For those of you who are just starting out, urban chickens are pretty much what you would expect. They are chickens raised in an urban environment. It’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint by raising food locally in your own backyard. How does that help? Well, you get fresh, non-imported eggs pretty much on demand and you will be assured that the chicks are being raised in a supportive and loving environment. No more guessing whether or not those eggs at the grocery store are really “organic” or “free-range”.
Sounds interesting right? We put together this tutorial to give you a stepping stone into the world of urban chickens. Read on.
First, check the laws in your area:
If you’re interested in raising urban chickens, check municipal laws in your community before you get too excited. Not every community wants you to raise chickens in your backyard and sadly, you have to abide by their rules. If you can’t locate a rule online, however, consider starting out slow and keeping your chickens under the radar. Most people start out with female chickens (guys can’t lay eggs) and they are relatively quiet. None of that cock-a-doodle-do craziness you might expect.
Chicken Trivia: there are currently more chickens in the world than any other species of bird.
Start with the basics:
Remember that chickens are pets in addition to food producers which means they are going to need some of your time and tender loving care to really flourish. A good rule of thumb is 10 minutes a day, 10 square feet per bird, and about $5 per bird per month after about $300 in initial costs. And if you are trying to keep your chickens under wraps, raise no more than 3 hens at a time. Of course, each person will have a different experience, so these rules are by no means set in stone.
You’ll need a coop; a place above ground where the birds can roost. Roosting is an instinctual protection habit that all chickens have evolved in order to stay safely out of distance from natural predators. You’ll also need a nice spot for them to lay eggs, and ample room to walk around. If you’re in the United States, there are some great pre-made coops like the Stealth Coop (with the purpose of avoiding detection from nosy neighbors) and the eglu (a stylish alternative to a regular coop). If you’re elsewhere, however, you can save some cash and build yours out of plywood, chicken wire, and insulation.
Chicken Trivia: Laying hens average 245 eggs per year.
Choosing the right breed:
There is a great selection tool over at mypetchicken.com that can help you find your perfect match in no time at all. It’s an important match to make as different breeds can range from incredibly friendly to avoiding human contact altogether. Also, depending on the climate in your region, there are foul which are more or less well suited to weather and will be heartier.
Chicken Trivia: Chickens are omnivores (meaning they can eat plants and meat). In the wild, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds, insects and even larger animals such as lizards or young mice.
Chicken housing requirements:
As mentioned before, the suggested space is 10 square feet per bird. But as the birds grow, they are also going to need some free time to mill about together. If not, they can experience confinement stress and resort to aggression, even cannibalism at times. You don’t want that, so make sure they have their freedom just like you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to handle your birds either, as frequent handling helps keep them tame.
The website backyardchickens.com has a lot of great and practical coop designs that can point you in the right direction, providing all the nitty, gritty details. But as a general rule, something close to a four-by-seven foot space enclosed in wire mesh with a plywood floor will work. It should be raised roughly 3 feet off the ground too, in order to minimize cold, wet drafts. What works well is to have a hole cut in the exterior wall that leads to a long, skinny outdoor run. Best practice is to cover the floor of this run with sand because it dries much faster and easier than dirt. When night comes each day your chickens will naturally head back to their house and it’s up to you to make sure the door is locked and secure.
Chicken Trivia: Hot humid days can be more harmful to chickens than extremely hot dry days.
Feeding your brood:
For the first month, chicks should only eat a granular feed called crumble, but after the month is up, you can give them treats like yogurt, oatmeal, and pinhead crickets. They are also going to need some bird grit to help with their digestion, much like other bird species.
Hens are also going to need some bird grit, but primarily eat chicken scratch, which is ready-made, though they can be fed fresh kitchen scraps if you wish. Thought both options may sound a bit strange, hard-boiled eggs and well-cooked meats are great sources of protein. Don’t ever let your chickens eat raw eggs or raw meat however or they could start eating their own eggs and their fellow chickens; the key is to always serve meat and eggs cooked so they don’t figure out where it came from. Soylent Green anyone?
You can also experiment with veggies and fruit (cooked or raw), as well as live insects like earthworms or crickets. Finally, chickens love to munch on grass, so keep the pesticides away from your lawn and let the chickens do the mowing.
Chicken Trivia: if your chickens start eating their own eggs try feeding them milk for several days and make sure their nesting areas are large enough (1 foot by 1 foot).
Health and safety tips:
The main concern with raising urban chickens comes from the very real risk of contracting salmonella bacteria through infected feces. The best advice we can give you is to be sure that you are not feeding your chickens undercooked eggs or meat. You also need to make sure that you thoroughly wash your hands after handling or working around your flock. Plus, discourage your children from kissing the chickens, or any other contact that brings their mouth in contact with the chicken’s mouth.
Another safety tip is to treat any pecks or minor scratches that you might encounter with an antiseptic to prevent infection. If you are trying to train your chickens to stay off your porch our away from some other area (to avoid chicken waste in places where people congregate) use a spray bottle with a strong mist setting.
Chicken Trivia: The longest recorded flight of a chicken is thirteen seconds.
Finally, you’ll have to look out for the well-being of your chickens. Keep any other pets away from chicks as any weakness like a scratch, or broken leg can lead to eventual death at the hands of its brethren. Many owners have had success training dogs and cats to befriend chickens but this takes time and requires strict supervision. If your pet ever recognizes that chickens taste good you’ll have a hard time un-teaching them. So, ensure that all runs and coops are securely fenced in with heavy-duty mesh (even on top) to keep out unwanted predators (raccoons, foxes, coyotes, skunks, hawks, etc). It also helps to extend the sides of your run into the ground about a foot to prevent the animals from digging under the walls.
And that’s about it. You are well on your way to raising chickens in your urban space and can look forward to a lot of organic, fresh eggs for the foreseeable future.