Real Gardens

This Week in Chickens

ChicksThe other day I was walking over to my neighbor’s house to feed their chickens and collect eggs while they were on vacation.  On the way, I heard the familiar sound of happy hens in another backyard.  I peered through the slats in the fence and saw a dozen young hens scratching about in their pen.  And I know at least a couple other people within a few blocks who keep chickens.

So I thought it was time to check up on the backyard chicken movement.  Here’s what’s going on around the country; let us know what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

Oh, and these adorable peeps are my own Eleanor and Dolley back in the day.  Ah, how quickly they grow up…

The Longmont, CO city council has just voted to revise its municipal code to allow backyard hens.  (They were considering a cat leash ordinance, too.  Good lord. No word on that.)

Toronto officials
are being persuaded that maybe backyard chickens should be permitted there, too, thanks in part to the efforts of the people behind the website Toronto Chickens. And more charming Toronto chicken stories here.

A blogger at the Dallas Morning News reports on the rising price of eggs and the benefits of backyard hens. I gotta say, backyard hens need to be about more than saving money on eggs.  For a while we kept track of our cost-per-egg, but it only takes one coop repair or vet bill to throw it out of whack. (and no, we’re not paying for hip replacements or anything that outlandish–a trip to the bird vet for us means, "We’re pretty sure this is about to be an ex-bird, but we’re not willing to wring its neck ourselves, so if you’ve got an easy fix, do it, otherwise it’s curtains for the chicken."  So far, the bird vet has always had a simple fix to what seemed like a fatal chicken problem.)

Our friends in Austin–and how we love our friends in Austin–are keeping backyard chickens, which is just fine by the city council.

They’re debating it in Greensboro, NC, too. And in Sonoma, CA.  And Medford, OR just wants people to use common sense.  Even San Francisco allows chickens in the city.

Most of the objections to backyard chickens I read in these articles are unfounded: 

"People don’t realize how much work it is to raise chickens."  Actually, it’s surprisingly easy.  Collect eggs, food and water, lock up the coop at night, clean it out once in a while.  Really not a big deal. A dog, properly cared for, requires more work for less reward.

"They attract mice."  This is, in theory, about the possibility of mice getting into the food.  But it’s as easy to seal up a bin of chicken feed as it is to seal up a bin of cat food or, for that matter, your garbage can.  Not an issue.

"They’re noisy."  Roosters are noisy, but you don’t need a rooster to get eggs.  Hens cackle when they lay an egg (wouldn’t you?) but the noise never takes place at night, as hens don’t lay at night, and is certainly no louder than, say, a lawn mower, a crying child, or a barking dog.

"They’ll smell bad."  Any animals kept in filth will smell bad.  Ever been in the home of a crazy cat lady?  Pine shavings and a compost pile to deposit manure are all you need to keep chickens clean.

If you’re considering chickens, check out Backyard Poultry magazine, which is filled with useful articles like this on finding chicken-sitters when you go on vacation.

Anybody out there doing chickens this year?

Posted by on July 28, 2008 at 5:44 am, in the category Real Gardens.
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16 responses to “This Week in Chickens”

  1. Janice says:

    Thanks for the helpful info and links! My husband wants to keep chickens and I’m starting to think it’s not such a crazy idea. Calgary is a conservative city and I don’t think there is a chicken-keeping movement here yet, but there may be soon…

  2. Here in Los Angeles, each city has their own rules about chickens. (My town allows up to 6 hens/no roosters). Usually, there are lots of rules about how many feet away from the neighbors the hens have to be and that if anyone complains about smell or noise, you have to get rid of them. But I am finding lots of chickens in LA, even in the little beach communities!

    There was one negative article in the LA Times a few months ago about how some immigrant families in the inner cities are raising all kinds of barnyard animals illegally and the roosters are becoming a problem. But people don’t have to have roosters!

    Oh! And have you ever seen Hobby Farm Home magazine? They sometimes feature chicken information and they have a “Popular Farming” issue that is all about chickens. It is like a mini-book/magazine with information on breed profiles, tips and advice for raising chickens. It would be a great resource for a beginner. Here is the link:
    http://hobbyfarms.com/popular-farming-series.aspx

    As for me, I am hoping to have my first backyard chickens this next spring. I can’t wait. In the meantime, I am reading everything I can on the subject!

  3. Oops! Here is the link to a summary of LA Times article. (I forgot to put it in my post)

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2008/05/residents-of-so.html

  4. Bonnie Story says:

    I just launched a Web site for a startup business located in the “Chicken Capital of the World”, Petaluma CA. It’s called Ranch Hag Hens and it’s absolutely on-topic for this post. Take a peek!

    http://www.ranchhaghens.com

    Dawn, the owner, is all about helping people connect with what they need to start their own backyard flock. She’s been raising chickens in her spare time for years. The business is only a few weeks old. She’s doing it full-time now. Already she has several major customers that come to her from many miles away on the far side of the SF Bay. Yay for chickens!!

  5. jen says:

    it’s on my to do list despite the fact that it’s illegal here. i’d get goats too but they’d be a little more difficult to hide.

  6. Meryl says:

    There was a recent dust up in my town (Lawrence, Kansas) to ban chickens, but thankfully it seems to have died down. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/may/30/chickens_and_city/#comments

  7. Ayse says:

    I’ve been surprised to hear people say chickens are a lot of work, too. The amount of work they take is less than caring for my cat. And they’re a great motivation to do more weeding, because they live with the compost pile and the gleeful chuckles they make when I bring in a new pile of weeds is very rewarding.

    I can’t say they’ll be cheaper than store-bought eggs, but they’re certainly more fun. (And store-bought eggs don’t chop and turn the compost for me.)

  8. ilona Sherratt says:

    How come big cities are allowing backyard chickens, whereas small, rural communities often prohibit the keeping of domestic livestock within non-agriculturally zoned areas?

  9. John says:

    I suffer the same fate as ‘ilona’ above. Raleigh, the state capital allows backyard chickens but bans most other barnyard livestock unless you occupy a certain amount of acreage. There are probably rules about no roosters and a limit on the number of hens but it is rarely enforced. All the suburbs around the big city forbid them! Even the red-neck town i live in (Garner).

    Raleigh’s chicken lovers are so organized they even throw annual events called “Hen-side the Beltline”, and “Tour de Coop” – run just like a garden tour only it focuses on elaborate chicken houses in fancy backyards.

    My neighbors don’t support me having chickens because they think it will give their large and loud dogs one more reason to make noise all day. All the barking already gets them into trouble.

  10. Kitt says:

    I’ve contemplated chickens, but for the fact that I’d have to find a chicken-sitter when I go out of town. I’m going to keep bees first.

    That said, I have neighbors with chickens (pictures here: http://kittbo.blogspot.com/2008/05/lousy-lay.html ) that these days are more pets than layers, so I know it’s not too hard.

    I do take issue with “A dog, properly cared for, requires more work for less reward.” If only because I find having a dog is extremely rewarding as a companion who requires that I get lots of exercise every day, acts as an introduction to the people we encounter and guards the homestead. Chickens offer different rewards, but not more.

    On more link. If you want to build a super-duper chicken house, check out the plans and progress at Casa Decrepit: http://www.casadecrepit.com/

  11. smokeyJoe says:

    i keep three girls here in portland,oregon. they are EZ to keep and give us lovely eggs. they get to go out in the yard for chaperoned scratching and really put a dent in the slugs-n-bugs.

  12. I have 3 hens that are just over a year old and four 3-week old chicks. Until their feathers are grown out more, the chicks are still inside the house, but the hens live in my city backyard. We’ve already made it through one very cold and snowy winter successfully, so summer is a piece of cake. The hens *love* the purslane and foxtail grass that springs up all over my yard, and in return I get yummy eggs. A more than fair exchange for me!

  13. Gen says:

    My chickens are very sweet, easy to keep, and a total delight. I really love them even more than I thought I would, they are just delightful pets and I sure couldn’t go back to those insipid store-bought eggs after having my tasty golden yolked ones.

    We lost one lady recently, leaving us with only one grown-up hen, so we got two baby chicks who we are raising to be friendly little things. They chirrup cheerfully all day and like attention and they LOVE lettuce, avocado, and worms – oh and rice! They have distinct personalities already, even so young.

    I hope our sweet Esther will like them when they are grown up, they are all Golden Sexlinks so I hope they will get along OK. We do have a big yard and they (the grown up ladies) free range all day, so I think they’ll be fine.

    We recently did a big coop overhaul after deciding we are going to keep on having chickens, and yeah, I can’t imagine how many eggs we’d need to get to pay for Fort Bawks. They’re pets, not a money-saving measure, in our house.

    My cats get on fine with them, too, once they’re grown up and can flap and make a fuss when the kitties startle them. Our kitten pounced towards one hen when he was a baby, and it took about one bawk and two flaps to send our poor discouraged little floof under the woodpile. Now they’ve settled in so well that the chicken and cats can stand just a foot away from each other and neither thinks anything of it.

  14. For those interested in building their own coops, I have developed a set of plans based on a popular European design that area easy to build and use off-the-shelf lumber from your local home improvement center with little use of tools. You can check them out at http://www.CatawbaCoops.com. – Dave

  15. Although we presently have an empty coop, we’ve had chickens off and on for 10 years. Chicken manure (aged of course) is some of the best fertilizer ever. And, chickens are wonderful companions.~~Dee

  16. Meredith Chilson says:

    I used to have chickens, and now this year I have them again. Someone just asked me “what’s the purpose?”, and I told her that they please me…they’re happy to see me…and very soon I should be having eggs! My neighbors are already asking to be on my egg route!

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