Have you ever thought riasing chickens could make you more resilient? By keeping egg-laying chickens, you can gain independence from large, unethical and far-off egg farms. Backyard chickens keep their human owners integrated with the seasons, connected to nature and tapped into a tradition of animal domestication that is thousands of years old. For gardeners, chickens earn their keep by eating up unwanted garden pests, transforming them into nutrient rich droppings for plants. Given all their benefits, it’s no surprise that backyard chickens are flocking across the country.
Before adding chickens to liven your backyard, check out the specific rules that your city has in regards to keeping chickens. Many have outright bans on roosters, but some may also restrict hens. The easiest way to check for your city’s codes is to use the Urban Chickens Network wiki guide. If your city isn’t listed, the Urban Chickens Network also has a guide for searching for those codes. Complying with the regulations is a good idea, but do advocate for change if the codes are too restrictive.
The first step in keeping chickens is installing a chicken coop and run.
Chicken coops house and protect the chickens and their nests. They should provide a sheltered place to roost, nest boxes to lay eggs, accessibility for cleaning, and be sized appropriately for the flock- at least 4 ft²/chicken. The coop is usually connected to the run, which is where the chickens will spend their days scratching and pecking (chickens’ favorite past time!). Runs need to provide daytime protection from predators, be accessible for cleaning, have food and water available, and be sized appropriately for the flock- at least 10 square ft²/chicken.
Must haves for a healthy chicken home:
1) Loose material such as straw, wood chips, or shredded paper on the coop and run floor absorb droppings and make cleaning easier.
2) Coop and run must have proper ventilation.
3) Coop and run must be sturdy enough to protect your chickens from predators.
The coop and run can be configured for any size backyard, and range from very basic to very elaborate features.
There are three types of coops:
1) Fresh-air coops have wide openings and a barrier of wire mesh.
2) Enclosed coops have doors, windows and hatches, but are primarily made of solid materials like wood.
3) Chicken “tractors” are portable coops that you can move around your yard to allow chickens to scratch, eat insects, and fertilize the ground in different parts of your garden.
Check out the links below for coop designs, or design your own to meet your needs. If you embark on this adventure, you’ll soon find chickens are very rewarding pets, and a word of caution- many chicken owners become downright obsessed!
- Enjoy a great outdoor activity, and be more connected to seasons and life-cycles.
- Learn about caring for domestic animals that have been breed for thousands of years.
- Put your kitchen scraps to use: chickens love to eat many leftover and wasted foods
- Bond with neighbors and the community by sharing your eggs!
- Use droppings as fertilizer or amendment to compost, and your plants will also reap the benefits!
- Control garden pests and weeds.
- Eat healthy: you’ll never be able to buy eggs as fresh as the ones being laid in your backyard, and your eggs will contain 3 times more vitamin E, 2/3rds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids and 1/3-less cholesterol and 1/4-less saturated fat than conventionally raised eggs.