Raise Your Own Chickens: 10 Things Every Urban Farmer Should Know

Hatched the idea to raise your own backyard chickens? It’s not a bird-brained notion, but there’s a lot you need to know upfront. Here’s a helpful list of what to expect, from coop construction to egg payoff.

1. Make sure your city (and climate) allows for chickens.
See if your city’s regulations permit having an urban chicken coop. Not every town is as earthy-crunchy as Berkeley, CA, so do your research before investing in hens. Secondly, consider Mother Nature. Chickens can survive winter conditions, but it’s a lot of work for little payoff: They often cease laying eggs in the coldest months.

2. Decide how big your coop will be.
Or, rather, how many chickens you will tend to. Apartment Therapy has a great guide for first time builders with larger yards, and BackYard Chickens has a good plan for smaller batches. Be ready to clean it every two weeks—and watch the chickens cluck in delight each time you do.

3. Build proper accommodations.
Chickens roost upright at night. A long rod or plank—contained in a dark, waterproof space—works best for them. They’ll perch atop it and doze right off. As for nests, a 4-to-1 chicken-to-nest ratio should be fine for your coop. They’ll lay their eggs even if other eggs are in the same nest. Nests should be two feet off the ground (build them behind the roosting perches to help the hens hop up into the nest), and a 12” x 12” x 12” nest should suffice, so long as it’s filled with clean hay.

4. Protect your feathered friends.
Chickens will put themselves to bed at sundown, but you need to lock up and secure the coop so that no predators—like raccoons—get in. You might even want to put aviary netting over the run (the fenced space alongside the coop) so that hawks can’t swoop in. Just remember that chickens are indisputably delicious across the carnivorous animal kingdom.

5. Buy the chicks in-store or online.
Call your local gardening or farming supply center to see if they have some live chicks. If you want a specific breed of hen, you may have to do more focused searching, though sites like My Pet Chicken sell them for next to nothing ($2-4). That’s a terrific investment considering they live 8-10 years and give you fresh eggs regularly.

6. Fence off your plants.
You’ll want to protect any flowers or vegetables, because the birds will destroy them given the chance. Chickens will, however, fertilize and weed your grass for you, should you let them out of their coop or run. It’s their natural inclination to hunt and peck for any type of food—plants, bugs, pellets—so don’t let them near anything precious.

7. Plan for early mornings.
You won’t hear “cock-a-doodle-doo” at the crack of dawn, but you will hear the hens squawking at 7a.m. to be let out into the run or yard. They’re sure to keep you on a regular early-morning schedule. Be mindful of the neighbors’ sleep!

8. Get to know your birds.
Like humans, your chickens will display unique characteristics and behaviors. Some are more approachable than others. Some will pair off and be best friends. They’re happy to eat out of your hands and won’t be too afraid of you, but they aren’t particularly keen on being picked up and cradled. Don’t expect the same affection a dog or cat might give.

9. Add “broody” to your lexicon.
A broody hen thinks she is incubating eggs—meaning she thinks hers will hatch. Assuming you don’t have any roosters, this hen is obviously a bit cuckoo. She’ll puff her chest out. She’ll guard the nest and ward off any other chickens. She’ll peck at them and even pull out her own feathers. She might even peck at other eggs and crack them open. How do you fix it? Isolation. You build a broody coop without a nest alongside the coop. Give her food and water, just don’t let her anywhere near the nest. After a couple days, she’ll be perfectly fine.

10. Expect delicious eggs.
During warmer seasons, you should expect to get an egg every day from an adult hen (4-6 months old). Sometimes they will skip a day or two. These taste much better than store-bought eggs, especially if you give your chickens high-grade scratch (a cracked corn and wheat mixture), plus occasional vegetables and organic table scraps.

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