Urban or small acreage farming has become a huge rage lately thanks to the fact that families want organically grown and pesticide free foods at their disposal. Raising chickens has become one aspect of this mini farming craze that has really taken off because it is so easy to do and can provide a family with fresh eggs and meat.
Before you start your chicken endeavor, make sure to check with your local ordinance to ensure that keeping chickens is acceptable on your property. Most principalities do allow for chickens, even in urban backyard settings, as long as one does not keep a rooster (the crowing can be unbearable for neighbors)—and luckily, hens are perfectly happy to produce eggs without a cockerel (you just won’t have chicks).
Chickens do not need a fancy coop by any means, and an old shed or any covered shelter will certainly do as long as they are able to get out of the elements. The rule of thumb is that you need 4 square feet of space per chicken; so if you want to keep 4 chickens, you will need at least 16 square feet of space to house them. If you are looking for chicken coop plans, there are many available on the internet for free.
It is always best to have an outdoor run that is attached to the coop that gives your chickens space to forage while protecting them from predators such as hawks, raccoons, fox, dogs, cats and any other local critters you might have running around looking to make a snack of your feathery pets. A run can be constructed of 2×4 pieces of lumber, and then wrapped in ½” hardware cloth to keep them in. Do not use traditional chicken wire, as the holes are too large, and easily allow for a predator to stick a paw through and grab a chicken. It is also very easy for predator to chew through flimsy chicken wire as well, so do yourself a favor and avoid it to construct a coop or run.
You could also choose to allow your chickens to free range in your yard on their own to scavenge for the bulk of their food looking for bugs, grass and other goodies. This process certainly makes for the tastiest eggs and the least amount of work on your part, but it does come with some risks. For one, your chickens will be exposed to predators, so be sure you are present whenever you allow your chickens to roam freely. Secondly, chickens are indiscriminate eaters and won’t hesitate to eat your favorite flowers or dig through your veggie patch if allowed to. So, be sure to fence off plants that you don’t want your flock snacking on.
Be sure to always have plenty of water available for your chickens to drink, and if not allowed to range for snacks, they will need good quality chicken food always accessible. If your chickens are under 20 weeks of age and not laying eggs, they will need to eat chick feed. Once they reach 20 weeks of age and are on the verge of laying, simply switch to layer feed. Additionally, bring your flock all sorts of kitchen snacks, such as any vegetable peelings (except for raw potato peels, as they are poisonous!), fruit peels, and most leftovers that do not have any cooking spices such as pasta, just expired yogurt, cheese, etc. They love sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and nuts too! If you’re considering throwing it in the trash or composting it, it might be right for your chickens!
You can purchase your chickens locally by checking Craig’s List or your neighborhood seed and feed shop. You can also get day old chicks via mail order from companies such as the Murray McMurray Hatchery or MyPetChicken.com. There are endless varieties to select from depending on if you want brown eggs, white eggs (despite popular belief that brown eggs have more nutrients—there is no truth to this myth!), meat chickens or a hybrid that is good for both egg production and eating.
Take note that chickens have personalities just like people, and some are super friendly while others can be standoffish. If you’re looking for a chicken that tames easily and lays well, consider breeds such as Speckled Sussex, Orpington, Barred Plymouth Rock and Easter Eggers for starters. The more you handle them as babies, the tamer they become.
Join sites such as BackyardChickens.com for a wealth of info on how to care for your flock, feeding and coop design ideas. Also, don’t forget that the compost created from chicken poop is fantastic for your vegetable and flower garden as well. [Do not spread fresh chicken manure in your garden, however, it has to compost first or it will burn your plants!]
Think of the endless fun your kids will have raising these feathery pets while collecting fresh eggs every day! Feeding your chickens healthy foods will yield gloriously delicious eggs that no supermarket version can compete with, plus you’ll know that they are hormone free and fresh! Wait until you see the difference between a deep orangey-yellow egg yolks that come from your hens versus the pale looking ones you buy. Additionally, eggs that come from your hens will be lower in cholesterol and richer in vitamins as well. What are you waiting for? Get to chicken farming!