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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Backyard Chicken Coop

The high school friend I mentioned earlier wanted to use screens from her grandparents' old house in her and her husband's coop. That's about all she knew for certain, so it became a build-as-you-go experience that drove her extremely patient husband nearly crazy. In the end, they built a beautiful coop topped with birdhouses. My spouse and I built our coop in July during a heat wave. I thought I was going to die as I hammered hardware cloth in place. But I knew I had to get eight teenage chickens (pullets) out of the two giant dog crates in our living room. Besides the mess and the room smelling slightly like eau de farm, when the sun started to set after a day of free ranging in the backyard, our hens would peck on our back door to be let into our house.

  • What do you want from your chickens? This will help you determine which breeds are best for you. Do you want chickens whose personality can be likened to that of a lap dog? Are you looking for a chicken that's sturdy and reliable like a Volvo, but perhaps not so friendly or pretty? Do you want an unusual looking breed with exotic plumage? A breed that lays dark brown eggs, pastel blue eggs or standard white eggs? 

 

There's a wide range of breeds available through local chicken enthusiasts, traditional feed stores, local hardware stores and online hatcheries. For our first flock we ordered from an online hatchery so we wouldn't get any roosters, and the hens came vaccinated. Some say baby chicks learn fear by day two, so the hatchery chicks appealed to us because they arrived at the post office only a day old. We wanted prolific egg layers with friendly dispositions. And we ordered differently colored hens that lay light brown, dark brown, white and pastel blue eggs. Would we select the same breeds if we had it to do all over again? While we love our ladies, I think we would go for more exotic-looking breeds. Also, more Red Stars, for their sweet personalities and extra large dark brown eggs, and Easter Eggers, for their pastel blue, green or pink eggs. 

My recommended final set of questions relates to budget, division of labor and unfortunate situations.

  • Is your family in agreement as to who is responsible for daily, semi-monthly and annual chicken chores? What are your spending limits in regard to feed (organic or not), veterinary care and pet sitters. If you have dogs or cats, who will be providing consistent training to acclimate them to your flock or restrict interaction? How will your family cope if a raccoon, hawk or other predator manages to take out one of your flock?


My spouse wakes up with the sunrise, lets our girls out of the coop and puts out feed and fresh water. After work, the girls get a treat of fresh vegetables, like a bundle of collards, and their eggs are collected. As the sun sets, chickens naturally make their way back into the coop to roost (a process that sometimes resembles the antics of the Three Stooges). Again, my spouse heads out to secure the coop door from predators, check for more eggs and put the feed up for the night. I'm responsible for mucking out the straw in the coop and delivering this fresh fertilizer to the compost pile at our local community garden. Once a year, I bleach out the coop and de-worm the chickens. We're lucky that it took very little effort for us to train our dogs not to chase after the chickens. (Although, our pointer mix gets that bird-dog look in her eye and a hint of a smile every now and then. Fortunately, a prompt pecking deters her.) As for predators, so far we've been lucky that the hawks we occasionally spot circling above haven't swooped down for some dinner.

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