Chickens

City Cluck­ers

You don’t have to live on a ru­ral route to own chick­ens; rais­ing birds within the city lim­its is quite pos­si­ble with the right prepa­ra­tion.

- by Moira K. Mcghee

You don’t have to live on a ru­ral route to own chick­ens; rais­ing birds within the city lim­its is quite pos­si­ble with the right prepa­ra­tion.

City dwellers of­ten have all sorts of in­ter­est­ing neigh­bors, but one that goes cluck-cluck and scratches around in the dirt prob­a­bly isn’t the norm. While ur­ban chicken farm­ing has had its highs and lows, lots of peo­ple are still in­ter­ested in rais­ing fowl that are big on per­son­al­ity. The most com­mon rea­son for rais­ing city chick­ens is ac­cess to fresher eggs, but some are sur­prised that they also make great pets. It’s typ­i­cally easy to care for chick­ens, but be­fore you start your flock, learn more about what’s in­volved.

Is Your City Chicken-friendly?

First things first: Make sure keep­ing chick­ens in your back­yard is le­gal in your city. Lo­cal laws and or­di­nances re­gard­ing chick­ens vary from city to city and are of­ten com­plex. You may need a per­mit, which may re­quire a fee. Most cities limit the num­ber of chick­ens you can keep, and roost­ers are typ­i­cally a big no-no due to noise or­di­nances. There may be re­quire­ments on the types of en­clo­sures and hous­ing used, amount of space pro­vided per chicken and dis­tance be­tween coops and neigh­bor­ing prop­erty lines. Check with your lo­cal code en­force­ment, zon­ing and/or an­i­mal con­trol de­part­ments be­fore buy­ing a flock you might not be al­lowed to keep.

“You need to know the re­stric­tions,” says Les­lie Citroen, pro­pri­etor of Mill Val­ley Chick­ens (www.mil­l­val­l­ey­chick­ens.com), a small ur­ban farm lo­cated in Marin County, Cal­i­for­nia, that sells a large as­sort­ment of back­yard chicken breeds and small-scale chicken farm­ing sup­plies. “One of the first things I tell any­one con­sid­er­ing rais­ing chick­ens in an

ur­ban back­yard is to find out about their lo­cal zon­ing or­di­nances, in­clud­ing the num­ber of chick­ens al­lowed and the zon­ing re­quire­ments for a coop. Some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have harsh set­backs from prop­erty lines or build­ings.”

It’s also im­por­tant to talk to your neigh­bors. Even if back­yard chick­ens are le­gal in your city, if you live next to anti-chicken neigh­bors, you could still run into prob­lems. If a neigh­bor com­plains about the noise, smell or other is­sue they’re hav­ing with your feath­ered friends, you could face a fine or be forced to re-home your flock. Let your neigh­bors know in ad­vance about your plan to raise chick­ens and ad­dress any con­cerns they might have. Of­fer­ing to share ex­tra eggs with them might not hurt ei­ther.

Breed Se­lec­tion

There are nu­mer­ous chicken breeds with a wide va­ri­ety of traits. You may be tempted to sim­ply choose a cute breed with col­or­ful plumage that pro­duces col­or­ful eggs and has a win­ning per­son­al­ity. How­ever, it’s also im­por­tant to choose breeds that can with­stand the weather in your re­gion, espe­cially if harsh win­ters or blis­ter­ing sum­mers are typ­i­cal. Your pur­pose for want­ing chick­ens and who will be car­ing for the birds also will im­pact breed se­lec­tion.

“Al­ways choose hardy breeds that are dis­ease re­sis­tant,” ad­vises Mau­rice Pitesky, Doc­tor of Vet­eri­nary Medicine with the UC Davis School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine and UC Davis Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion (https://ucanr. edu/sites/poul­try/). An ex­pert in flock man­age­ment and Chick­ens Poul­try Sci­ence colum­nist is a big fan of a hy­brid Rhode Is­land Red, be­cause it’s a very hardy breed. “Pol­ish hens are an­other op­tion,” he says. “Ban­tams are also good choices in ur­ban ar­eas.”

Citroen adds that she al­ways asks peo­ple what their goals are in keep­ing chick­ens. She sug­gests dif­fer­ent breeds based on those goals, which may in­clude chick­ens that are beau­ti­ful and/or have beau­ti­ful eggs, or to have as pets or for pure egg pro­duc­tion, or a mix­ture of all th­ese traits. How­ever, she says there are also other things to con­sider.

“If the chick­ens are go­ing to be con­fined in a run, you need to stay away from Mediter­ranean chick­ens and chick­ens that like to free-range, such as Fay­oumi, etc.,” Citroen says. “They will be un­happy and stressed out be­ing con­fined in a run.

“For fam­i­lies, you can’t go wrong hav­ing an Or­p­ing­ton or a Barred Rock. I find peo­ple are re­ally at­tracted to the Barred Rock or Sil­ver Laced Wyan­dotte pat­tern. [They’re] very hand­some. I’ve also found that young boys are al­ways at­tracted to the Pol­ish chick­ens. It’s that crazy wacky look the boys like. Young girls are at­tracted to the mini chick­ens, the Ban­tams.”

Buy­ing Your Flock

Once you’ve de­cided on a breed or breeds, ask your­self which should come first, the chick or the egg? If you’ve never raised chick­ens be­fore, in­cu­bat­ing and hatch­ing is a some­what ad­vanced as­pect that’s bet­ter tack­led af­ter you have more ex­pe­ri­ence. Chicks are more com­monly rec­om­mended for new ur­ban chicken farm­ers, and it’s vi­tal to only pur­chase chicks from rep­utable sources.

Pitesky urges be­gin­ners to “start with chicks. Eggs aren’t a good choice for a new­bie, and chicks are cute. Pur­chas­ing older birds also isn’t a good choice, be­cause you don’t know how they were raised or what dis­eases they may have been ex­posed to.

“Buy your chicks from feed stores and hatch­eries. Chicks from th­ese places are go­ing to have all the things you want, in­clud­ing all the nec­es­sary vac­cines. Poul­try breed­ers can be an­other good source, espe­cially if they par­tic­i­pate in the Na­tional Poul­try Im­prove­ment Plan.”

The NPIP is a vol­un­tary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem for hatch­eries and poul­try breed­ers. Par­tic­i­pants in the pro­gram sub­mit their birds for reg­u­larly sched­uled test­ing to en­sure their flocks are free of pul­lo­rum dis­ease and fowl typhoid. Both are ex­tremely con­ta­gious, se­vere sal­mo­nella in­fec­tions that cause high mor­tal­ity in chick­ens and tur­keys.

Citroen dis­cour­ages peo­ple from buy­ing adult chick­ens from in­di­vid­u­als post­ing on clas­si­fied ad­ver­tise­ment web­sites. She warns that you risk buy­ing spent hens or, worse, dis­eased hens

that bring in­fec­tion or par­a­sites into your back­yard. She agrees that chicks are the ideal choice, espe­cially for fam­i­lies with kids.

“It’s a won­der­ful bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for a fam­ily and teaches kids re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Citroen says. “Kids can see how quickly the chick­ens grow and the more the chicks are han­dled, the friend­lier they’ll be as adults. Older adults, how­ever, usu­ally aren’t in­ter­ested in rais­ing chicks, deal­ing with heat lamps, etc., so young pul­lets are the way to go for this age group.”

“If pur­chas­ing ready-to-lay pul­lets, en­sure they have re­ceived ap­pro­pri­ate vac­ci­na­tions for Marek’s dis­ease, New­cas­tle dis­ease and in­fec­tious bron­chi­tis,” says poul­try ve­teri­nar­ian Eric Gin­gerich. “The Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Avian Pathol­o­gists small flock com­mit­tee is a good web­site to find help with back­yard chicken health and man­age­ment.” Find out more at www.aaap.info/small-flock-com­mit­tee.

Flock of How Many?

When start­ing your flock, re­mem­ber that chick­ens are very so­cial an­i­mals. Citroen stresses that it would be in­hu­mane to have a sin­gle chicken.

“I push every­one to start off with a min­i­mum of four chick­ens,” she says. “If buy­ing baby chicks, there’s al­ways a chance you’ll get a rooster. Even when they’re sexed, it’s pos­si­ble for a rooster to slip through [which you can’t keep in most cities].”

Pitesky agrees that due to their so­cial na­ture, you never want to start with less than two birds. His magic num­ber is a min­i­mum of three to start.

“If you only buy two, you’re putting all your eggs in one bas­ket,” he says. “You’re as­sum­ing both birds will sur­vive, but if one dies, you’re left with only one. Now you have to try to get a re­place­ment bird. It can be chal­leng­ing to in­tro­duce a new bird, espe­cially if you now need an older bird close in age to the sur­viv­ing bird. Pur­chas­ing an older bird could put your other bird at risk, be­cause there’s al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity that an older bird has been ex­posed to some­thing you don’t want to bring home.”

Space & Hous­ing

In an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, size con­straints can be a ma­jor is­sue. If you’re chick­ens are liv­ing in too close quar­ters, they be­come stressed, which can in­crease the like­li­hood of ill­nesses and dis­ease. While you must com­ply with your city’s flock size lim­its, the amount of space you have avail­able and hous­ing re­quire­ments may mean re­quire you to keep fewer birds than the al­lowed amount.

“Pro­vide your chick­ens with clean air, clean wa­ter and clean food, and you’re 90% done,” Pitesky says. “You should also pro­vide a min­i­mum of 2 to 3 square feet of space per bird. How­ever, space re­quire­ments can be dif­fer­ent with dif­fer­ent breeds. You must pro­vide enough space for the birds to have fun and meet the needs of their nat­u­ral be­hav­iors, such as dust baths.”

“You want to give your chick­ens as much space as pos­si­ble, espe­cially well-ven­ti­lated, sunny spa­ces,” Citroen says. “The coop size can be small, be­cause they only come into the coop to sleep and lay eggs, but it’s im­por­tant they have a lot of space in the day­time. Ide­ally, chick­ens should free-range. If this isn’t pos­si­ble, then you have to be re­al­is­tic and cut back on the num­ber of chick­ens you have to pro­vide a hu­mane en­vi­ron­ment.

When build­ing your coop and run, don’t build in a shady area or an area that floods, be­cause your chick­ens will be mis­er­able. They also want to scratch, so they need to be on soil, never on a con­crete pad.

Smelly Chal­lenges

One of the big­gest chal­lenges of rais­ing ur­ban chick­ens is the po­ten­tial for a stinky, fly-in­fested en­vi­ron­ment, espe­cially in smaller spa­ces. En­sur­ing you have enough space for your chick­ens is a vi­tal part of keep­ing the smell at bay.

“The most im­por­tant part is pay­ing at­ten­tion to square footage, al­ways keep­ing 2 to 3 feet be­tween the birds,” Pitesky says. “You must also en­sure you have good ven­ti­la­tion in your coop and pro­tect the in­te­rior from rain. The am­mo­nia and poop smells get worse, if rain gets in. Ex­ces­sive mois­ture is the en­emy.”

Pitesky sug­gests putting a sub­strate on the ground, such as rice hulls, chopped up peanut hulls or straw. Due to your chick­ens’ nat­u­ral be­hav­ior, they’ll “ro­totill” the poop into this sub­strate, which helps with the smell. The more birds you have, the more nec­es­sary a sub­strate may be­come, and it also pro­vides en­rich­ment for the birds.

Citroen warns that if you’re hav­ing smells, then you have too many chick­ens in too small of an area. “There’s never an ex­cuse to have smells or flies.”

Preda­tor Pa­trol

De­spite be­ing in an ur­ban area, preda­tors are one of the big­gest haz­ards for your chicks and prob­a­bly much more preva­lent than you re­al­ize.

From your neigh­bor’s dog or cat to wildlife you might not be aware of, your chick­ens face nu­mer­ous dan­gers. It’s crit­i­cal to pro­vide an ex­tremely safe en­clo­sure, espe­cially at night.

“In a weird way, ur­ban chicken farm­ers deal with way more preda­tors than farm­ers out in ru­ral ar­eas,” Citroen says. “In farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties, peo­ple will shoot rac­coons, bob­cats, etc., but if some­one was to shoot [a gun in an ur­ban area], you would be fac­ing jail time! So, even though I live only 8 miles from the world­fa­mous Golden Gate Bridge, I deal with bob­cat at­tacks, hawks, skunks, foxes and rac­coons.”

Egg-cel­lent Perks

The best part of rais­ing ur­ban chick­ens for most peo­ple is the boun­ti­ful sup­ply of fresh eggs. And, your sup­ply will be boun­ti­ful, maybe more than you can han­dle. On the up­side, they make great gifts.

“In the­ory, a chicken lays an egg ev­ery 25 hours,” Pitesky says. “While it’s not hard to take care of five or six chick­ens, it could be dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out what to do with all those eggs.”

“Peo­ple’s egg con­sump­tion goes way up!” Citroen says. “But, it’s al­ways easy to gift peo­ple eggs. Here in the greater San Fran­cisco area, it’s a sta­tus sym­bol to bring eggs in­stead of wine to a party.”

Afi­nal word of ad­vice for as­pir­ing ur­ban chicken farm­ers, make sure you’re pre­pared. Chick­ens are fairly easy to raise, but there are nu­mer­ous is­sues you may run into. If you know any lo­cal chicken ex­perts, get to know them. Brows­ing on­line fowl boards of­ten pro­vides lots of help­ful in­for­ma­tion but hav­ing a poul­try spe­cial­ist to turn to with ques­tions is in­valu­able.

Moira Mcghee is a no­madic writer who re­cently learned that keep­ing chick­ens in the sprawl­ing Los An­ge­les area is mostly le­gal through­out the county, but most neigh­bor­hoods won’t tol­er­ate roost­ers.

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 ??  ?? Check lo­cal or­di­nances for le­gal­i­ties of own­ing chick­ens. Some re­quire coops to be a cer­tain dis­tance your home and your neigh­bors.
Check lo­cal or­di­nances for le­gal­i­ties of own­ing chick­ens. Some re­quire coops to be a cer­tain dis­tance your home and your neigh­bors.
 ??  ?? Keep­ing your coop and run clean is ex­tremely im­por­tant but even more so in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment.
Keep­ing your coop and run clean is ex­tremely im­por­tant but even more so in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment.
 ??  ?? A sim­ple ark can pro­vide day shel­ter and al­low your birds to work your back­yard, keep­ing down pests and fer­til­iz­ing the grass!
A sim­ple ark can pro­vide day shel­ter and al­low your birds to work your back­yard, keep­ing down pests and fer­til­iz­ing the grass!
 ??  ?? A cou­ple of hens can turn a bor­ing back­yard into a free-range “pas­ture!”
A cou­ple of hens can turn a bor­ing back­yard into a free-range “pas­ture!”
 ??  ?? Who needs a pas­ture when a small space can pro­vide “farm­fresh” eggs!
Who needs a pas­ture when a small space can pro­vide “farm­fresh” eggs!

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