Coop Therapy: At Home with Backyard Chickens Posted by: Dan | 0 Comments
They’re pretty hot.
And we’re not talking about Prince’s Fried Chicken in Nashville either. Owning hens seems to be the latest trend in urban homesteading, and with good reason. Backyard chickens are an easy, low-maintenance way to test one’s livestock-keeping skills. But before you go pick out a coop and a pitchfork, let’s talk basics:
1) Keeping it Legal: One of the first things to consider is whether or not keeping chickens is legal where you live. You can either ask permission or beg forgiveness but one call to your city’s office will let you know which side of the law you aim to be on. Some communities do not ban chickens outright but do have a noise ordinance in place, which leads us to our next point.
2) Who You Calling Noisy?: Roosters are the noisy ones, not the hens. Sure, the ladies will squawk from time to time – usually when another hen is occupying the nest, and she’s getting antsy – but most of the time, they just kind of coo. It is one of the things that make hens so darn charming.
3) Which Came First?: No, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs from your hens. For a city girl like me, that was something I’d never really considered. Basically, the same way a woman of child-bearing age releases an egg each month, a hen lays an egg. Only with hens, it’s about once every 24 hours. Breed, temperature, stress-levels, diet, and time of year all play key roles in how often a hen lays but the basic rule is one hen equals one egg per day. If you want to cause major consternation, tell any children visiting your coop that you don’t need roosters to get eggs, and that there are no chicks coming from these eggs. We’d recommend leaving any further explanation of birds-and-bees to their parents.
4) Green Eggs and Ham: People either credit or blame Martha Stewart for the popularity of non-white eggs. True, she certainly introduced a lot of folks to the fact that eggs come in all kinds of colors. Araucanas or Ameraucanas lay gorgeous eggs in shades or blue and green. Their nickname is the Easter Egger hen, and with good reason. There’s no need to go dying those eggs. The French Maran lays eggs with dark chocolate-brown colored shells while Rhode Island Reds lay regular brown eggs. Before getting your heart set on a particular breed, make sure your conditions are right. Some breeds are more cold-hardy or heat-tolerant than others — big factors to consider unless you care to rig your coop with heat lamps and A/C.
5) Your Coop: Holiday Inn or Ritz-Carlton – A quick search on-line will turn up hundreds of coop designs, in a wide range of sizes and budgets. Your hens will be happy as long as they have room to stretch their legs, hunt-and-peck, access to clean food and water, and are free from predators (nocturnal ones are especially pesky). We started our four hens in a basic movable A-frame coop but eventually parked it in a corner of the yard and built a large dog run around it. Yes, I pine for a coop like Heather Bullard’s but for now, my hens are happy and that’s what matters.
And one more thing – all those chicken-related sayings are totally based in reality:
• Birds of a feather DO flock together
• There is definitely a pecking order among hens
• The bossy ladies will pick on your other birds, thus hen-pecked
• Leave your coop door open and your hens will always come home to roost. When the sun starts to set, they naturally yearn for a spot up high where they can tuck a beak under a wing, and call it a day.
The only saying I am not sure about is calling chickens “bird brains.” These girls are a lot smarter than I initially gave them credit for. They come running when I call them, have learned to not stray outside my yard, will kennel up when instructed, and know which dogs are friendly and which ones to avoid. They have personalities all their own and can totally be affectionate, especially when offered a treat, like this one.
One thing is for sure, they will always make you smile.
Sources – a few of our favorites:
• Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying by Jenna Woginrich — This is the best place to start. The author has great advice on breeds and tons of sources for supplies and whatnot.
• Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes by Janice Cole – a lovely little book, with stories, tips and ideas for what to do with all those eggs.
• Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard by Jessi Bloom – making your yard look pretty and appetizing.
Southern food and lifestyle writer Christiana Roussel lives in Birmingham, Ala. When not enjoying the occasional biscuit festival or bourbon tasting, there are four chickens, three dogs, two children and one husband who keep her very busy. The hens are named Peaches, Daffodil, No. 3, and No. 4.
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