Tuesday

Chickens in the City

Image courtesy of morguefile.com
If a small backyard flock of hens providing fresh, healthy eggs, meat and pest control, plus the sheer fun of watching and hearing chickens do their thing makes you think happy, why not do it? Just because you live in town doesn't mean you wouldn't like to have a chicken or two around the place!

The first thing to think about, though, is the law in your town. It's surprising how many towns and cities do allow chickens, but some don't. Places as varied as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Los Angeles, California, Atlanta, Georgia and Lawrence, Kansas, allow chickens (usually no roosters) in a backyard. Some cities allow them but have restrictions that make it impossible or impractical for most people. For instance, Denver, Colorado requires a $50 application fee, then a $100 permit that must be renewed each year for $70. So much for inexpensive eggs.

You should be able to find out if your area allows chickens by going to their web site or contacting the city offices.

I do not want to discourage you, but remember that chickens, like any other animal, mean a daily commitment on your part. Who will feed, water and gather eggs when you're on vacation or sick? Will you be able to take care of them every day, rain, snow, wind or hot sun? Will your children help? Do you mind handling the hens? Can you clip wings, wash dirty eggs, dust for mites and still enjoy your chickens?

Where to put the coop?
By law in some cities, a chicken coop must be situated away from fences and other boundaries. Find a place where it can get sun in the winter and shade in the summer, or plan on planting tall crops like hollyhocks or corn to shade it in the summer. A chicken coop must be kept very clean in the city and can't be made from an odd assortment of materials that you could get away with in the country. New lumber, paint and chicken wire, or at least carefully recycled materials should be used. Lehman's carries a great book called "Building Chicken Coops" so finding out how to build one and what size you will need is no problem. Always go a little over in size if you can, just in case.

Chickens and the outdoors
Next, think about the hens' outside area. You might be able to let them have the run of your backyard if you have a good fence and clip their wings so they can't fly over, but if you have a garden, you'll either have to fence it in or fence the chickens out. They love tasty, tender vegetables as much as you do.

Building a yard around the coop is very simple and can be done quickly by almost anyone if you use metal fence posts. Simply drive them into the ground every three feet or so, then fasten chicken wire to them. Make a gate by finishing off a length of chicken wire by fastening it to a post that's not in the ground, then fastening it by loops to the next post. It's much easier to show than to explain, so if you don't know how, get someone to show you.

Feeding the backyard flock
Be aware that the chickens will scratch up and eat all of the grass in their pen in short order. Supplement their diet with grass from your lawn mowing and with kitchen scraps. If you're a gardener, you may be able to grow a good part of their feed. Corn, millet and many other grains are not that hard or harvest for just a few chickens. Add some sunflowers, wild amaranth and any kind of grass seed and you will keep them healthy and happy. If you let a part of your yard grow wild as I do, you might be able to harvest other wild foods and seeds for them.

Keeping chickens in the city isn't any harder than keeping them in the country. If you're stuck in the city wanting to get out, or if you just have a yearning for a certain degree of country living, a back yard flock of happy hens may be your perfect solution.


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