The Trials of Raising Chickens in Your Own Backyard
I've written about raising your own chickens before over at TreeHugger. In fact, my native Columbia, S.C. is moving to vote on a city ordinance that will permit the backyard birds. For those of us that enjoy local eggs, there is simply no comparison between them and the mass produced variety. The flavor is so completely different that most people become converts on first taste. Backyard birds are just another way to enjoy the best in local foods.
But it's important to realize the task that you're taking on by raising your own chickens for eggs, especially in an urban environment. According to Farm Sanctuary (pdf), there's certainly a downside to the urban chicken trend. When chickens are reduced to commodities, hatcheries become just like puppy mills. There are no legal requirements outlining how breeding chickens are housed, meaning they may be crammed into small cages or sheds without outdoor access. So consider adopting abandoned chickens that need a home from Sanctuaries or Farm Animal Shelters. And then make sure you have the time, space, and patience to provide a good home for your birds. Here are some tips for preparing yourself for the task at hand:
Get Prepared Before Purchasing Urban Chickens
1. Make sure that you have the proper facility to abide by local ordinances.
In Columbia, the ordinance says that up to four hens are permitted. Coops must be at least 25 feet from any property line, and coops are prohibited in front or side yards. Find out your local ordinances and make sure even having free range chickens in the first place is a possibility. If you do live in the city limits and decide not to abide by the city ordinances, the likelihood is that a neighbor is going to turn you in and then you'll be stuck with some huge fine. Even worse, you'll have to say goodbye to your chickens.
2. Ensure that your chicken coop is properly shielded from predators.
These could include foxes, raccoons, or neighborhood dogs. Sami wrote an in-depth piece about how to keep your free range chickens safe. Make sure your coop is secure and always lock it up. Know your local predators. If you know the dog next door or the oversized domestic cat will be a problem, be alert. Be aware of aerial predators as well.
3. Make sure the chickens are warm enough in the winter.
If it gets really cold where you live, you need to ensure that you have an insulated chicken coop. And you need to insulate the coop with a durable material because the chickens will peck at anything. If your weather doesn't go below freezing, full grown chickens will usually be fine. Although egg hatching will slow down in the winter time if the chickens aren't getting as much light. Some breeds are cold sensitive and some aren't. Red Buckeyes, for example, are very cold weather hardy.
If you're considering, urban chickens as they are so aptly named, Urban Chicken can fill you in on all the ordinances in your neck of the woods.