Hail to the Yard Bird
By MG Calla Victoria
Urban farming is one of the fastest growing trends in America. More and more people are opting to become urban chicken farmers by keeping chickens in their backyard. The benefits of raising chickens are numerous. Of course there is the endless supply of protein-packed eggs, poultry if you chose to thin out your flock, they eat insects that would otherwise be munching on your plants, they will mow grass that is taller than two inches, they prepare garden beds by scratching the ground which aerates it, and chicken droppings make the best fertilizer for plants. If you are considering getting into the urban chicken farming craze there are a few things that you should know:
- Before buying chickens you are going to have to get a chicken coop, something sturdy that predators cannot dig under. The coop has to have roosts for the chickens at night, and nesting areas for laying. You can find coops online and they can be from the simplest to the most elaborate. Because chicken manure excellent for gardens, some people build their coops on wheels with just a chicken wire floor so that the chicken dropping go right through to the ground. They move the coop from place to place around their yard to keep their entire garden fertilized. You can also find “How to build a chicken coop” instructions online and do like my neighbor Charles who built his own coop.
You will also need a chicken run so that the chickens can get out and scratch and exercise. The run should have a roof, it has to be secure so that predators can’t get in, and keep lots of water and food in there. Or your can free-range your chickens like my neighbor does. He just lets them out to run around in his yard, just make sure the area is secure and predator-free.
- You do not need a rooster if you just want chickens for their eggs, hens will lay eggs without a rooster. They lay unfertilized eggs that will not form chicks and will not hatch. Now if you are planning on raising chickens then you need a rooster so that he can fertilize the eggs. You can find chickens at some local feed stores, on Craigslist, or online. You can buy mature laying hens that are already doing their thing but they are a lot more expensive, or you can buy chicks. If you buy un-sexed chicks you are getting whatever they send you. If you don’t want roosters it is best to pay extra and get sexed chicks. As the chicks are so small, sometimes only one-day when shipped it is hard to discern the sex, so even when you buy sexed chick, you might get a rooster; but the company will take the rooster back if you got one by mistake.
Take the time to do a little research on the different breeds of chickens before you make your purchase, some are very docile so you may want to consider that if you have small kids around. And know that roosters can become very territorial and combative. My neighbor Charles had to get rid of his big rooster Samson because the rooster would try to attack him when he would try to enter the coop. I really miss that rooster, he would always crow at me whenever I came outside, and follow me along the fence if the chickens were out of the coop.
If you do get a rooster, just know that some of your neighbors may take issue with the noise. My neighbor has roosters, but as I am a morning person and my eyes automatically open at 5:00 am, so I am not disturbed by the rooster. However I was at lecture on Urban Chicken Farming last weekend and several participants mentioned they were feuding with their neighbors over the chickens. So just a little something for you to consider. You can order chickens from mypetchicken.com.
- A good laying hen will produce 22 dozen of eggs a year, so if you have six good laying hens you will harvest about 132 dozen of eggs yearly. You are going to end up harvesting a lot more eggs than you can use, so you can give some away or sell them.
- By all means be kind to your chickens and make sure their area is secure. So many times you see chickens on the street, which is so cruel because you know that chicken is going to try to cross the road and that’s the end of it.
I am one of the lucky ones because while I was contemplating getting chickens my neighbor Charles beat me to it. So now I get all of those wonderful big brown eggs, all of the free chicken manure I can use for my garden, and none of the work. Life is good! Send your gardening questions to me on the "Gardening Questions" page, and check my “Gardening Tip of the Week."
This article published in Data News Weekly's August 3, 2013 edition, www.ladatanews.com.