Mother Earth Living

What the Cluck! Raise Backyard Chickens

Backyard chickens are fun pets that provide fresh eggs, eat pests and recycle food waste. Raising chickens in the city is a cinch. Here's how.
By Deborah Huso
March/April 2011

Nicki Trench raises fluffy Buff Orpington hens.
Photo Courtesy Nicki Trench
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

Dreams of a Backyard Bedroom

If the heat is getting you down—and out of your comfortable sleeping—take your bedroom outside and l...

The Herbal Artist: Every Herbalist Should Have a Backyard Beehive

Herbalists can benefit greatly from tending a backyard beehive in their garden. Learn why every herb...

Urban Chicks: Raising Chickens in the City

Natural Home editor-in-chief Robyn Griggs Lawrence reviews the latest proposals banning urban chicke...

The Newest Addition to the Garden: Raised Beds

Guest blogger and novice gardener Shelley Moore gets creative when the raised beds she orders for he...

Nicki Trench loves her backyard chickens because of the fresh eggs they provide, but also because they’re fun. “There is such a difference between eating a freshly laid egg and a storebought egg,” she says. “Fresh eggs taste better.” Author of Creating Your Backyard Farm, Trench loves to watch her Buff Orpington chickens running and wobbling from one end of her garden to the other searching for food or jumping in the air to chase a fly. “They make me smile each day,” she says. “Chickens are definitely great mood enhancers.”

Tom Potisk has been raising chickens in his Milwaukee backyard since 1995. “I’ve always enjoyed natural and organic food,” he says. “Fresh eggs have nutrients, such as omega-3s, from the chickens eating grass and bugs.” For Potisk, the author of Whole Health Healing, raising Araucana chickens is a family affair.  His three children, ages 10, 12 and 14, help care for the chickens and collect their eggs. “Araucanas are non-aggressive and easy to work with,” he says.

If you’ve been dreaming of fresh eggs but think you can’t have your own chickens because you live in the city or suburbs, think again.  Less than a century ago, when more people raised their own food, keeping a few chickens in the yard was common in cities, and plenty of city ordinances still allow the practice. Raising chickens ensures you know where your eggs come from, and collecting eggs fulfills an instinct to provide our own food, Trench says. “It beats going to the supermarket any day,” she says.

Chickens also make great garden and recycling assistants. They provide fertilizer, eat pests, and help dig over your vegetable patch at the end of the season. Chickens eat biodegradable kitchen garbage like rusted lettuce, tomato tops and corn husks. Trench says her chickens love pasta and rice. “You’ll get to know their favorite items,” she says. “You’ll find your garbage will be less than half the size once you start keeping chickens.”

Build Your Brood 

Hobbyists, foodies and families across the country are raising chickens in their city, suburban and farmhouse backyards. With some basic research, you can jump on the chicken bandwagon.

Research breeds. Some breeds are better equipped to lay eggs, while others are raised for meat. Different breeds have different laying schedules. For example, most heritage breeds lay more eggs in spring and summer, whereas hybrids (a combination of two or more breeds) can lay year-round. You don’t need a rooster unless you want to hatch chicks.

Consider your surroundings. Choose less aggressive breeds if you have children. Consider a less-vocal breed if you have nearby neighbors. See “Pick Up Chicks” below for a quick breed guide, or visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for extensive breed information. Our sister publication Grit magazine offers a “Pickin’ Chicken” iPhone app.

Talk to other chicken keepers in your area. They can offer tips to keep your chickens safe from foxes, hawks, raccoons and other predators. See “Join Our Coop” below for ways to connect.

Prepare a coop. Get instructions to build your own coop, or buy a premade one: backyardchickens.com; diychickencoops.com.

Order your chicks! Many hatcheries will ship chicks to your post office, but it’s best to choose a local hatchery. To find a hatchery near you: Cackle Hatchery, Healthy Chicks and More, or Mother Earth News.

Keep it clean. “There are very few risks of you or your family catching any diseases from a chicken,” Trench says. Clean your coop once a week wearing a dust mask, and scoop out droppings each morning with a small shovel, wearing rubber gloves (composted droppings make for a great garden soil amendment).

Check the Laws 

Before purchasing chickens, check your city’s laws with your local zoning office. If you rent, also check with your landlord.

Here are a few issues to consider:

■ Can I raise chickens where I’m located?
■ How many chickens can I have? Some cities limit the number of chickens you can own depending on the size of your yard, and most cities won’t let you keep roosters.
■ Is there a certain place the coop should be located?
■ How much space will the chickens need?
■ Will I be able to use all of the chicken manure and spentbedding in my yard or garden? If not, where will I be able to donate/dispose of it?

Pick Up Chicks 

Heritage breeds offer natural foraging abilities, increased longevity, self-sufficiency and disease-resistance.

Chantecler 

Attributes: Lays 120 to 180 large brown eggs a year; calm, gentle and personable; developed to withstand harsh winter climates
Appearance: White or partridge colored with yellow flesh and legs; almost no wattle
History: The only breed ever developed in Canada
Status: Critical

Dominique 

Attributes: Lays 230 to 275 medium brown eggs a year; easy keeping nature; natural foraging abilities
Appearance: Medium-sized with black and white barred coloring; tightly arranged plumage
History: The first chicken breed developed in the United States
Status: Watch

Java 

Attributes: Lays up to 150 dark brown eggs a year; calm, sociable, seldom aggressive; great meat chicken
Appearance: Three varieties: black, mottled and white; known for its rectangular body and long, sloping back
History: Considered the second-oldest breed of chicken developed in the United States
Status: Threatened
 
Rhode Island Red 

Attributes: Lays 200 to 300 brown eggs a year; docile and friendly; known for vigor and ability to produce eggs under marginal conditions; excellent meat chicken
Appearance: Rich, deep-red distinctive plumage
History: Named the Rhode Island official state bird in 1954
Status: Recovering

—Courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy 

Healthier Eggs, It’s True!

Testing by Mother Earth News in 2007 and 2008 determined that, compared with the USDA’s nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from pasture-raised hens contain:

■ 1/3 less cholesterol
■ 1/4 less saturated fat
■ 2/3 more vitamin A
■ 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
■ 3 times more vitamin E
■ 7 times more beta-carotene
■ 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D

Read more.

Join Our Coop 

Last year, Natural Home’s sister publications Mother Earth News and Grit launched the Community Chickens website, where you can find chicken-raising information, blogs, forums, expert advice, photos, resource listings and more: communitychickens.com. For a city-by-city list of regulations for keeping chickens, read Mother Earth News' "Chickens in the City."


Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next






Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe today and save 50%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.