Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Urban Chickens

We have nine chickens now. We originally purchased twelve chicks, but one died almost immediately. We've lost another two in the couple of years since, both found mysteriously dead. Still, the nine remaining provide us with the most delicious eggs, and are really fairly easy to take care of. I am of the opinion that if it is legal where you live, you should look into getting a few chickens. Just look at those silly birds, lounging in the sun!

As I mentioned, we purchased the 'girls' as tiny chicks, and kept them in the house in a box with a heat lamp for several weeks. By this time they had grown substantially, although still definitely not full grown birds. We built a pretty heavy duty coop for them from some left over wall sections from a large shed we had built the prior summer. This is the largest part of the work of having chickens; building them a coop. Otherwise, the care and feeding of these flightless birds is fairly easy. It is simple enough that my college added five chickens to their small organic garden, and the garden club had no trouble tending them, despite most of the members having no experience taking care of any kind of livestock or farm animals. Again, the biggest part of it was the coop. Below you can see the original coop the college garden club used, on the left, and then a new elaborate one which we all built one Saturday.

It can be any simple shelter that the chickens can fit in. The small college coop on the left above might seem like a tight fit for five full grown hens, and it was, but chickens are social animals and seem to rather like crowding into a tight space, especially to sleep. Chickens will 'roost' to sleep, which means they need some kind of horizontal bar that they can fit their feet around in their coop, which they will perch upon and zonk out for the night. Inside the coop it also helps to have a nesting space; this is where the ladies will lay their eggs. Sometimes, like during the summer if it gets too hot in their coop, the chickens will dig out a depression in the earth in some hidden nook of their choosing to use as an alternate nest. This makes an easter egg hunt out of gathering eggs!

 We checked the college chickens every day, but at home we only need to closely inspect their coop, food, and water about once ever two or three days. We supplement their diet with most of our table scraps and especially old vegetables, but otherwise they get a protein-fortified pellet feed that we can get at either the local farm supply store or at home improvement warehouse chains. The only other item we have to buy regularly is straw, to line the floor of the coop. We clean the coop out, scooping out copious amounts of poop, about once a month.

"Chicken shit" is a great fertilizer, however, it is so potent that it usually needs to be composted at least once and diluted before being spread around the garden. Otherwise, its super-high nitrogen content will 'burn up' out crops. So we pile their droppings and the used straw and then mix it with some of our regular compost when we use it to fertilize. 

That's it in a nutshell: get your chicks, raise them up in a box while you build them a coop, then refill their food and water every few days and clean their crap every few weeks...all the while enjoying rich and delicious fresh eggs..that is, when your hens aren't molting - a topic for a future post, perhaps?

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