Raising Backyard Chickens

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Photo by Lindsay Holmwood

At my house, we have a pet problem. Every few months, my roommates and I experience the unshakable temptation to add another critter to our wild urban homestead. It started quite innocently—with just a couple dogs and a couple cats (amateur level stuff)—and grew radically from there. Now we have two ducks, two tanks of fish, and—most recently—four baby chickens.

Seeing as we live in the middle of the city, we’ve had to keep our little farm pretty contained. We have less than half an acre of land, hardly any grass, and we’re within a stone’s throw from a major urban road. Thus, we’ve made some special arrangements: the ducks take up about half of our backyard; on one side, they’re kept in by a barrier made out of wire and bamboo shoots; on the other side, they’re protected by a large privacy fence that was built long before we moved in. We’ve also built them a makeshift “pond” (plastic Walmart kiddie pool) and coop made out of junk wood and hay bales. They don’t seem to mind—they’re quite happy in their zany abode, laying eggs and quacking around all the live long day. Generally, they don’t give us any trouble, though they occasionally enjoy chasing after the dogs.

Chickens may prove to be more of a challenge, especially since there’s four of them. On the plus side, we’ve heard they’re much quieter than ducks and they lay more eggs, too. But we’re not quite sure how well they’ll adjust to city living. Our neighbors up the street keep chickens, so we know that it is indeed possible but—as always—we’re quick to do our research.

Raising Backyard Chickens: A Beginners Guide

Raising chickens in urban environments has become an increasingly popular practice. Most families chose to keep chickens because of their egg production. Fresh eggs are, fair and square, far superior to grocery store produce. Additionally, raising chickens is fairly cheap. Chicken coops are generally easy to construct, chicken feed is inexpensive, and chickens themselves don’t seem to be too picky about their environment. In some ways, they are the perfect urban pet!

Getting Started

To raise chickens, you need some kind of covered shelter (the aforementioned coop made out of junk wood and hay bales would suffice) and a steady supply of fresh water and food. Instructions for building DIY coops are easy to find online. Food is even easier—chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat grains, fruit, vegetables, and simple protein like insects. You can buy generic chicken feed from a farm supply store, although many people supplement their chickens’ diets with other kind of organic material, like chopped veggies, crickets, or fruit scraps.

Before you begin constructing a shelter and figuring out feed, you’ll want to make a firm decision about the kind of chicken you want. There are hundreds of different varieties, and some are better suited for urban living than others. Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, and Ameraucana chickens are all common backyard breeds due to their larger than average size and excellent egg production. For extra tiny spaces, a smaller breed (such as a Bantham) might work best.

Chicken Maintenance

Chickens are pretty low maintenance, but they still require regular care. Young chicks must be looked after carefully and kept inside under a heat lamp until they are big enough to move outside. Some chicken breeds may require special care even when they reach adulthood, so be sure to do your research.

The hardest (or most frustrating) part of chicken maintenance is probably the amount of waste they produce. Chicken coops get disgusting fast, and, without regular cleanings, they can become a hotspot for rats and other kinds of pests. Chicken bedding should be replaced weekly. Bedding made of straw and pine does a good job of absorbing chicken manure, and stirring it every few days helps reduce odor. Additionally, adding diatomaceous earth to your coop can further curb that awful “chicken poop” smell.

It’s important to remember that keeping farm animals is a dirty job. If you want a perfectly clean, sterile yard, you probably shouldn’t raise chickens. But, for those that do, the payoff is usually far worth the effort it takes to keep them. So, as my roommates and I often say, why not? Urban farming might just be your next big adventure

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