In the last couple of weeks, what feels like dozens of people have come to me to ask "Are Urban Chickens Right For Me?" While I'm far from an expert, I have been keeping some notes and guidelines.
This, then, is for them:
The urban chicken craze is still accelerating, flapping and pecking its way through cities from coast to coast and across the globe. While some see it as a fad, others see it as the next logical step in living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Done correctly, keeping urban chickens has many benefits. For children, they learn where food comes from and how to care for animals. For the chickens, life in a nice backyard is light years better than life in a factory farm or "battery." For the eggs, they're healthier, some say tastier, and they're not trucked in from distant places. And for your garden, you can compost the chicken poo and really add a boost to your soil.
But before you decide to take the next step toward hen-related happiness, ask yourself "Are urban chickens right for me?" You'll find the answers in the cosmos...
Laws of Space and Time
To keep things above board, you'll need to find out whether your town allows urban chickens. You'll have to learn the rules: how many can you keep? Are there rules about where to place a coop? Does it have to be a certain size/height? A certain distance from the property line or other structures? Are roosters legal (probably not, and besides your hens lay eggs whether or not there's a rooster present)? You should also share this news with your neighbors before you bring home your new feathery friends.
You'll need space for a coop and for a run. You can get smaller chickens, called Bantams, but you'll still need some space for a run and some shade. A good rule of thumb is 2 to 3 square feet per bird for the coop, and 4 to 5 square feet for the run. And while you're at it, the coop has to be predator proof. You'd be surprised at the number of urban predators out there. In our neighborhood in the Bay Area, we have hawks, possums, raccoons, dogs... And those are just the ones we've actually seen in our back yard! It's up to you to determine if any existing pets will cause problems. Coops can cost thousands of dollars for fancy pre-built ones, or you can make your own out of recycled materials. Chickens don't care much about the aesthetics, just as long as they're safe.
Keeping chickens is actually a relatively low-maintenance task, so you won't need a ton of time. Daily chores include feeding and watering (yes, you can get automatic waterers and feeders) and checking for eggs. Folks also like to let their chickens out of the run to stretch their legs, too. More infrequent chores include cleaning out the coop and run, and inspecting the birds, coop, and run. You'll need to purchase food (and other treats/supplements like flax seed, oyster shell, scratch, cracked corn) and pine shavings or hay. Chickens also love to eat bugs, weeds, and kitchen scraps.
And so, that's it. Are urban chickens right for you? Chances are that someone you know or someone in your neighborhood is already keeping chickens. Further, the amount of help, advice, and support available on the Internet is nearly overwhelming -- just search for Urban Chickens. But you might want to set aside a few hours, first!