May 28, 2010 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
Yes, that’s right, there are diapers for chickens. I learned this and and many other practical poultry facts at last Sunday’s urban chicken keeping panel discussion at the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn. Hosted by Eagle Street’s Annie Novak, the panel included 13 year old chicken expert, Orren Fox, (his website agnowledges there is a “fox in the henhouse.”) Fox is a committed vegetarian who prefers to let his 24 chickens roost rather than roast, but he’s accepting of meat eaters. “If you do eat them,” suggests Fox on his blog, Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs, “please consider eating locally raised, happy chickens.”
The panel addressed how to get started, either by ordering baby chicks and raising them from “scratch”–which takes about 4 weeks–or getting pullets (4-6 week old chicks) and avoiding the work associated with raising the youngsters, which might include hiring a “chick sitter” if you plan to go out. “All they do is eat, poop, and sleep,” offered one of the panelists. If you choose to go the baby chick route, expect to wait about 24 weeks for eggs.
Apart from keeping the chickens safe from pests and predators, as an urban chicken raiser you will need to notify your neighbors so you won’t be, er, walking on eggshells in fear of annoying those living nearby. Up to you how to charm them, but you might consider offering the neighbors some fresh eggs to start.
It’s possible to raise the chickens in relatively small spaces, but panelists advised leaving about 4 feet in and out of the coop to allow the birds room to range freely. Apparently, just like many of us–they can get bored and depressed if they are cooped up too long. It’s also important to keep at least two or more. Chickens, I learned, are very social–apparently, they can die of loneliness.
Who knew there were hundreds of breeds of chickens and that they had personalities? Araucanas, I learned, are “reserved and sweet,” and that “it takes them time to warm up to you…by contrast, Buff Orpingtons will jump in your lap.” I also had no idea that Rhode Island Reds, which are great for eggs, could be really sassy.
Just as the chickens come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, so do their eggs. Araucanas lay beautiful blue ones, and Leghorns, among the most popular commercial strains of layer chickens, are reliable for their white eggs. The shell color is a result of pigments deposited as the eggs move through the hen’s oviduct. So what makes a good egg? Balanced, high quality, feed containing enough calcium, according to the experts. The calcium contributes to the quality of the shell. Crushed oyster shells are a good source of calcium, as are bugs and snails.
To supplement the feed, one of the panelists said she feeds her chickens scraps from the neighborhood green grocer, another leftover bread from the local bakery, and another distributes to her gals spent grain form the brewery next door. Karen Washington, who lives in a Latino neighborhood, said she offers her “gallinas” rice and beans. Locavore chickens!
Here are some urban fowl tips offered by JustFood.org:
• Allow minimum 4 square feet per hen
• Make sure the coop is adequately ventilated
• Offer sufficient protection in winter: Not too windy or wet
• Screen around the entire coop–top, bottom, and sides, to protect from predators and rodents
• Henhouse should always have nest boxes on one wall and roosts or perches on the other
• Place straw on the floor to maintain a clean henhouse–keep it clean and free of ammonia
• Protect your tomatoes and lettuce: chickens love them and will devour them
Check your local ordinances regarding legalities of chicken keeping in your area. In Denver, for example, there are restrictions. UrbanChickens.org offers information on how to find out if chicken keeping is legal in your city, and tips for getting your ordinances changed if it is not.
You can also adopt rescued chickens from a sanctuary. Chicken Run Rescue offers this tale: “Buster Brown and little Capezio” were left on the street in the garbage for several days with no water and putrified food. They are each others whole world and must be adopted together. Each panics when separated from the other. They are adult bantams and although they absolutely trembled when held at first, they are getting used to good food, clean quarters, dirt, perches and grass of their very own, and gentle human touch. They will need a protected in a covered outdoor area at least until they feel safe and secure in their new home.”
For technical assistance and support in starting or maintaining your flock, turn to Chicken Talk Radio, hosted by Andy Schneider, aka the Chicken Whisperer.
Are you ready to become an urban chicken farmer or will you…chicken out?