Next summer could be when we buy our first house (I’m crossing my fingers big here; there are a lot of “if’s” to contend with) and naturally when I have a house I will have chickens. City chickens are catching on big. There are several books on the topic, a few excellent websites (some good ones are mentioned in a former post titled I Dream… of Chickens) and several organizations dedicated to promoting raising chickens in urban areas. If you think you need a huge amount of space (i.e. a farm) to raise chickens, you’re mistaken. While more space is better than too little (for all types of livestock), the average urban/suburban yard offers most than enough space for a handful of chickens. And you can still have room for your yard/garden too! According to the article Small Scale Poultry Housing by Philip J. Clauer (on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website at http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/poultry/factsheets/10.html) laying hens need 1.5 feet of space inside the coop and 8 square feet of space outdoors per bird. For the smaller bantams, the requirements are 1 foot inside and 4 feet outside.
So, what supplies will you need to get started with chickens? You will need a coop (this is their shelter building that contains a perch for them to roost (sleep) on as well as a nesting box for them to lay their eggs in. You will also need a fenced run (enclosure) so that you’re chickens can run about outdoors and forage in the grass. Now, you could let your chickens free range (wander about without an enclosure) in your yard, but then you’re leaving your ladies wide open to predators, such as dogs, racoons, falcons, owls, and hawks. Even though you live in an urban/suburban area these are all threats as they find chickens to be quite tasty. So keep your chickens safe by having a portable run that’s just large enough to give them adequate space to move about, but small enough so that you can move it about the yard. You will also need a food dish and water dish.
Once you have your coop and run set up, you’re ready to move in adult chickens. To hatch your own chicks or raise babies, you’ll need additional equipment (namely an incubator) which many hatcheries sell. My favorite mail-order hatchery is Murray McMurray.
Basic chicken care is simple. You will want to let them out of their coop each morning to forage and run about in their enclosure. You’ll want to move the run to a different spot in your yard every few days so they have fresh forage and don’t scratch all your grass down to a dirt patch. You’ll want to provide supplemental food for your chickens daily (an organic grain mixture is best). I’ve read that it’s best to give them this supplemental feeding at midday, in order to encourage them to forage on their own in the mornings. Make sure they have fresh water daily. And you’ll want to gather the eggs daily. If you notice any sign of sickness or problems in one of your birds, quarantine it from the others and consult a good chicken care book. Most illnesses and pest problems are easy to treat, and can be done so organically.
For more detailed information, you can consult www.backyardchickens.com or www.mypetchicken.com. Murray McMurray Hatchery sells supplies, books, feed, incubators, coops, eggs for hatching and pullets (young chicks) for many birds, including full-size chickens, bantam chickens, doves, ducks, turkeys, and more. You can visit their website and request a catalog at www.mcmurrayhatchery.com. Some excellent resource books to get you started are Keep Chickens by Barbara Kilarski, Chickens in Your Backyard by Rick Luttman and Living with Chickens: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Your Own Backyard Flock by Jay Rossier.