With recent economic changes, our Pinkie lives have shifted to local community focuses, neighborhood activities, and things like cultivating backyard flocks of chickens. Eye opening documentaries, such as Food Inc., combined with rising commitments toward sustainability and eating locally, have made keeping chickens a renewed, enjoyable and popular endeavor.
Over the last two years, multiple friends of mine started raising chickens.
Watching these quirky birds troop around a yard in search of bugs and snacks is oddly relaxing, not unlike watching fish in an aquarium. In addition to producing great organic eggs, chickens eat parasites off of our roses but do not eat the roses themselves. Their scratchings aerate the soil around the rose roots and chicken manure is ideal for citrus trees and garden composting. However, it is wise to allow them to roam within designated areas of your yard. Chickens are walking manure machines -- once every seven minutes is the fact. They will invariably help themselves to other garden and yard plants too, so without observation they can be destructive.
Chickens have an amazing repertoire of vocalizations. My husband recently experienced the I-need-to-lay-my-egg pronto medley. He was making a small coop renovation, which apparently intersected with daytime official production hours. It gave new meaning to browbeat. Mature chickens are soft with luxurious, iridescent feathers and a comical way of running, rather like a miniature dinosaurs. Chicks are endearing, delicate, silly puff balls. They fall asleep while standing upright at which point their heads dangle between their legs.
Steps for Creating Your Own Backyard Flock
Investigate your hometown’s livestock ordinances. Local city/county municipality websites address zoning locations and permitted uses. It can be helpful to inquire with a local architect as well. Many areas allow hens but no roosters. As you might guess, roosters are very vocal throughout daylight hours, are usually aggressive, and can be deemed nuisances. If you live in an area where a rooster could get you into trouble, you can buy “sexed pullets” which are female chicks. (By the way: sexing is not an exact science, though many companies have as high as a 90% accuracy rate. One holiday morning at the crack of dawn, our four month-old “Ethel” began crowing. I’ll share that donning my fuzzy, blue bathrobe and sporting the universal “shhhhh” sign was not effective for a trumpeting rooster. “Ethel”, renamed Ed, was re-homed to friends in an area where roosters are OK and where he could be the ladies man of the flock.)
If you're interested in a productive flock, select chickens was to acquire good egg laying and social hens. Two helpful websites with breed information are www.McMurrayHatchery.com and www.My.Pet.Chicken.com. MyPetChicken.com has patented a safe heating element to enclose with shipped birds such that prospective flock owners can order as few as three chicks. More traditional companies such as Murray McMurray require that you order at least 10 chickens.
On that note, do your breed research! The abundance of information on breeds will help you select the best birds for you. There are some exquisitely beautiful breeds; but do take into consideration your goals for having a backyard flock. For example the White Leghorns, reminiscent of the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons of yore, are good layers with modest food consumption. However Leghorns are aggressive to one another and are not docile birds. They might not be best for a household with children. In contrast: Autralorps and Orpiningtons are two breeds known for friendliness and good daily egg production. An Australorp hen holds the world record for having laid 364 eggs in a year. There are many things to consider such as hot/cold weather hardiness, egg laying, food consumption, and temperament. Ornate breeds are usually not prolific egg layers. Backyard flocks are ideal for families, since kids typically enjoy holding chicks. Households with children can create very social adult chickens.
With respect to building your chicken coop, research, thought and planning cannot be underestimated. Housing options are varied such as prefabricated coops, which can be ordered and assembled or reusing recycled materials to construct your own coop. The book Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow is a wealth of information. It addresses all aspects of keeping chickens as well as creating their shelter.
A modern chicken coop option is the clever Egglu at www.omlet.us. Egglus are brightly colored molded plastic, compact, easy to clean, and transportable. However you may not care for bright colors or the cost of the Egglu comparative to other options.
(For the most economical and well planned chicken coop construction in Marin County California, I highly recommend top-notch handy man: Ron Trifeletti. Phone: 415-717-4172, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron is a retired contractor. He brings 30 years of experience and knowledge about issues like: property line variances, coop size, placement, and materials; so you won’t be stuck renovating or moving a chicken coop at a later date.)
What do you think? Is keeping chickens a step toward self-reliance and happy gardens for you?
Good luck with your own feathered ladies and backyard flock!
Karen Reynolds is an Acupuncturist and RN in private practice in Mill Valley, CA. In additional to her specialties in women’s health, fertility and treatment of chronic pain, she has an avid interest in sustainable living and global health.