Sunday, April 3, 2011

City Chicks

First of all, the title is actually a real book that I should reference and recommend, City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-reyclers, and Local Food Producers by Patricia Foreman.   

So the story about why and how we got fairly undramatic, actually.  My husband and I talked about it once. Then one day, I met a guy from our neighborhood who gave me a haircut at my house and talked about how he had chickens and he helped people set up coops.  When my husband got home, I mentioned it again.  My husband proceeded to find some chickens on craig's list in Imperial that were 5 mos. old (only 3 mos. older than our baby at the time).  That weekend, we went out and bought the chickens, 4 for $35.  The next weekend (and the following), my crafty husband put together a coop (with the help of my brothers) out of scrap materials.  After that, we drove out to pick up the chickens (then about 6 mos. since we had gone out of town for a weekend), and that was it.  It was winter, so we put a light bulb with a cage over it and set the light on a timer for 2am until 5am to give the ladies 14 hrs. of day light.  They started laying, and have been laying about an egg each per day.   

Now, in retrospect I can't remember why we jumped on this thing so fast.  My husband was really excited about it, and he has (to be fair) been doing most of the work, which for the record, is less than you would do to take care of a dog.   I think we had thought about a garden, and we knew that the chicken crap would make great compost.   We also liked the idea of eggs.  Having said that, the chickens were definitely the catalyst for everything else... finding a CSA, starting a garden (the great compost was demanding it!), reading farming memoirs, urban and rural.   

Now we are totally urban chicken advocates.  We let them free-range during the day, which doesn't mean we are animal rights activists, although I'm glad our chickens are happy in the sunshine eating bugs.  The biggest benefit is not the chickens' morale, but the fact that our eggs have great amounts of vitamin D and protein in them as a result.   

Chickens are so easy to keep if you have a little bit of knowledge.  Non-organic, Purina chicken feed runs about $12 for 50 lbs. which will last about a month with 4 chickens and yields at least 8 dozen eggs, which would be about $15 for regular eggs, in which case we break even, or $24 dollars for cage-free eggs.  But chickens will also mow your lawn for you, turn your compost, and eat bugs (and mice...remind me to tell that story).  They will eat food scraps, including meats, although we don't give them chicken... That's just weird.  So really, they can be very economical, especially considering what they give in return.  

Having your own chickens has become a status symbol recently, but I want to see this turned on it's head and the people who live in food insecurity have the opportunity to raise chickens. I have heard arguments that if all chickens were cage-free, nobody could afford eggs.  Apparently, their memory doesn't extend beyond 50-60 years ago, when many average folks had chickens and could afford them just fine.  They weren't status symbols, it was just how people fed their families.  The eggs were far superior to the insipid, pasty-yellow-yolk eggs you can find at your local supermarket, not because of more technology, but because it was just how God made chickens to function.  Oh, how far we have progressed. 

Off my soapbox now... and here are a few pics to inspire you! 

I had to put this in--our first egg.  Gorgeous, right? The yolk is even better.  You'll never eat store bought again.

The front and the yard.  We always lock them in at night.  So far, no critters have gotten to them.  The food and the water are out here, too.  You just have to make sure the water doesn't stay frozen in the winter, and doesn't run out in the summer.  They dehydrate easily. 
The whole back opens up.  In retrospect, we should have made this a little more "people-friendly" but it's not that bad to clean out.  We (my husband) cleans it out about monthly, but adds new bedding every few days.  There are "windows" for ventilation up top, which we covered with cardboard during the winter. 

They only lay in one box, actually, although we had three in case they needed some privacy.  You have to kind of train them where to lay, otherwise you will find eggs in random places in your yard.

The incredible, edible egg.
They seem to like their house.  They come in as soon as it is dark.  However, we are currently building cages for our raised bed gardens.  They will eat any green thing.  Small price to pay, I guess. 


  1. hey, saw a news story today about the growing popularity of keeping chickens as pets (with the added benefits of eggs). Would you consider your 'ladies' pets? Do they have names? If you charged for your eggs, how much would you charge?

  2. Bizzy, we have not named them, they lay or they go in the pot, and we haven't thought about how much we would sell eggs for. To be honest, we are going through eggs these days. The baby eats one a day, plus we make lots of egg-y dishes, not to mention eggs for breakfast, and we give some away to family once in a blue moon. Next time around (I mean after these "ladies" are stew meat) we may have to spring for a permit to keep more than 4 chickens. Our coop probably could only fit 1-2 more, though... we'll see. We would need to keep at least 8-10 to actually sell eggs, and if we sold them we would probably have to sell them for $2.50-3.00 per dozen to make a profit.


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