The thrill of fresh eggs and perhaps the allure of farm life, have made urban coops a phenomenon. Managing Editor and lifelong farmer Kevin Broady tells all you need to know about raising chickens in your backyard.
The crowing of a rooster at the crack of dawn is a sound that’s becoming familiar in the Highlands and other not-so-pastoral neighborhoods around town. Raising chickens is no longer just for farmers, with backyard coops becoming increasingly common in urban and suburban Louisville. According to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “raising chickens in urban environments is a growing phenomenon.” In neighborhoods throughout Louisville, it’s becoming easier to spot a few hens, roosters, and coops here and there, which is having an impact on local businesses growth, farmer’s markets and household incomes. 4.3% of single-family homes own chickens nationwide, while 4% without chickens said they would own within the next 5 years, according to that same report.
The USDA also reported that over half (55.6%) believed that eggs from home-raised chickens were better for you than eggs purchased at a grocery store. If you’ve been craving eggs fresh from your own backyard or dreaming of nurturing your own coop full of fuzzy little chicks, here’s what you need to know first.
THE COOP SCOOP
Hens work hard; they deserve a nice place to lay their eggs. Plus, if you’re putting a chicken coop on your property, it might as well be a pretty one rather than an eyesore.
The typical urban coop is often a stunning structure inspired by residential architecture, ranging anywhere from farmhouse chic to bungalow to neoclassical. Available at Sam’s Club, Tractor Supply, Rural King, Home Depot and more, these designer dwellings start around $250 and up. The internet is also flooded with local builders who will custom build a diminutive version of your own abode, or any structure you and your chicks desire.
The coop is probably the biggest initial expense you’ll have when you decide to undertake a flock of hens.
While it can be elaborate and attractive to your landscape, as far as a chicken is concerned, the coop is a place to find shelter, lay an egg and roost at night. A typical minimal requirement in size is three to five square feet per bird inside the coop. As for nesting boxes, one box per four to five birds is all that’s required. (They seem to like having all their eggs in one box.)
You will also need a run outside the coop. Chickens are constantly busy foraging and scratching. If you choose not to let the birds free-range on your property, then they need a secure outside run with a minimal size requirement of ten square feet per bird. This run also needs to be secure from predators reaching into the run, digging under a fence or attacks from above.
Check with your city to make sure you can raise poultry on your property, before you go out and invest in your flock. Most ordinances say that all crowing and non-crowing poultry must be kept on tracts or lots of at least half an acre or more. You can have one crowing and five non-crowing birds on less than half an acre. Be aware, be proactive and check with your city or town first.
So, listen closely and you just may hear the rooster’s crow to accompany the sunrise.
The poultry industry calls them “hybrids,” but I like to call some of the fancy new breeds “designer chickens.” Really, they’re simply the result of crossing two or more purebred chickens. There is nothing new about hybrids. All through the late 1800s and early 1900s, poultrymen would cross various pure breeds. The outcome was faster growth, meatier bodies, or higher egg production.
Now for backyard novices, what these new breeds offer are often happy, beautifully feathered, singing hens and cocky roosters. Dozens of chicken breeds are available from hatcheries in United States, giving chicken keepers an overwhelming choice in bringing birds home for meat production, egg production and the sheer enjoyment of caring for a flock. Next, is a guide to breeds that can help you meet your backyard poultry needs, whatever they may be.
Cinnamon Queen: Cackle Hatchery developed this hybrid breed as a cross between Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White chickens. They produce extra-large, brown eggs, and go into production at an earlier age. This dual-purpose meat and brown-egg production lays between 250 to 320 eggs per year. Very gentle and hardy for the outdoors.
Rhode Island Red: This is a hardy breed, with a dual-purpose. They can be raised for meat and have a robust brown-egg production, laying 200 to 300 eggs per year, starting at six-months-old. With red and black plumage and green in their tail and wing feathers, they’ve been a staple in poultry industry since 1904, and a heritage for both personal and commercial use.
The Silkie Bantam: This a unique bird with its fluffy feathers will impress at poultry shows, while its tame nature makes it a great backyard pet. They are very broody in general, so if you need help raising chicks of another breed, the Silkie Bantam can handle the job. Different colors: buff, blue, black, and splash. They also lay a white, smaller- than-average egg.
Easter Eggers: These hybrids can be found in all range of colors from white to black and striped feathers to solid. They have a pea comb and are cold-hardy and lay 200 to 280 eggs per year that range in color from pale to dark blue to shades of green, brown and pink.
Ameraucana: This bearded, tailed strain of the colorful Araucana chicken breed hails from Chile. They can be seen in varying colorful plumage patterns including black, blue, brown, red, buff, silver and white. These beauties produce about two hundred colorful eggs that are blue and green in color. Their lively dispositions make them interesting to have in a backyard flock.
Cochin Bantams: This miniature version of the Standard Cochin variety comes in several different colors including blue, buff, red, golden-laced, barred, white and splash. This docile breed features white and black coloring across its feathers. If you’re looking for a tame chicken to keep around the house or farm, the Cochin Bantam is the perfect option. They also lay a white, smaller-than-average egg.