There was a time in the not too distant past when most homes had chickens. Many even had a milking cow or goat, a garden, and the occasional bee hive or two. As urban density increased, subdivisions popped up on the fringes of cities, and supermarkets took the place of home gardens, many left behind such direct routes to their food, allowing the middleman to take care of supplying their food needs.
Well, I don’t need to tell you the degree to which that balance has begun to shift (a quick look at the many, many comments on Grace’s giveaway contest for my books bears witness to the homesteading fervor shared by D*S readers alone!). Over the past few years (and for a small number, the past few decades), growing awareness has begun to be directed at where food comes from and the manner in which it is produced. Additionally, people have become interested in exercising greater control over the way that foods are processed (i.e. limiting the inclusion of preservatives, salt, sugar, and artificial agents). Finally, there is the issue of cost. Anything that you can do yourself, from re-upholstering a chair to growing a radish, often saves you money in the final analysis (although it does incur a greater expenditure of personal physical energy in the process!).
And so, along with starting gardens everywhere from windowsills to community garden plots, trying out making mozzarella at home, baking up fresh batches of sourdough, and canning batches of puckery pickles and just-picked jams, more and more individuals are bringing hens home to roost, quite literally. While the Chinese zodiac may technically call 2010 the year of the tiger, I think it might more fittingly be referred to as the “year of the hen.” From Brooklyn to Burbank and at all points in between, urbanites, suburbanites, and rurally situated folks are welcoming chickens back into their homes and their lives.
Before you make the decision to keep a flock of feathered friends yourself, there are a few considerations you’ll want to address before you put in an order for chicks or start building a hen house. To begin, check that chicken-keeping is legal in your area. This can be determined by a quick call to your local animal control office. They’ll let you know the rules on keeping chickens where you live (which, by the way, can vary widely from one region to the next, so what holds true in one town might not be consistent for the town next door).
CLICK HERE for the rest of Ashley’s post and tips for keeping chickens after the jump!
Secondly, resign yourself to the fact that, unless you live outside of city limits absent zoning restrictions, roosters are verboten. While they certainly are grand and gorgeous lotharios, they just aren’t welcome in urban or suburban settings. Keep this in mind when selecting your birds. Also, mention your plans to your neighbors in advance. Offering to ply them with eggs is always handy, as is assuring them that you fully intend to stay on top of your coop’s cleanliness (there’s nothing like the stench of chicken poo to really get the neighbors riled up!).
It might also be worthwhile to go ahead and give some thought to who might be willing to take care of your birds when you are away on vacation, or out late at night for a soiree or late-show at the theater. Chickens need care and attention just like any other domesticated animal and it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll find someone offering “chicken-sitting” services in your area. Make sure you’ve got a neighbor, or family member, or fellow chicken aficionado willing to steward your flock in your absence. Fortunately, we’ve got neighbors and friends alike willing to lock “The Ladies” up when a dinner party keeps us from getting home at sunset or a family excursion to Florida or jaunt to San Francisco takes us away for a week or two (a wide range of predators find your chickens just as alluring as you do, but for very different reasons; protect them accordingly). Find your ace in the hole and secure it in advance.
Now, once you’ve cleared those hurdles, you can get busy with housing and feeding needs. As for housing, bear in mind that intensively confined birds (meaning those lacking access to roaming space) will need at least 4 sq. feet per bird in the henhouse (which will need nesting boxes for laying eggs as well as roosting poles for the birds to sleep on at night). Those with outdoor areas should provide 2 sq. ft. per bird in the hen house along with 4 sq. ft. in the run (the outdoor area). These figures are, as with most things in life, variable, based on bird size, degree to which they are kept confined, and the number of birds you are keeping. If you plan to build a coop yourself versus purchasing one (and there are many, many truly gorgeous models available for purchase), make sure its size doesn’t merit the need for a building permit (most small coops won’t need one). Those as equally enthusiastic about chickens as they are about tricked out design will appreciate the offerings of UK-based company Omlet .
Chickens need adequate ventilation in their housing set-ups, so be certain that your coop has good air flow. The housing should also offer your flock a safe place from moisture and a dark nesting box filled with bedding material (such as straw, shredded newspaper, or wood chips). One nesting box for every four birds is more than adequate. Your birds will need to be fed a ration according to the needs of their age. Ask your feed supply store, or, lacking one, read online poultry supplier’s offerings and make your selection accordingly. The flock will also need a constant supply of water. Galvanized metal or plastic chicken waterers are perfect (chicks have their own waterers suited to the needs of tiny beaks) for this purpose; both can freeze, however, in colder months, which can in turn affect a hen’s ability to produce eggs (quite sensible, given that eggs have an inherently watery composition). Warmers can be used, if your coop can be reached by an extension cord or is wired for electricity, or you can make a point of changing out the water during the day, such as I do, if you are often home during daytime hours.
You’ve checked regulations, chatted up your neighbors, found a go-to “chicken tender” for times you’ll be away, created housing, and secured food and water equipment and supplies. Now it’s time to get your birds! If you live in an area where chicks can be purchased from farms, I’d encourage you to pursue that purchasing route. That way, you’ll know what your birds have eaten and how they’ve been handled before coming home with you. Absent a local supplier, go online. A quick internet search will turn out numerous suppliers. There are also enormously assistive websites such as “My Pet Chicken” to connect you with suppliers, as well as other chicken fiends to pose questions to. A diverse selection of periodicals can be found nowadays for the chicken novice and seasoned chicken tender alike (personal favorites include Backyard Poultry and Hobby Farms ). I’d also highly recommend the purchase, or library rental, of books on the subject. They’ll provide indispensable advice and troubleshooting tips to get you moving in the right direction.
Keeping chickens already? Got chicken fever? I’d leave to hear about your adventures in the realm of all things chicken!