advantages-and-disadvantages-to-urban-chicken-ownership

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.

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17 Comments

  1. The first and most important thing that I disagree with is using chicken wire and/or plastic garden netting on any part of the outside run. Chicken wire is very flimsy, and is solely meant for keeping a chicken from escaping. It is NOWHERE NEAR predator proof. It won’t keep out even a small dog (my Chihuahua can chew through that stuff in a matter of minutes) let alone anything larger or more determined to eat your chickens. A lot of urban environments have raccoons, coyotes, foxes and stray dogs, all of which will want a nice chicken dinner. A raccoon is capable of chewing through chicken wire very quickly and will kill ALL the chickens in your coop, not just the one they are eating. Use sturdier fencing. You will be glad you did. Not only is it more protection for your birds, but it looks a lot better too. I use chain link fence around my runs with hardware cloth in smaller areas that need to be closed.

    On feeding your chickens– They can eat beans, all of mine have (and I’ve kept many hundreds of chickens over the last 50 years)and none have died from it.
    Your chickens will not thrive on just store bought feed and whatever ‘they can usually get from pecking at insects and other things from the ground’. What other things on the ground? They need greens and vegetables and meat, yes MEAT. They need a well rounded diet just like any other animal. You can give them any kitchen scraps, garden waste and grass clippings you have.
    You can give them crushed oyster shell (available at the same places you buy bagged feed) which is very inexpensive, and will meet their calcium needs.

    You can put a petroleum product (mineral oil) on your eggs to preserve them if you like, but I don’t prefer to eat that, and the eggs will stay good in the refrigerator for at least 6-8 months without doing anything at all to them. Did you know that the eggs you buy in the grocery store can be up to 6 months old and still be labeled ‘fresh’?

    One important thing to know if you live in a warm climate is that chickens cannot drink water once the water is too warm and can die from dehydration in a very short amount of time, so they need lots of fresh cool water every day. Conversely, if you live in a cold climate, you will need to keep their water from freezing.

  2. Due to a foods war between grocery chains, I have been able to purchase eggs for .29 cents for the last six months. It was not feasible for me to keep my chickens, so I sold them. It is unknown to when this may change , but when it does, I will have 4-5 hens again.

  3. Quail are better. Nobody will know that you have them. 2 or 3 females for every 1 male. Someone should do a very detailed blog on them.

    1. Quail for survival living is a good resource. They are quiet and for the most part stay in an area but make a “pen” for them to keep them from wandering off. Quail is better for you than chicken, has less fat, more protein and easier to cook. If you don’t have any on hand catching them is not hard if you know how using a net and snare system. You can eat the Quail, the eggs and the feathers can be used for a lot of different things like pillows to arrows.

  4. The chickens here love snakes, and spaghetti. Must be hard wired… You know what they will not eat is Prepper(ha-ha)ridge Farm Goldfish. These are all different types of “Rocks”. Great New England Birds. Keep laying all year. Survive-All… Be well… Thank you for the article. o…

  5. I utilized pallets, w/ chicken wire securely nailed to the pallets for the run. The hardwood closely spaced has prevented any predators (tons of coyote here)acquiring a nice organic chicken dinner. Plus by way of comparison, commercial eggs suck.

  6. I agree with everything Tammy said. So, I will not rewrite it all, all the points I was going to make. Use 1/2 welded before galvanizing (WBG) hardware fabric. I cannot dig a trench and cannot afford to pay for the work. I put hogwire under the chain link side of the pen. Two feet is outside the pen and held to the ground with long “pins” used for holding cloth to the ground. The one foot inside the pen is pinned down too. I don’t like to make my three hens walk on wire because they like to take a dust bath in the pen.

    Raccoons will not reason that they have to dig two feet from the wall of the pen. So, don’t worry about them going out two feet to find the edge of the wire.

    I used a 10’x10’x6′ dog pen and covered the top with the hardware cloth/fabric (WBG)over a frame built for the top.

    My hens love beans of all kinds, especially black eyed peas with salt. Chickens need salt, more than in most foods. Only giving them green things to eat will there be Omega3 in their eggs. Well, if omega3 is in their food, they will get it that way. I prefer to free range part of the day. Often I will give them a head of broccoli to work on during the day or a pumpkin or head of lettuce.

    By the way, I have heard my hens expel gas. It was funny. It scared them.

    Oh, In the extreme Northern states, hens require no heat and certainly no insulation. They just need to be protected from strong wind that blows up their feathers and make them lose body heat, and they need shelter from any kind of precipitation. They can handle the cold. Mine lived on top of a Rubbermaid box in 9 degree temp with no ill effects and laid eggs five days out of seven. They had a box to go in and refused to until I blocked their access to the top of the Rubbermaid bin.

    To keep dogs or chickens from eating eggs, put the shells in the oven after baking something. Don’t burn them. Just put them all in a plastic bag and crush with hands. My mother, raised during the Depression, always cooked, browned egg shells before we gave them to the dogs or chickens.

  7. I too have chickens/fowl and lots of them… Right now I have about 70 hens and 5 roosters, 18 guineas and 15 ducks. Chickens do need a balanced diet and the only way they could ever find enough bugs etc to supplement their diet is to free range them. That would probably not be feasable in an urban environment. Mine have 5 acres to roam and supplement their laying pellets. Remember their are several different kinds of chicken feed available from the feed store, here are the main three:

    Chick grower/starter: This is what you need if you are raising chicks, it has all the nutrients for a growing bird.

    Laying pellets/crumbles: This is what you feed your chickens once they are several months old. It has all the nutrients the hens need to make eggs

    Chicken scratch: This is a mix of whole grains, usually chopped corn and milo. My chickens hate the milo and will leave it on the ground, so instead of wasting my money I just give them some of the chopped corn I buy for my pigs. This gives them extra calories especially during the cold months. They also like it better than the pellets.

    They also love things like turnips, bread etc. Mine frequently rob the pig trough for slop. It is quite comical to see a chicken sitting on the back of a huge pig or eating next to them in the trough. Mine will come eat cereal out of our hands. For all of this spoiling I am handsomely rewarded with many nice fresh eggs that have dark yolks. 60 of my girls are this springs pullets so they are just beginning to lay small eggs. I had my kids convinced those little eggs were laid by the roosters so we all jokingly call them rooster eggs.

    I had to buy a dozen eggs a month or so ago which I had not done in a couple years. The store bought eggs had pale watery yolks and the shells were paper thin. I had forgotten what they are like and smashed the first egg I went to crack because I was not used to the thin shells of commercial eggs! I LOVE my birds….

  8. The only thing that seems to be missing from the article and great comments is: Have a good dog, two or three would be even better. In the past we have had raccoons pull up metal barn roofing to get to the chickens. The nasty little critters do love to annihilate the whole flock.
    Our dogs will investigate when the free range turkeys alert, or the chickens get upset, one of them even goes after low flying hawks.

  9. Just want to mention that coating eggs in mineral oil might be a bit dangerous to your long-term health. Excellent article by the way. Mineral oil is a form of crude oil in my understanding which makes it a petrochemical. Egg shells are porous. This is why eggs go off, as air gets inside the shell, making the air pocket inside larger, so when they float they are off. If air can penetrate the egg shell, so to will the mineral oil…

      1. There are a couple alternatives: Waterglassing (google it), Pickeling, or dipping them in wax. However if you use medical grade mineral oil as in the kind that comes from the pharmacy and is purified to the point that it is non toxic and used as a laxative then it is food safe. You can NOT use any other kind like baby oil. It has not been purified. The correct kind will be in the section of the pharmacy with the ex-lax. It will say on the bottle mineral oil laxative. I also use this on all of my cutting boards and cheese press to preserve the wood.

        1. Thanks for clearing up the issue regarding mineral oil and the necessity of using purified mineral oil available in a pharmacy…

  10. Just a word to the organic minded. I found chickens turned out in the garden will keep you insect free better than insecticides. Also placing the small wire garden fencing (cheap) around your berries and placing box turtles inside will keep slugs away.

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