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.

  • The Rhode Island Red chicken, the official state bird of Rhode Island, is docile and friendly, lays 200 to 300 brown eggs a year, makes a great meat chicken, and is known for its vigor and ability to produce eggs under marginal conditions.
    Photo Courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  • Choose docile breeds if you have or live near children.
  • The Chantecler, the only breed ever developed in Canada, has a calm, gentle personality, can withstand harsh winter climates, and is capable of laying 120 to 180 large eggs a year.
    Photo Courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  • Chickens make amusing pets.
  • Many heritage breeds have natural foraging abilities, keeping yards pest-free.
  • The Dominique, the first chicken breed developed in the United States, has natural foraging abilities and can lay 230 to 275 medium brown eggs a year.
    Photo Courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  • The Java, considered the second-oldest breed of chicken developed in the United States, is calm and sociable, lays up to 150 dark brown eggs a year, and makes a great meat chicken.
    Photo Courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  • Kippen House coops are custom-designed, handmade and feature “living roof” gardens. They're available in the Seattle area: kippenhouse.com. Learn to make your own coop at diychickencoops.com
    Photo Courtesy Kippen House
  • Nicki Trench raises fluffy Buff Orpington hens.
    Photo Courtesy Nicki Trench

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.

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