One of my sons-in-law is doing a better job of becoming self-sufficient than we are! Elaine got word Monday that he’s gotten three young chicks and they are penned in the kitchen, entertaining the whole family as they grow up.
While this seems to be a fine thing on the surface – especially for the half-grown pre-teen daughter – there’s a lot more to raising chickens than meets the McMuffin.
Let me run through some of the pluses and the minuses for you, since “urban chickens” are becoming very popular. For those not familiar with raising chickens, a few words of friendly advise are in order.
Getting Ready for Chickens
This seems childish, but it’s a topic worthy of long, thoughtful consideration. Where will you put them? What at the local laws? Do you have predators? What about chicken waste? Who will clip their wings? Do you have a food source for them? What about water? Do you have a “chicken-sitter” for when you want to travel? Could you eat your own chicken when it’s “service life is over?” How do you de-feather and clean a chicken? What about entails and waste disposal?
When you get down to it, there are a huge number of things that you need to get figured out – in advance, hopefully – before chickens show up in the kitchen as “entertaining” little critters.
Two Big Problems
These are two that many people don’t know about.
The first is how chickens “socialize.” About the worst number of chickens to have is three. We know this one from hard, personal experience.
What happens is two of the chickens will pick on one – which will be routinely pecked all to hell-and-gone. It will usually have a bloody crown (top of head feathers) and the scent of blood brings out the absolute worst in chickens. They are semi-cannibalistic.
The more in the flock, the better. But, just in case, you will want to have a “chicken hospital pen” figured out in case the bad chickens peck the weakling badly.
Second point about chickens is they are everyone’s dinner.
In the city, particularly the city where this urban chicken farm is located (Tacoma, Washington), there are raccoons. If Tacoma had the same firearm laws as, oh, Anderson County, Texas where we are (NONE!) it would only be a nuisance.
You see, here if a raccoon make a run at anything (and they regularly try to get into the screen porch because that’s where Zeus-the-Cat’s water fountain is), the only question is how to deal with the ‘coons. Will be use a subsonic round? Or, will be use rat-shot? Will then end with a .22, a 9MM, 12-guage, or 7.62X39 round? .22 pistol is least intrusive, but most get a few warning shots from a pellet gun as part of our “escalating response” approach.
Back in Tacoma, however, there’s no such option. Why, I’m not sure you can run a pellet gun in Tacoma, or a bb-gun for that matter. Left Coast gun rules are different than here.
Sure, you can ask Animal Control to trap the offending raccoons, but they will try like hell to get a chicken dinner on the way. And that call to Animal Control may trigger, well, (how to put this nicely?) more bureaucratic attention. We like to live a low-key, non-confrontational life. It’s too damn short for anything else!
Neighbors and Cages
These are about equal in importance, if you’re going to raise chickens.
First, if you have half a dozen chickens, then you may have enough eggs to share. Not surprisingly, a free “farm fresh” dozen eggs, once in a while, will go miles toward good neighborly relations.
The caging is another matter.
We did a lot of research before building our chicken cage. It was made from a couple of sheets of exterior plywood, had clear plastic o9n the front, a rear-opening rear door (for clean-out).
Along the inside (it was about 3-feet high inside, by the way) there were a couple of long poles (like the wood closet poles, yeah?) which they could roost on.\
The bottom was made of (what else?) Chicken Wire. When they crapped on the roost, it would fall harmlessly to the ground outside.
The chicken droppings are worth a whole chapter on their own. First, because they stink. And if your neighbors are “outdoors people” and the prevailing wind brings the ‘scent’ of chickens, well, more free eggs for that neighbor.
Second point about chicken poo is that while it is a GREAT fertilizer, it’s also very “hot” – chemically. So, you will need to “tone it down” by mixing it with other materials. Lawn clippings, leaves that have been partially composted, peat moss…anything to dilute the effect of too much nitrogen.
The chickens don’t seem to mind a simple “ramp” (at about a 30-degree up angle) provided they can get a good grip on things. We used simple leftover asphalt shingles and I installed wooden “grip bumps” every inch and a half. Looked something like a ladder.
The top of the cage was done with clear corrugated polycarbonate paneling.
Chickens need light – and lots of it – in order to lay eggs. This is why – if you like eggs in the winter – be sure and put in a couple of lights.
One should be a greenhouse type, wide-spectrum – LED and it needs to be on a timer so the chickens get at least 12-14 hours per day of lighting. The other light should be an infrared heat lamp and this one can be on a thermostat. The idea is the chickens should all be able to fit on their roosting bar and move around (as they will) to find a comfortable spot when it’s below 50F, or so. (Hmmm…13-herbs and spices, anyone?)
If you’re going to have chickens, you need at least two cats – but you won’t want them near the chicks. Once a a chicken is full-size, the cats are less likely to “engage.” If you get a rooster, well, you don’t want that, either.
So, why the cats?
There are three reasons: Rats can seemingly smell chicken poop a mile away. Second, when they arrive in the vicinity, they will go after the chicken food (kitchen scraps, especially from cleaning vegetables, seems to please ’em) and third, they will go after the “scratch.”
It Ain’t Chickenfeed
Chickens, understand, have an interesting palate.
First, they like to eat whatever is fresh (like the table scraps). But, then they need to scratch around on their own. You’ll need to pick up a bag of “scratch” at the feed store (or Tractor Supply). What’s in it? Oh…cracked, rolled, or whole grains such as corn, barley, oats, or wheat. Some people will throw a few handfuls of coarse (washed, playground) sand out, too.
Wikipedia has a fine discourse on “gizzards” over here. The general idea is that when a bird eats (like a chicken or turkey) the food may get a quick mash with the beak, then down he pipe where the gizzard acts sort of like a food processor. It grinds things up before moving on to the stomach. (Yuck, right?)
Watering is Important, Too
There are a couple of ways to approach this. One set of people thinks just a pan of water is fine.
However, we found that one of those “automatic dog-watering things” (which has a float valve in it) is just the ticket.
If you’re smart (not saying you aren’t, of course!) you’d have a large enough chicken pen so that other birds can come in and enjoy this dream aviary you have in your head, by now.
Again, another caution: If you are in an area (like we are) with vultures and red-tail hawks around, you will need something like one-inch mesh netting over the top of the chicken “range” – which could include your garden, but put in a gate because the chickens will eat young succulent plants, if you don’t.
Be sure to securely lock the door into the coup at night with something a racoon can’t pick. Otherwise, your chicken inventory will be reduced next morning.
There you have it. Some old Texas-style formerly talk about chickens in the Urban Setting.
If you’ve got more pointers, share them as a comment!
For the chickens? From eggs or chicks from https://www.strombergschickens.com/
Materials: Lowes or Home Despots (sic, lol)
Fencing, scratch, chickenfeed: Tractor Supply.
And for the son-in-law, the legal details are here about Tacoma’s six-bird per parcel of land limit (link). (Section 5.30)
Since he’s on a double-lot, we reckon he will cap out at 12 birds…if the neighbor buy-offs don’t work.
What could go wrong?
Write when you get eggs,