BY AMY KEYISHIAN
THOUGH MY home is firmly ensconced
in the suburbs, I hear roosters crowing
day and night. Investigative dog-walking
revealed chicken coops two blocks away
on either side. I’d say this was part of the
revelation of moving out of San Francisco,
but, even there, three of our neighbors
had chickens, offering us extra eggs when
they went on vacation. Apparently, raising
suburban chickens is becoming popular
enough for the accouterments, such as
coops, organic feed and more, to be readily available.
Frankly, from a busy-working-parent
point of view, backyard chickens may be
the perfect labor-efficient solution to food-chain guilt. Both Robert Ludlow, owner of
Back YardChickens.com, and author and
chicken expert Gail Damerow are reassuring about the daily upkeep.
“Daily maintenance takes mere min-
utes,” Damerow says. “Go out, open the
coop’s entry/exit door and make sure your
hens are all accounted for. Top off their food
and water. Make sure the gate is secure.
Then repeat in the evening, when you go in
to close the door for the night. On the week-
ends, you replace the bedding [shavings or
similar material] and scrub the feeder and
drinker. That’s pretty much it.”
To start your flock, you have a few op-
tions: You can start with baby chicks or get
nearly grown hens advertised as “ready to
lay.” Where it’s available, Craigslist is a
good source for chickens, but Damerow
also recommends cacklehatchery.com.
Depending on the breed of chicken you
get, you could net a projected ;;; eggs per
hen per year.
When I considered raising chickens,
my biggest fears were: Do I need to have a
rooster? And do I have to kill the chickens
once they stop laying eggs, after about five
years, even though they may live to be
seven? Damerow says it’s OK to be senti-
mental as long as you don’t mind getting
fewer eggs for a while, and you don’t need
to get a rooster unless you are hoping to
hatch your own chicks. Predators are the
biggest threat; even in the city, there are
raccoons intent on their own fowl thievery.
According to the thoroughly helpful
getting-started info on Ludlow’s site, there
is no magic number of chickens or square
feet guaranteed to work for every flock.
“The majority of people now raising back-
yard chickens in their suburban homes
have between four and ;;,” he says. “Chick-
ens are very social animals and we strongly
recommend against fewer than three.”
Popular wisdom recommends ; square
feet of coop space per hen, with ;; feet per
hen in their run.
From Damerow’s perch, “a gradual,
decades-long increase”—followed by a
media-driven spike—has directly im-
proved the overall pool of available chick-
ens. And that has even greater benefits.
She points out that more people rais-
ing a wide variety of chickens, in addition
to increasing the availability of locally pro-
duced fresh eggs, has a positive effect on
the diversity—and therefore the long-term
survival—of a variety of chicken breeds.
But that’s not what most backyard
farmers are after. Most fall right in the
middle of the spectrum, wanting to eat
locally and organically, and trying to find a
solution that works at home without being
“Many people want to become more
self-sufficient and take part in the local
and slow-food movements, but how many
have the land, time and resources to raise
cows and pigs?” says Ludlow. He’s part of
the aforementioned spike: When he cre-
ated BackYardChickens.com in ;;;;, it
had ;; members, and there are now more
than ;;;,;;;. That’s a lot of eggs.
The point is, unlike larger livestock,
backyard chickens are within the grasp
of average Joes and Josephines whose
closest previous relationship with a farmer
was with Eddie Albert on Green Acres.
To see if chickens could be right for
you, read through the resources listed
on Ludlow’s site. And if you need any additional encouragement, a search on eBay
for collectible egg cups worthy of your
homegrown eggs should be all the motivation you need. C
Amy Keyishian is a Bay Area–based
© ANNA HO YCHUK / SHU T TERSTOCK
• A light (if you
want to trick them
into laying more in
• Local backyard
chicken raising laws
NEED TO SET UP
YOUR EGG SHOP
• A predator-proof
coop with roosting
bars and nest boxes.
• Wood shavings
or straw, for bedding.
• A feeding system.
• A watering system.
• A heater (if your
RAISING CHICKENS IN
Chicken and rabbit coops are available on
Costco.com and at select Costco locations.
Members can also ;nd organic and
conventional eggs at their local Costco.
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