City Chickens 101

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Ace. One of my smartest hens. She also gets into everything and is very affectionate.

So you’re thinking about keeping hens for eggs, and live in the city?  Great.  There is so much to enjoy by raising your own flock.  Be it a small flock or large, it can be very rewarding.  Just be sure that you’re ready to commit to your birds’ well being and overall health.  After all, you’ll soon be enjoying those tasty eggs on the daily.  Let’s keep them healthy.

Besides the fresh eggs, there are many pluses to keeping chickens.  Obviously, your own eggs are tastier and fresher than any eggs you can purchase at the supermarket.  One of the benefits I enjoy most is our shrinking compost pile.  Left to forage through our kitchen scraps and uneaten food, the chickens clean up the majority of our food waste while getting the key nutrients needed in addition to, or that may not be present in their feed.  Egg shells, along with soiled bedding from the coop can be tossed right into the compost pile.  The hens actually enjoy dry, crushed shells.  They help supply protein to keep them laying strong shelled eggs.  Another benefit of keeping hens is the fact that they can completely debug your yard.  Have pesky bugs? Well, let the hens at them.  Saying that, keep in mind chickens forage.  Don’t leave them in your flower bed or garden unsupervised, even for a short period of time.  If you do, you may come back to a “freshly tilled” looking garden, minus your plants and flowers!  If you have the room, you can plan on utilizing your hen power in the garden by using a tractor pen.  Set it up in between rows, your hens can be weeding machines while removing some harmful insects as well.

The biggest bonus we’ve experienced is the connection we have with our hens.  They’re very social birds!  They can enjoy you as much as you enjoy them. Listening and watching chickens can be very relaxing.  We like to call it the “Chicken Show”.  Sometimes they even sneak into the back porch to hang out with us.  No treats needed.

Keeping hens has also enriched my children’s lives.  Of course, they love the chickens.  But they’ve also developed a very strong responsibility towards the hens and take on the chores of gathering eggs, feeding, and watering, cleaning the coop, and letting the hens out to free range on most days.  Usually daily if the weather permits.  They get satisfaction from a job well done, and each time we eat eggs they have a sense of pride coming through that says “We helped make these!”  They’ve really been a blessing to our family.  So much more than we expected, in a positive way.

If at all possible, even in the city, let your hens free-range.  Mine don’t mind staying in our fenced yard when I let them out of the coop during the day.  I like to keep one of their wings trimmed so they cannot fly out of the yard.  I’ve yet to see them try to.  Besides, now they’re a bit chubby to get up and over the fence.  Most of their days are happily spent foraging through the weeds and grasses.  Entertaining themselves while eating bugs, worms, bugs, beetles, and a variety of clover and grass.  Good stuff when it comes to making those yummy eggs.  I like to move flower pots, rocks, and other items in the yard around daily. The hens have learned that as I do this, night crawlers, worms, beetles, and bugs are all exposed for the pecking.  We also like to save slugs, bugs, and clover for the hens.  As I garden in my beds where the hens are not allowed, I remove any pesky nuisance bugs that may be invasive or harm my plants, and place them in a container.  When I’m finished gardening, I call the hens and let them have their special treats.  The hens Get extra nutrients, and my garden has fewer pests nibbling where they shouldn’t.  Naturally.

Always know your city ordinances when it comes to starting your flock.  Many cities do not allow roosters because they tend to crow at all hours, and aren’t  necessary for egg production.  For example, in my town you’re allowed 5 hens.  No roosters.  You can also have 2 Muscovy ducks.  Ducks were added to the ordinance due to residents with allergies, that still wanted to have farm fresh eggs.  Our family could use a few more hens, especially in the winter when production can slow down. Perhaps in the future we will be able to have a bigger flock, and more delicious eggs. Check with your local ordinance office to see if a permit may be required to keep your coop.

Remember, when compared to store bought eggs with the USDA’s nutrition data, the eggs from your own free ranging hens usually contain:

  • 4-6 times the vitamin D
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 2/3 more vitamin A

Just the look of the egg alone can tell you if it’s a farm fresh egg.  When compared, you can see the nutrient rich difference right away.  The yolks tend to be darker and even larger than supermarket eggs.  The texture is a bit different as well.  So delicious!

If you’re still interested, here are some necessities to keeping chickens.  You need to ideally spend at least a few minutes each day taking care of your flock.  Minimum.  You can spend hours a day if you choose.  Keeping the essentials of daily water and food available at all times.  All year you be removing waste and keeping the coop sanitary.  There are different methods to do this.  I prefer the deep litter method.  Adding wood shavings or straw while removing visible waste and raking it all together.  The chickens do a pretty good job of this themselves.  I haven’t had odor become an issue, and keeping a thick layer of bedding on the floor of the coop also helps to insulate in the winter months.  Keeping your hens more comfortable as the cold weather sets in.  This leads to better year round egg production.

Keep in mind, these are hens.  As long as you keep your birds protected from predators and shielded from severe weather, your coop or shelter can be as simple or as detailed as you choose.  I repurposed many pieces of wood and paneling into my coop.  I scavenged from my garage and basement to find wood to close off large drafts from inside.  Be sure to not block off all drafts and ventilation, even in the winter in cold climates.  This will ensure your birds will still have adequate ventilation, while not increasing the humidity or heat levels too high.  As you go along in the process of keeping your hens, you will figure out what works for you and your girls.

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Just a few examples of feed, oyster shell, and diatomaceous earth.  I like to keep it stored in metal garbage cans with lids to keep moisture and pests out.

Necessities For Chickens

  • Shelter/Coop
  • Feeder/Waterer
  • Roosts
  • Adequate Ventilation
  • Laying Boxes

Bedding

  • Straw
  • Wood Shavings
  • Alfalfa
  • Grass Clippings
  • Diatomacious Earth

Diet

  • Organic Scratch
  • Organic Laying Pellets
  • Crushed Oyster/Grit
  • Organic Corn
  • Organic Crumb
  • Grit Box
  • Free Range Bugs and Plants
  • Alfalfa
  • Mealworms/Crickets
  • Fruit and Veggies
  • Compost Kitchen Scraps
  • Scrambled Eggs
  • *Summer-Organic Oats   *Winter-Organic Whole/Cracked Corn

Extras

  • Electricity for heated waterers, mats, and lamps in colder climates.  Always safety first!
  • Thermo Cube Outlet
  • Pine Chip Bedding for around the coop to help cut down on bugs and keep the coop area fresh.
  • Heater Waterer in Colder Climates
  • Automatic Chicken Door
  • Baby Monitor to See Your Hens

* When it comes to the topic of heat lamps in colder climates, use your better judgement and always use safety.  When it is below freezing for long periods of time here in Michigan, I will use a heat lamp.  I also secure everything multiple times.  From the cord, to the fixture, to the bulb.  Metal clamps, clips, and heavy duty zip ties.  If I use a lamp, I first reinforce the protective cage of the lamp with chicken wire.  By twisting multiple segments of chicken wire around the 4 metal arms, you can create a “basket” of sorts.  I then secure the wire to the light itself.  This way, if a bulb should break off at the base it will not fall onto the coop floor below, which could be lethal to your flock.  When using a light just for light and not heat, cool touch bulbs are now available for added safety.  I also use a video baby monitor during the cold months to be sure all is well.  Our monitor from my children is over 16 years old and still works from the coop to the house.  So convenient.

Brooding

If you’re planning on raising your very own chicks, you will need just a few additional items than already listed.  Starting with a brooder area that can be kept around 95 degrees initially, with a supervised heat lamp.  Start by dropping the temp by degree increments after 2 weeks.  If you don’t have an official brooder, a cardboard box or large plastic tub will suffice.  You will need to keep them in this area for approximately 8 weeks or until they’re fully feathered.  We used a large plastic tub, cut ventilation/peep holes up higher into the sides of the tub.  Then I cut out a large rectangle of the plastic lid.  Taking a matching section of small diameter fencing, I used nut and bolt sets to anchor down my now “fenced in” brooder lid.  I recommend attaching the bolts to the underside of the lid, so it will be less likely to catch anything.  This kept our curious kitties from getting into our brooder and we could see exactly what was going on in there.  You will also need these additional items to get started with your chicks:

  • Chick Starter Feed
  • Paper Liners at First
  • Pinewood Shavings Later
  • Heat Lamp

Keep your brooder clean and dry.  If you have the chicks from hatch, you made need to show them how to drink by gently putting their beak into the water.  Keep your chicks isolated from your other hens for about 8 weeks.  Sometimes it may take a bit longer to get them all incorporated.  Pecking order is a very real issue, so please be patient when introducing new birds.  Chicks or adults.  Once they’re ready to go out into a coop, I recommend no white lights in the coop for at least the first few weeks.  This gives a more soothing atmosphere, but it also saves the new hens from getting picked on at roost time.  The other hens honestly can’t see them very well with dim lighting or in the darkness, so there is less reasons to get their tail feathers ruffled.

Toys

  • Anything to Stand On
  • Cabbage or Cucumbers on a Rope
  • Logs
  • Hemp Ropes
  • Swings
  • Caged Feeders With Food Blocks Inside
  • Plastic Bottles With Small Holes, Containing Corn or Mealworms
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Mable, Porkers, and Pearl.

 

 

My Personal Favorite Egg Birds

  • Isa Browns- Light Brown Egg, Brown/Red Bird
  • Blue/Black Marians- Dark Brown Eggs, Dark Bird
  • Ameraucana- Blue/Green Eggs, Variety of Birds
  • Copper Blue Marans- Olive Easter Eggs, dark Gray Black Bird
  • Wheaton Americana- Green/Blue Eggs, Light Tan Bird
  • Silver Spangled- White Eggs, Speckled White With Black Bird

Basic Bird Facts

  • The average age for a backyard hen is 5 to 12 years old.
  • Avoiding predators, being egg bound, or illness, hens can live up to 15-20 years old.
  • Most hens lay around 20 weeks old.
  • A pullet is around 8 to 20 weeks old.  (Teen)
  • Prime Laying can finish as early as 3 years, but happy hens can keep laying well into their golden years.
  • A clear pecking order is in place.  You can influence this, but birds will be birds. Separate any hens that may be too aggressive for a short period and introduce them back into the flock. Usually this will put them in their place for a bit and tone down any aggression.
  • Burying fence around the outside of the coop can help keep chickens from digging out, or predators getting in.
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A few of my favorite hens.

 

I hope that you found this post informative and helpful as you explore keeping chickens. Raising your own chickens is entertaining, and it also gives you piece of mind knowing what they’re eating before the eggs make it to your family table.

I am not a chicken expert, and only use my personal experience and knowledge to help others have a head start when it comes to a new experience.*

Good luck “Growing Your Own”

Dawn Ann

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Me with my favorite girl, Porkers. She is by far the most tame of all of the hens.

 

*Although not a chicken expert, some may say I’m a crazy chicken lady.

 

 

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