Whether the motivation is economic, environmental, or “gosh darn, it’s just a cool hobby,” urban homesteading is quickly gaining momentum across America. Once your backyard garden and compost are in place, the next logical step is the acquisition of a few hens, right? Free fertilizer, bug control and fresh, tender eggs every morning are big bonuses.
A few considerations need serious weighing before bringing those fuzzy chicks home, and thousands of folks on the internet are ready to lend a helping hand with blogs, how-tos, and FAQs. Increase chances of success and enhance the urban/suburban backyard farming experience with a well-thought out plan. You can build your own coop or purchase one at retailers such as Williams Sonoma.
The first thing to check is city ordinances. In Benicia, up to 10 fowl are permitted at single-family residences, and up to 6 at multifamily residences, provided they are kept at least 20 feet away from neighboring structures. Roosters or other fowl that constitute a noise nuisance are not allowed, but hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster. For Benicia ordinance details, see Title 6, Chapter 6.32 of the Benicia Municipal code, at www.codepublishing.com/ca/benicia/.
A few more things to consider:
- According to www.backyardchickens.com, chicks will be comfortable in a small animal cage or sturdy cardboard box for the first 60 days.
- For the first week, temps should be between 90-100 degrees, and decreased by 5 degrees per week.
- Use a 100-watt light, pointed at the corner and not the center of the box.
- Pine shavings work well as flooring.
- Give the chicks a carefully-fenced off space in the yard to spend some time exploring, and play with them so they get used to human attention.
- Once feathered, the hens will need a coop, 2-3 feet of space each, and 4-5 feet of penned space outside.
- Plan out a safe space for the coop, free from potential predators, before you purchase chicks!
- Some people think that chickens smell really bad. Have in mind a designated cage-cleaner before you purchase, or create a rotating chore in the family.
- If your coop is kept clean, it will smell less and be a much healthier environment for your chickens.
- Cleaning schedules should be tailored to the individual family and will change depending on the environment and number of chickens, but a simple daily cleaning and thorough cleanings every few weeks is a good way to go.
- Manure can be added directly to compost, along with unfinished food scraps.
- Chicken layer feed and food pellets are common choices.
- Chickens should always have fresh water; waterers can be purchased or homemade.
- Fruit and vegetable scraps and occasional meat scraps make good treats, but some vegetable skins (such as potatoes and avocados) contain chemicals that are harmful to foul. Check online for food safety tips (visit www.backyardchickens.com for a complete food chart).
- Bugs such as crickets are part of a chicken’s native diet and will be thoroughly enjoyed.
Eggs or Meat?
Decide before purchase if you want your foul for egg or meat production. Most meat-producing varieties aren’t the best layers, and the best egg-producers are lean. There are some dual-purpose producers, such as Rhode Island Reds.
Top 5 Varieties
Backyardchickens.com has an online community of over 115,000 chicken owners, and a list of 108 different varieties. Here are their top five, in order:
- Plymouth Rock
Read up on the pros and cons of different varieties to find those that best suit your needs.