Raising Chickens in the City

Urban gardeners are flocking to chickens to keep bugs away and provide eggs and compost. Keeping backyard birds is easier than you might think.


  • Jennifer Carlson’s composting fence benefits from nitrogen-rich chicken manure.
  • Carlson’s garden grows lush and green with the remains of her chickens’ excavations––a rich mix of dirt, chicken manure and grass.
  • The coop provides plenty of horizontal space, good air circulation, and spots for sunshine and shade. It sits on six inches of gravel topped with pavers to keep predators out. A storage unit beneath the coop stores the feeding and cleaning supplies.
  • Jennifer Carlson designed her own 3-by-18-foot wooden coop and painted it bright orange and yellow.
  • Every Eglu comes with a fox- and badger-resistant run so chickens can wander safely.
  • An ultra-modern retreat, the Eglu mobile chicken coop by Omlet is sleek enough for any urban chick.
    PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW DRAKE
  • Carlson poses with Beatrice, one of her three butterscotch-brown Buff Orpington hens
  • The Henspa Gazebo by Egganic Industries can be customized to match your home.
  • An ultra-modern retreat, the Eglu mobile chicken coop by Omlet is sleek enough for any urban chick.

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, and Beatrice, Gertrude and Zelda, three butterscotch-brown Buff Orpington hens, are having a field day in Jennifer Carlson’s Seattle back yard. A landscape designer and organic gardening expert, Carlson has placed a floorless chicken coop––or “chicken tractor”––on her lawn, where the hens methodically search for bugs and worms, taking an occasional break for a dust bath. Once the birds have excavated one area, she moves the tractor to a new piece of turf.

The remains of the chickens’ excavations—a rich mixture of dirt, chicken manure and grass that’s sprinkled with oak leaves to help decompose the droppings—gets a second life as compost for Carlson’s organic vegetable garden, which features basil, raspberries, eggplant and heirloom tomatoes. “The vegetables we grow then provide scraps for the birds, who produce delicious eggs and great compost for the vegetables,” explains Carlson, who has raised chickens in the city since the 1980s. “It’s a really cool cycle.”

Carlson, who spent her early childhood among Wyoming and Colorado ranchers, now lives in a cheery red house on a corner lot in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. “Chickens make ideal pets,” she says. “They like being around people, and they’re very curious, comical and ungainly. Yet they’re contained, so they’re not chasing the mailman.” With a cup of coffee in hand, she makes a daily round of the garden every morning. “It’s relaxing seeing the chickens and garden thrive.”

Backyard birds



From Seattle to St. Louis, hens are the latest trend in natural gardening. The Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, the country’s largest supplier of two-day old chicks, sends about 1,000 chicks a week to people in urban and suburban areas. (Five years ago, the number of urban buyers was so small the hatchery didn’t even keep track.) Reversing decades-old laws against urban chickens, advocates across the country are lobbying city officials to permit backyard hens, while community gardening organizations are hosting overflow crowds for chicken-coop tours and chicken-raising classes.

“People have lost touch with what used to be considered common knowledge about animals,” says Pam Karstens, who teaches Backyard Chickens 101 through the Madison, Wisconsin, nonprofit Mad City Chickens. Most attendees are well-educated urban professionals in their 30s and 40s. “Many are parents trying to teach their children where food comes from,” she says.



Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Get the latest on Natural Health and Sustainable Living with Mother Earth News!

Mother Earth News

Your friends at Mother Earth Living are committed to natural health and sustainable living. Unfortunately, the financial impact of COVID-19 has challenged us to find a more economical way to achieve this mission. We welcome you to our sister publication Mother Earth News. What you sought in the pages of Mother Earth Living can be found in Mother Earth News. For over 50 years, “The Original Guide to Living Wisely” has focused on organic gardening, herbal medicine, real food recipes, and sustainability. We look forward to going on this new journey with you and providing solutions for better health and self-sufficiency.

The impact of this crisis has no doubt affected every aspect of our daily lives. We will strive to be a useful and inspiring resource during this critical time and for years to come.

Best wishes,
Your friends at Mother Earth Living and Mother Earth News

Save Money & a Few Trees!

By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Mother Earth News for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Classifieds