(Amy McNeal) If you live in the country, the sound of a rooster crowing to greet the dawn might not be so unusual to you. If you live in the city, it would be unexpected. Nowadays, more people who live in the suburbs, or even downtown, are hearing roosters crowing with the dawn. Backyard coops are popping up in unexpected places, as more people become interested in raising their own chickens.
The movement to keep your own chickens has several contributing factors. Concerns about food safety have led many people to start their own flocks. Since the eggs and meat obtained from your own chickens are easily traced from coop to table, some people find that raising chickens alleviates their concerns over the care, handling and processing of their food. For the dedicated locavore, it’s all about the taste of the product. Going out to the coop to gather up some eggs for your morning omelet guarantees that the eggs will be at their freshest.
Growing your own chickens is taking off in urban environments, because chickens are well suited to being kept in small flocks. Chickens don’t take up much space, need little special equipment to raise, and reliably produce eggs. On average, three hens will produce two eggs a day. A host of resources is available to the aspiring chicken farmer. Popular websites, including backyardchickens.com and mybackyardchickenfarm.com feature a wealth of information. On sites like these, you can learn about the care and habits of many different breeds of chicken, as well as acquire the things you need to start your own flock. Small coops, about the size of a garden shed, can be had for as little as $200, or you can download plans and instructions for building your own custom coop from scratch. Chicks and full grown hens and roosters are available for sale, and can be shipped directly to your door, as can feed and supplies.
Keeping chickens starts with getting a coop. Chickens need to be kept in a sheltered structure for their own safety. They’re pretty easy prey for just about anything, and they have few defenses. While grown chickens can be kept with little temperature regulation, and will survive well in both hot and cold conditions, peeps (or chicks) must be kept in an incubator or warming area until they’ve grown their adult feathers. You can start your flock by ordering full grown chickens, or peeps, or even fertilized eggs that you hatch yourself in an incubator. Most chicken coops will also have a run, a wire or fenced open area where the chickens can move around. In addition, you’ll need feed, available commercially from farm suppliers. Chickens aren’t very picky eaters, and will gladly munch on your household scraps as well as their feed. Plenty of fresh water should also be kept constantly available, as well as a good supply of hay. Keeping chickens will require daily attention, and create daily chores. The coop and run will need to be regularly cleaned to keep up with the waste, which can pack an offensive odor punch. Research on the Internet can help you decide what kind of chickens to get, and the best composition for your flock.
Keeping a few chickens may sound harmless, but many cities and towns have ordinances regarding the practice. Some cities allow the keeping of hens only, or restrict the sizes and compositions of flocks. Because chickens can be smelly, loud and troublesome for the neighbors, some cities like Salt Lake City have bans on keeping chickens. City ordinances regarding the keeping of chickens vary widely. In New York, there is no restriction on the keeping of chickens for eggs. Los Angeles also allows residents to keep chickens if they wish. In Madison, Wisconsin, people who want to have their own backyard chicken coops need to register with the town for a license. Most municipalities also consider keeping chickens for eggs as a different thing from slaughtering chickens for meat. It’s a good idea to check the local regulations before you start ordering your flock.
Backyard chicken farming is for many people an enjoyable hobby, as well as a source of fresh food. For a small investment, you can ensure the very freshest in farm-to-table flavor. As it grows in popularity, more cities are deregulating backyard chicken farming. With the resources available to the aspiring chicken keeper on the Internet, and a burgeoning interest in locally produced food, more people are choosing to start their own flock. There could be a coop coming soon, to a backyard, terrace or roof garden near you.