Coping: Raising “Urban Chickens”

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?

Rats. 

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!

Suppliers

For the chickens?  From eggs or chicks from https://www.strombergschickens.com/

Materials:  Lowes or Home Despots (sic, lol)

Dog-waterer: Amazon.

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,

George@ure.net

10 thoughts on “Coping: Raising “Urban Chickens””

    • I tried that….but it wouldn’t start and I couldn’t figure where to put the diesel in…

      • Keep your sense of humour. It’s important as we grow older! Here is a very good site for information if someone wants livestock and also help preserve endangered species. https://livestockconservancy.org
        Noe I’m off across the tomato patch to work on the almost finished rebuild house.

  1. Phew.. busy weekend.. lots of family around and the yearly cookout.. the same issue came up that always comes up.. on the nations seal is our national bird.. I think it was mistaken for an eagle.. what it really is is a mosquito..and they were out in numbers this weekend.
    well just like every year when they become extremely active at that time it seams that i become everyone’s new best friend. I make one kick butt mosquito trap.
    It started out as a science fair project for my grandson. which I started using.. I had purchased a really expensive mosquito trap.. it was awesome and had a cool factor of ten in my eyes.. the big thing I found out was no one in the company supported their equipment. getting service was like trimming an elephants toe nails. so I tossed them out. since I had shown my grandson an effective way to catch them I started making them for myself. Here is how it works..
    you have to get two generic two liter soda bottles. on one ( keep the lid for one of the bottles..) cut it one third of the way down from the neck curve.
    on the other one.. soda bottles have a support ridge on the bottom this is there to help the plastic to maintain its shape and keep it sturdy. cut the bottle off right above that ring about one fifth of the way up the bottom.
    now in the neck of the bottle with the bottom cut off drill a hole through the neck this is where you will attach your hanger.
    one tube of silicone caulk put two beads of silicone on the bottom of the funnel piece and at the top of the funnel piece.
    Once you have done this insert the funnel with the top off into the bottom of the bottle with the bottom cut off. Use a twisting fashion to distribute the silicone making a nice seal.
    at this point you should have a bottle with a funnel in the bottom of it with a hole drilled through the neck.
    Now drill three holes in the top lid with the center hole being about a quarter inch hole the other two small enough to fit a wire through them about an eight of an inch.the two smaller holes are to insert the hanger wire into and then bend over the edge. on this wire you will hang your attractant. the center hole is to place the UV light. ( not required at all but it sure looks cool to sit out at night and see this UV light).
    take a piece of stiff wire. about three inches long ( this will be the hanger for the mosquito attractant.). fold it in half, on the ends insert them into the two small holes on the lid. at this point your can either double sticky back a UV tea Light or you can go and wire something up if you want. or you can just not put one on it.. this is just the cool factor light it will attract some other biting bugs.. ( not the little black beer bugs.. I haven’t figured them out yet.)
    now the hanger.. for that I use an old coat hanger or you can use any stiff wire. this I twist to give it strength then on the ends spread them and put a bend in the ends facing in. this goes into the hole drilled in the neck of the bottle. If you have high winds you will end up having to make a hook at the end of the wire so when it swings back and forth it will not fall on the ground.
    Now comes the attractant..
    you can go out and buy one.. or do what I do and make my own. Here is the recipe for the attractant. this will give you a life time supply to..

    you can go down to the pharmacy in the womans section and buy some facial peel..
    Uric acid..
    Lactic acid..
    Salt ( no iodine in it)
    amonia.

    if you don’t have the funds for the commercial products you can make your own. Lactic acid.. powdered milk and apple cider vinegar with the mother.
    Uric acid.. it is best if you find a pregnant woman and ask her for a urine sample( awkward I know ) or you can find a woman that is physically active ( sexually active..) and ask her for a urine sample.. ( the reason for that is the Hormones.. you want the same hormones that attract men to women it is the most desirable to those nasty pests. you can also find a muscle builder but it isn’t as desirable as female hormones)
    take a two liter bottle..
    one tablespoon of Uric acid female urine.. ( uric acid is used in facial masks)
    One tablespoon of Lactic acid ( lactic acid is used in facial masks)( the home made lactic acid is about a tablespoon of powdered milk and just enough vinegar to make a thick liquid.. I could tell you how to make vinegar but heck that is way cheap enough to just buy)
    One tablespoon of salt
    one teaspoon of amonia
    now fill with water and mix.
    once you have your attractant made you take cotton and some straws.. stuff the straws with cotton and then pull the cotton out to make a small puff at the bottom poke a hole in the end of the straw put a christmas ornament hanger on the straw dip into the attractant. hang it on the wire on the lid.
    before you put the lid on make some bug beer.. this is about two cups of warm water and a half cup of sugar.. one yeast packet. this will produce enough co2 to make the killer I use a lab bottle to fill one with a hose on the top of the lid so it doesn’t fall out of the bottom of the inverted funnel fill to the top of the inverted funnel then screw the top on the bottle with the attractant hanging inside.
    I had used it with the attractant hanging off the bottom but heck it really works good using the attractant inside.
    Now hang it about twenty five feet from where you sit.
    at first you will probably have to replace it every couple of days till you eliminate the pest population then after that it will be about every two weeks.

    you will be shocked to see how fast you collect a few hundred thousand of the national bird in it..
    I probably make a few hundred of these for everyone around us anyway.. you could try the home made ova trap but it just doesn’t work as well. good luck and have a burger or brat in piece.

  2. Here in Southern Indiana, I HAD six chickens last year. I say had because something took a chicken each night for six nights during late winter/early spring. We finally figured out it was fox. We had attempted to make the pen safe with caging and fencing, but it wasn’t enough. Fox are very creative, and when hungry, desperate enough to scale tall fencing and wedge a tiny hole through fencing. We’re waiting to get more chickens till we make the pen & house more safe for them. It’ll look like a tiny penitentiary, but will at least keep them alive.

    • silvermitt – I had the exact same thing happen – currently chickenless due to a fox family that denned under my husband’s shop building! A coop and pen system that was working fine against possums didn’t stop a determined fox mom. I just try to think of it as quality control on the coop design, and try, try again. The Perfect Coop will evolve someday, I guess!

  3. I too have found, after having kept chickens in town for the last 50 years or so, that 5 or 6 hens is the ideal number. Our small NC town’s chicken ordinance (recently passed due to the exploding popularity of chickens) allows up to 5 hens and no roosters. So far no one has showed up to count.

    Sharing a dozen eggs occasionally with neighbors works wonders. The one neighbor that we thought might complain about the chickens asked us a lot of questions and then bought 6 hens and built a fancy pen.

    The only thing that I would add to your info is that possums are also enthusiastic chicken killers. We have lost as many to possum as we have to raccoons

  4. We considered chickens, but were accidentally introduced to Indian Runner ducks and couldn’t be happier. Their eggs are about 20% larger than a chickens but taste the same, they are quiet (which was a major concern about chickens) and they love to eat bugs (the old saying “like ducks on a Junebug” is definately based on fact). Ours free range, and they go to their coop at night on their own. No cages or roosting perchs, just some hay on the ground (which has to be pulled out every few days, but I use it around plants in the garden to help keep them moist) and they have a cheap plastic pool to splash around in. I change that water when I do the hay and use the water for the plants. We have five hens and average 3-5 eggs a day, but production drops to near zero during winter (Thanksgiving to late January- holiday routine I guess). Bob

  5. On raccoons in cities. My brother-in-law decided to start trapping those koyfish eating raccoons in the greater Orlando area. He was live trapping them after the fith or sixth one he began to paint an orange spot on their butts. He caught over 200 racoons and did see one walking down the side of a four lane…….. wow, we live in the backwoods and have had maybe two racoons in our chicken coop in the last 24yrs.

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