Keeping backyard chickens is a pretty hot topic these days. It’s now legal in most U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City, however, according to this list, it’s legal in only five minor Canadian cities. Stories and debates pop up in Canadian media all of the time, but they seem pretty pathetic, especially when you look back over that list and see some surprising U.S. cities on it.
Jane, Jesse’s mom has been keeping chickens for around 10 years. She has a great set-up in an old tobacco kiln with a dirt floor, plenty of sunlight, nesting boxes filled with beautiful straw, and a large fenced-in area outside. She keeps chickens for eggs and they easily supply all of her needs as well as those of her four kids, their spouses, and five grand-kids. The cost of keeping her flock of 10 is low, and she looks forward to visiting them every morning and evening.
Once the birds learn to nest and lay their eggs in the chicken coop, she lets them run free, scavenging for grubs and fertilizing the yard. This really reduces their need for feed and gives them a much more natural and balanced diet. Just take a look at their eggs. The yolks from their summer eggs are a deep orange and more flavourful than any factory-farmed egg you’ll eat.
So why a rooster then? Well, when Jane first picked up the pullets, or immature hens, you couldn’t tell the gender, and a rooster slipped through. But he’s not a bad thing to have around, since he’ll establish a pecking order that without him would have seen a hen assume his position, and she’d probably stop laying eggs while she took care of business. So, if you’re going to have one unproductive chicken, it’s nice to have such a handsome one.
If you are interested in keeping chickens or want to study up on some theory (in the case that it’s illegal where you are), a definite must-read is Keeping Chickens with Ashley English. It’s the only chicken book you’ll ever need and covers everything from preparing for chickens, to selecting breeds, to recipes. Everything is presented in a beautiful and logical manner. Charts organize important information into easy to read sections such as one that tells what you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly, annual and biannual basis.
One section is dedicated to building coops and above, you can see her plans for a chicken tractor, which is a movable, floorless coop which allows the chickens to have contact with the ground and all of the nutrition it provides. Ashley keeps a beautiful blog called Small Measure and you can get the daily scoop on her flock and other enviable aspects of her life there.
People generalize about the messiness of keeping backyard chickens, but like anything, it’s relative. Would you keep 20 dogs in a small urban backyard? Probably not. Maybe three chickens would be perfect, and you could keep them in a modern, easy-to-clean coop. It’s also exciting to see what the eggs look like. They almost never look like anything you’d pick up in the supermarket. We were particularly excited the first time we saw the deep red of Jane’s Welsummer eggs. And what the hens lack in overtly warm affection, they’ll make up for in toasty warm omelettes.