have a sense of object permanence. Being birds, they are generally peaceful and docile creatures who are guided by an ancient, instinctive wisdom; very in tune with the cycles of nature.

10) Chickens are easy. Generally speaking, they are a simple animal to care for. Far simpler than a dog or cat because you can feed them once a week (fill up a large feeder that lasts) and water them every so often when their water is low. The straw in their coop can be cleaned out weekly and thrown into your compost pile. You can clean it out less if you do the thick straw method, and stir it around every couple of days. I clean my coop every couple of weeks for three hens, and it only takes me about 15 minutes. Oh, and they’re not “dirty animals” as some city people might think. From time to time they step in poo, and give themselves a dirt bath to keep the mites away, but they don’t smell bad unless you neglect their living quarters. As far as pets go, they’re extremely easy animals.

11) Be a part of the crazy local food movement! We’re not hippies, and are not into social movements, but there really is something happening. We got into chickens because we love eggs, and we love animals, so it seemed like a logical thing to do. The reality is that nothing impacts our corporate food industry more than people who take charge of what they eat and where it comes from. By feeding your own existence you are benefiting yourself, your family, the environment, and the world.

Video:

Here is a little clip showing a great coop design (for do-it-yourselfers), but I’m sharing this because it shows you the variation in eggs from different breeds. Most people don’t know that the color of the chicken has a lot to do with what color of eggs they lay. Their size also plays a role in how large their eggs are. Keep this in mind when choosing breeds. Bantams are wonderful little hens, but their eggs are small, while the larger more traditional breeds will give you more standard and large eggs.

Helpful Links:

HOW TOO PAY TO MUCH for EGGS This is a short but sweet article abut the Eglu craze with plastic chicken coops that house very small flocks. We decided against these right away due to their price tag, but mainly because they are plastic (not eco-friendly), not very attractive, and will not last as long as a solid, wood coop.

MY PET CHICKEN This is where you can purchase a very small flock of chicks (minimum of only three at a time), and you can pick and choose which breeds you want. Be sure to consider your climate when selecting breeds. This site also has a lot of valuable info and supplies.

URBAN CHICKENS NETWORK BLOG News stories, supply links, and valuable info

2 responses to “Raising City Hens

  1. What does one of those feeders that lasts a week look like? I live in a country far far away, so I can’t just order one from a US source and there isn’t likely to be anything like it here, but with a description, I could theoretically make one. The biggest barrier to our family raising urban chickens is the fear that we would never be able to go on vacation again. So, this would be key. Many thanks!

    • We travel, too, so I understand your concerns. The feeder we use hangs from underneath the coop and resembles a galvanized steel bucket that has an attached steel tray. The food automatically replenishes itself through the opening where the tray meets the bucket (much like smaller bird feeders). It holds a lot of food, and our waterer does the same. We could conceivably go out of town for about 12 days and all would be well. Another option is to ask friends or neighbors to check on your hens from time to time. It doesn’t have to be daily. Also, the eggs last up to 12 days when not refrigerated, which is good to know. Hens will often take up to 12 days to brood and sit on eggs, so they keep at least that long.
      Here is a link to the type of feeder we use: http://www.groworganic.com/chicken-feeder-galvanized-12lb.html
      here is a do-it-yourself chickn waterer video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXW-4dHtPPs
      and a do-it-yourself feeder: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJXqI59HlH8
      This was a very good question!

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