Backyard Chicken Keeping 101

I thought it was just a Portland thing, you know one of Portlandia’s running jokes, but I was wrong. Apparently, chicken keeping isn’t just for farmers anymore, urbanites in cities all across the U.S. are setting up coops right in their backyards. With 166 cities in America allowing backyard chickens, it is a movement that is sweeping the nation and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Since the recession in 2008, Americans are showing high interest in growing their own food, not only is it cost-effective, but it fulfills the ever-increasing ‘desire for fresher, local, wholesome and safe food,’ as Dennis Mudge, University of Florida’s agriculture extension agent, points out. He states, ‘Everything is moving toward raising your own food and this is just a natural way to do that.’

Here in Portland, Growing Gardens, a local organization with a mission to educate and teach communities how to build garden beds in low-income neighborhoods, hosts their annual ‘Tour de Coops‘ for folks who want to take an up-close look at what chicken keeping is all about. Chicken owners around the Portland Metro Area open up their backyards so people can walk through and gain ideas around urban farming and chicken keeping. Booklets outlining the tour’s route are purchased for $15. Growing Gardens started ‘Tour de Coop‘ in 2003 and sold 100 booklets their first year and today, that number has grown to over 800 booklets sold in a year. They took a break from the tour this year, unfortunately, which would have been a fantastic event to attend considering I recently got the hairbrained idea to throw up a coop in my own backyard and have a go at it. As I started to look into urban (or suburban in my case) chicken keeping for our family and wondered if we could even do it, I was able to get some feedback from two of my friends who recently added chickens to their family. Here’s what my two lady friends had to say:

Echo: I am all for raising my own chickens, (I would raise my own goats, cows, etc. too, if I could!). Chickens have been easier and more fun than I imagined. It was so fun getting chicks and watching them grow… building their coop and run, and watching them mature into grown hens (and an accidental rooster! who went back to the feed store as of this past Saturday). My number one reason for getting chickens is because fresh eggs are simply the best! They are rich, creamy, and full of flavor!! Chickens are super easy to raise and I love having them roam my yard from time to time. So I would definitely say, do it! 

{Echo’s chickens + coop}

Tarrin: Like Echo said, the eggs are amazing! And knowing where your food is coming from is so important. Being more self-sustainable has become very important to me and having my own chickens, even if it’s just a few, is part of that. I’ve been really surprised how the chickens have their own personalities and how smart they are! It’s definitely like having any other pet, it’s been very fun!

Okay, how does one go about raising chickens in the city, or in my case, the burbs?

Is It Legal?

First, find out if you can legally keep chickens in your city/county.

Backyard Chickens has a search box on their site as well as tagged states. Go here. If you don’t see your state under ‘Popular Tags’ enter it into the search box at the bottom of ‘Popular Tags’ underneath the states listed. After you enter your state into the search, your state should pop up with city ordinances listed, scroll to find your city. It should look like this:

I see that I can legally have 4 chickens in my backyard, no rooster and I don’t have to get a permit. Great! Then I read further… C. ‘Chickens shall be kept for personal, noncommercial use only. No person shall sell eggs or engage in chicken breeding or fertilizer production for commercial purposes.’ Wha?! I am definitely not breeding chickens, but at least wanted the option to sell my own eggs, lame. On the upside, at least I can have chickens in my backyard at all, and not just one, four. I’ll take it.

Next, simply educate yourself on the basics of raising chickens and you’re good to go! I was amazed at how easy it all is, easier than owning a dog actually. There are so many resources on the web that can walk you through the process of having backyards hens, and of course you can always talk with your local chicken supplier if you have questions and by doing so you build a community relationship. These three sites are loaded with info. geared specifically toward city chicken keeping.

  • Urban Farm Store – a local, Portland store has a great site for the basics and a book called ‘A Chicken in Every Yard’ that is more in-depth if you really want to get into it.
  • Urban Chickens.org – Click on Chicken Keeping 101 and it will take you through pertinent topics  
  • Backyard Chickens.com – This site has all kinds of info. including discussions and forums so you can talk with others and even lists almost every breed of chicken

Chicks or Hens?

Decide if you are going to start from scratch (pun!) and raise baby chicks or if you want to start with older hens first and then plan accordingly. Suppliers say ‘baby chicks cost on average $3 to $5 each, depending on the breed and sex (females are more expensive). Young hens that have just started laying eggs cost $15 to $25 each.’ Check with your local suppliers.

Feed

Find a local feed store if you are not planning on making your own feed. Feed stores often carry day old chicks. From Growing Garden: Expect three chickens to consume a 50 lb bag of feed every 2 to 3 months. A 50 pound bag of organic layer feed is about $25, and chick feed about $30, (baby chicks need their own feed before switching to layer feed). Chickens eat insects, worms, fruits, seeds, acorns, slugs, grains and will eat just about any table scrap you give them. They have a well developed gizzard, which is part of their stomach that contains tiny stones that grind up their food. Chickens need to be fed and watered once a day and the coop needs to be cleaned once/week (which is less than I thought).

Coop

{Pic from Garden Coops}

Once the chickens feather out about 60 days after birth, they will need to be moved to an outdoor coop. Instructables gives five basic coop tips:

  1. Adequate floor space per bird.
  2. Dry with good ventilation.
  3. Temperature control.
  4. Predator protection.
  5. Keep it clean + fresh water/food = happy & healthy birds.

Raising chickens is like raising any other pet, except they’re easier, cleaner (if you can believe it) and they give you eggs in return. Who’s in?

Chicken Facts I’ve learned:

  • You don’t need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs. Hens will lay one unfertilized egg every day to every three days depending. 5 chickens will give you about 10-20 eggs/week
  • Chickens can live to be 20, but the average is 8 years
  • Chickens begin laying eggs between 5-6 mths. old
  •  The amount of eggs a hen will produce decreases over time, they will produce the most within their first 1-4 years
  • They are easier to take care of than dogs. Chickens produce less waste and eat less food.
  • Why all the different colored eggs? Colors on the outside are determined by the chicken’s colored ear lobe. White ear lobes, white eggs, colored ear lobes, colored eggs
  • An egg’s shell and color has nothing to do with the quality of the egg in backyard laying, it’s the inside the counts
  • 65% of cities allow chicken keeping
  • Eggs are good for about 2 weeks outside of the fridge as long as you don’t wash them. They have a natural coating that seals them and if you wash them it breaks the coating and will then go bad. The reason we have to refrigerate eggs we buy is because they have been washed before going to the store. To determine if an egg is bad or not, you fill a glass with water and put the egg in the glass. If it sinks it’s good, if it floats its bad.
  • They are great pets with individual personalities

Why More People are Moving Chickens into the City

  • The desire to take part in the local food movement
  • Reducing carbon footprint/emissions caused by transporting food
  • Better tasting egg
  • Higher nutrients and omega-3s
  • Sustainability, that’s a word that gets thrown around A LOT these days, but truly, from table scraps to fertilizing your garden, chickens play an essential role in a backyard’s ecosystem. They are a great waste cycle. You give chickens your scraps, they give you compost, you put their compost into your garden. Voila!

 

 

{Waste Cycle from My Pet Chicken}

freshly-grown-urban-chicken-keeping-101



6 Comments

  • Echo says:

    Yay! I love this Rama and am excite to pull out my computer and read the rest of your stuff! Great adventure you are embarking on! I’m ready to learn from you!

    • Freshly Grown says:

      Let’s go! I have plenty to learn from you as well. Did you see your quote, thanks for sharing about your chicken adventures!

  • Sarah says:

    Hey Rama, I almost built a coop and got chicks this year, but we’re putting it off to next year, since our gates will finally be up. I’m interested in also growing some of our own hens to eat, and doing a much smaller version of the tractor farming so that the chickens prepare the dirt for our garden. Woo Hoo!

    Love your site. I’ll have fun reading every post.

    • Freshly Grown says:

      Hey, Sarah! This is great. We are looking at building a coop once summer is over. I should put you in touch with Jerry, the Farmer (that is his forever title now). They are in the business of poultry farming and poultry clubs and help people wanting to get into poultry farming get set up, the way he does it is brilliant and all you need is an acre. I’ll be posting an article he wrote strictly on how his farm processing (getting chickens from pasture to be ready to sell) next week!

  • Charlena says:

    Love all the chicken facts! Really well done. Can’t wait for the next posts. 🙂

    • Freshly Grown says:

      Thank you. Next up…eggs uncovered 🙂

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