Raising Backyard Chickens
A city chicken farmer shares her insights on building chicken coops and tending small flocks in urban settings. After all, who wouldn't want a pet that makes them breakfast?
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So you want to be a chicken farmer? More and more, I’m meeting people like me — families with children, young couples, retirees and bachelor types — raising backyard flocks in urban as well as suburban settings. Some get into chicken-raising so they can have a supply of fresh, healthy eggs and join the local-food, lower-carbon-footprint movement.
Others have a small flock simply because it's fun. A high school friend of mine got started because of her mother’s stories about her favorite daily childhood chore — collecting eggs. My best friend had chickens as a child, loved naming them ("Rudy the Rooster" and "Chicken Hawk," respectively) and couldn't wait to start her own flock after buying her first house. She also had a hen that laid green eggs. Really.
In addition to enjoying fresh eggs on a daily basis, a pleasure that rivals tomatoes picked fresh from the garden, small backyard flocks generate fertilizer that green-thumb friends will appreciate, eat plenty of insect pests (fewer mosquitoes!) and provide hours of family-friendly entertainment. (More on that later.)
As far as my flock of eight hens goes, I've found that the everyday doings of raising backyard chickens is ridiculously easy. It's the getting your urban farming operation up and running that can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. The most important thing to do first is research, research, research. (No, not daydreaming about which breeds you want and cute names for them.) Get your hen house in order by mulling over the following extensive, but not exhaustive, questions:
What are the city or county codes regarding raising chickens, as well as the location and structure of coops? If you live in a subdivision, what are those HOA rules?
You’d be surprised how wildly different codes can be from one county to the next. (The city of Atlanta allows up to 25 chickens, including roosters, while Knoxville, Tenn., allows only six hens with yearly permits.) New York City, Oakland, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Seattle and Portland, Ore., are reportedly chicken-friendly cities. And while people do choose to raise "outlaw flocks," the day a code enforcement officer leaves a costly citation and an order to relocate pet chickens in 10 days or face another fine is not something I care to experience.
What do you want from your coop and chicken run in terms of predator proofing, space for the size of your flock, ease of entering and cleaning, as well as a look that will go with your style of house and landscaping? Also, are you building the coop and run yourself or buying a finished one?