Advantages and Disadvantages to Urban Chicken Ownership
Guest post: by Robert Rowe,
a contributing author to multiple prepper/survivalist sites and forums.
Not long ago, and after much resistance and debate, the city in which I live passed a chicken ordinance allowing for the possession of chickens within the city limits. This was welcome news to many people who were already, illegally, keeping chickens. These scofflaws were the reason for so much resistance. Because they tended to house their chickens so poorly, the city had to answer an average of 245 complaints per year to deal with them.
The ordinance, once passed, was extremely restrictive and made the idea of chicken keeping seem more daunting than it actually is. It limited the number of chickens that could be kept as pets to three. The coop had to have a minimum square footage but could not exceed a maximum square footage. The chicken run could not be more than 200 square feet and had to be at least 20 feet from any neighbor’s house and at least 10 feet from the owner’s house. And it goes on and on and on with all the restrictions.
But after the first year the ordinance was enacted, the city found that the number of complaints they had regarding chickens decreased by 75%. This despite the number of chicken owners increasing by over 1000%. A proposal was put forth for a relaxation on some of the restrictions such as the licensing fees, maximum number of chickens which can be kept, etc. The proposal passed without any resistance at all. Since then there have been an increasing number of people who are involved with chicken keeping.
Keeping chickens is a trend that is increasing in popularity across the country. So why is it that keeping chickens has suddenly become fashionable? If you were to ask 100 pundits, you would receive 100 different answers. Personally, I don’t have an answer to that question. But I can tell you why my family keeps chickens. They are fun.
Keeping chickens, as with most things worth doing in life, has its rewards and its downsides. Exploring these will help in making the decision on whether or not keeping chickens is right for your family. For most who are considering this option, it will be an enjoyable experience if you are willing to put in the minimal amount of time and effort necessary to keep your pets safe and warm.
Chickens (gallus gallus domesticus) evolved from a jungle fowl found in the orient. This fowl was domesticated and eventually became what is now the modern chicken. The many breeds of chickens can be attributed to man’s never ending desire to make a more perfect animal for his desires whether that be egg production, beauty, meat or something else less respectable.
It should be noted that while a chicken is not a very intelligent animal, it is a very clever animal. This is one of the main disadvantages of chicken ownership as they will incessantly look for means of escape from whatever enclosure you provide. If you are not able to free range your birds, you will have to provide an enclosure that will keep them dry, safe and warm. While this is not too difficult and can be accomplished with a minimal amount of skill, it needs to be said that it requires a lot of forethought.
The enclosure must be able to withstand the worst weather your region can produce. In my region, the worst weather we encounter is a lot of rain and the occasional light hail storm. A coop for our animals does not require a lot of materials. As long as it keeps the rain and hail off of them, they are fine. However, in areas where weather conditions can be extreme, the coop may require a bit more extensive work in order to keep the birds dry and warm. For example, in Minnesota, where the temperatures regularly dip below zero during the winter, one may wish to add extra insulation or maybe electricity for a small heater.
The coop and the chicken run enclosure must be predator proof. This will involve a lot of hard work but will be worth it. The best thing you can do to protect your chickens is dig a trench around the perimeter of your run about 12” to 24” deep depending on what type of predatory critters you have in your area. For most digging predators, 12” is sufficient. In this trench, place your chicken wire and secure it to whatever poles or posts you have for the frame of your enclosure and, of course, secure the two ends together where they meet. This will prevent digging predators from digging into your enclosure and attacking your chickens.
You also want to make sure the top of your enclosure is secure to prevent flying predators from having a free lunch on your birds. It is not necessary to use expensive chicken wire to accomplish this. Ordinary plastic garden fencing will suffice as long as you secure it properly. Leave no gaps where a predatory bird can enter. Once you have your chicken pen set up, you are ready to invest in chickens.
Many urbanites prefer to enjoy the whole chicken experience and purchase chicks that are only a few days old to raise to adulthood. This is a very rewarding experience but caution should be taken when undertaking this adventure. Baby chicks cannot maintain their body temperature very well and need their mother’s assistance to keep warm. Since you don’t have feathers and I am very sure you don’t want chicks sleeping in your bed with you, it will be required that you have some sort of small enclosure in which to keep them under a heat lamp. For most breeds, keeping the temperature around 80 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient. Some breeds require a bit more warmth and others less. Take this into consideration when deciding on which breed to purchase.
This article presupposes that it is your intention to keep your birds as pets so I will not go into any specifics about raising food animals. The best thing you can do for your pets is to name them right away. This will help you develop an emotional attachment to them which will make it much more difficult to consider eating them.
You may want to consider keeping your chicks inside for several weeks until they are old enough to regulate their body temperature on their own. This will provide you with endless hours of entertainment. Chicks, like all baby animals, are very curious about the world around them. They will peck at everything in an attempt to identify whether or not it is food. However, if you really want to have fun, stick them in front of a mirror and watch the antics!
Most breeds of chicken will begin to lay eggs around seven months or so, give or take a month. Your pullet’s first eggs will be disappointingly small. It is even likely that they will not have a yolk. This is normal so don’t freak out. As your pullets mature into hens their eggs will become larger and come with more frequency. Chickens tend to lay one egg every 24 – 26 hours. They are in their egg laying prime until around three years of age, though some will suggest only two years. Either way, once they have exited their prime laying age, you can expect egg production to become increasingly sporadic until they have either died or laid all their eggs. Most people dispatch their chickens between three and four years of age and use them for stew. But, since yours are probably going to be pets, this is likely not going to be an option for you.
Even if your city allows you to sell your eggs, unless you have more than 10 chickens, you will never make enough money from egg sales to cover the cost of keeping your hens. So don’t expect it. Just keep the eggs for personal consumption or share with your family and friends. FYI: if you coat your eggs in mineral oil, they will keep in your refrigerator for nine months without spoiling.
Chickens are quite entertaining. I cannot tell you how many Spring or Summer evenings we have spent just sitting in the yard watching the hens do what they do.
Chickens are omnivores. They will eat mice, worms, insects, fruits, veggies and grains. It is important to remember that you cannot feed your hens legumes. This will kill them as they cannot pass gas and legumes produce copious amounts of gas in chickens. It will be a very painful way for your chickens to die. So just don’t do it!
During the Spring and Summer months, it is usually sufficient to feed your chickens some chicken feed from the local ranch and home store. Anything else they will need they can usually get from pecking at insects and other things from the ground. During the winter months, though, you will want to supplement their diet with scratch. Again, this can be purchased at the local ranch and home or you can make your own. A few hands full of rolled or processed dry oats (without any salt or sugar) and some cracked corn will help them to keep their body temperature up on cold nights.
Occasionally, your hens may lay an egg with no shell around it. Do not be alarmed if this happens. Just put out a bowl of plain yogurt for them to consume (and make sure you video it for a good laugh) and the next day the problem should be over. This usually results from a lack of calcium. If you don’t wish to use yogurt, another option is to use their own egg shells. Make sure you completely wash and dry the shells. Crush them into a powder. This is easily enough accomplished with a blender. Then take the powder and put it into a microwave safe dish. Microwave on high for about two minutes to sterilize. Mix this powder in with their food or any treats (like yogurt) that you feed them.
Chickens produce large amounts of waste. Yes, poop. This poo is good for fertilizing your garden. However, you cannot just scoop the poop and put it into your garden. The nitrogen content is too high and will kill your plants. Mix the poo with dirt or sand and let it sit for a month or so. Maybe add it to your compost and mix it in thoroughly. Some people even make a “tea” out of it by adding it to water with a bit of soil or compost. This is then used as a fertilizer for flower gardens or greenhouse plants. Whatever it is you decide to do, just know that chicken manure is one of the best natural fertilizers.
Your eggs, if you take proper care of your chickens, will be considerably more nutritious than the factory produced eggs from your supermarket. Your eggs will be higher in Omega 3 fatty acids and proteins. They will also have less cholesterol. But most importantly of all, your eggs will have a deeper and richer flavor than any store bought eggs. Your egg yolks will be a deep yellow/orange color as opposed to the pale yellow from your supermarket eggs.
Keeping chickens, while requiring a significant, though not large, initial investment in time, money and effort, is an experience in which all urbanites with a large enough yard should participate. They will provide an unending source of entertainment and attitude. Indeed, each chicken will develop her own personality which you will come to recognize quickly. They will provide you with sustenance for your body and enjoyment for your soul. If your city allows for chicken keeping, I highly recommend you consider it. If your city does not allow it, I highly recommend you get your city council to change that.