Sunday, January 18, 2009

Urban Chickens

A couple of years ago we decided that we'd practice having chickens to get ready for the "big move" to self sustainability. And with very little exceptions I've never regretted it. I love having chickens. They're interesting to watch, they turn my food scraps into eggs, they are not hard to take care of and did I mention they are a riot to watch and interact with. Most local cities will allow you to have chickens within city limits. Check with city code to see if they're allowed. This webpage may help you see if you can in your city. We didn't know much about raising chickens or choosing chickens when we got started. Luckily for us they are a very forgiving animal. We bought our first chickens from the local farm store. I'd been going in there for years and every spring they'd have chickens. Every year, I'd say "next year I'm getting chickens." Boy, I had no idea what i was starting. I brought home those ten chickens the first year and I was hooked. I have long since given up buying chickens at the local feed store, for several reasons. One of which is the chickens come as a straight run. This means there are as many roosters in the mix as hens. And in case you've forgotten, roosters do not lay eggs and in a lot of cases are not allowed within city limits. We ended up with over half our chickens being roosters that first year. This does not make for a happy yard. Now we get our chickens from a couple of different hatcheries. We are lucky to have one down by our property in rural Missouri, so we've bought chickens from them a couple of times. They are called Cackle Hatchery and also sell online. They have a wide assortment and you can order a lot of their chickens sexed. We've had good luck with their sexing. We've also bought from McMurray Hatchery and Ideal. All of these hatcheries, we've had good luck with. There are so many great choices in picking out chickens, you just have to decide what is important to you. Or you can be like us and choose lots of different kinds. We've loved all the different kinds of chickens we've gotten. Some we've gotten because they were good layers, some because they looked cool, and some because they were supposed to be hardy in our wintery climate. A couple of our favorite varieties have been the araucanas, they lay colored eggs - green and blue. They are also very friendly birds. We've also loved our silver wyandotte, we've had her for years. Another favorite of ours is our silky, she is our smallest chicken but is the mother hen of them all. Most of our chickens will lay their eggs and run back out of their coop, with no interest in the egg. The silky is the opposite, she is an extreme brooder. She will gather all the chickens eggs together and sit on them. Once, we let her do this for a couple of days and that little chicken was sitting on a huge pile of over 2 dozen eggs. It was quite a sight. The basic needs a chicken have are clean water, clean place with a roost to sleep, some dirt to take "baths" in, and fresh greens. Chickens will eat a yard clean, I can't get any grass to grow back where they are, so we supplement their scratch grains with kitchen scraps and greens from out of the garden in season. This is important to the flavor of their eggs and their health. We can tell the difference in the colors of the yolk and how their eggs taste when they are not getting enough greens. Chickens are scavengers and will eat most anything. We are vegetarians, so, we don't have meat to feed them, i think some people do though. It is also very important to make sure they always have access to clean water, especially in the summer. They can dehydrate very quickly. As far as living arrangements, we bought a cheap shed from the hardware store and added some roosts in it, so they can sleep off of the ground. Where I live it is important to have a secure place to put the chickens up at night. We have lost more than our share of chickens to fox, dogs and raccoons. Chickens are very smart animals, if you get them used to going in a coop at night it is very easy to make it a habit for them. We had one summer, where they weren't going up and we were having a hard time getting out to them before dark. By the time we would get out there they would be all ready roosting in the trees. Sometimes, very high up, 25 or 30 feet. We'd spend the next hour digging them out of the trees (not the ones 30 feet up). This was not a fun chore for us or the chickens. We started making sure we got out there earlier and had them in the coop before dark and now they just automatically go up once it gets dark. You can expect to get about 2 eggs from a chicken every three days, in season. In the winter, they do not lay near as many eggs. They are conserving their energy to survive the winter. There are ways to coax more eggs out of them in the winter, such as having a light on in their coop, but we figure it is a natural cycle for them and just try to save enough eggs to make it through the winter when they are not laying. We currently have a 11 chickens so we were getting over a dozen eggs every other day. I hope this was helpful information if you are interested in having urban chickens. I would love to hear your urban chicken adventures. Stay tuned, later in the week we'll have a guest appearance.

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