Flocking the Suburbs

Thanks to the pandemic, keeping poultry is more popular than ever.

Melanie DeFazio / Stocksy United

A basket of fresh organic chicken eggs

As more and more cities allow chickens to roost, our backyards are looking more like barnyards. Chances are, if you don’t keep a coop yourself, you probably know someone who does.

Why keep chickens? Homegrown eggs are the healthiest, fresh- est, tastiest ones you will ever have. Eggs from backyard flocks are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, E, and B12, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, E, and B12, and beta-carotene than factory-farmed eggs. And because they forage for part of their diet, they’re also lower in saturated fat and have nearly half the cholesterol.

Chickens will forage for garden pests, such as slugs, Japanese beetles, cabbage worms, and those, like mosquitoes and the common deer tick, that carry diseases. They’ll gobble up everything from cooking scraps and kitchen leftovers to grass clippings and spent garden plants. Their presence around your home will even keep mice, rats, and snakes at bay.

Chickens are excellent producers of chemical-free, organic fertilizer. High in phosphorus and potassium, but especially in nitrogen—the critical elements for healthy, fertile garden soil—chicken waste is one of the most perfect manures of the animal kingdom.

Keeping laying hens means you have a sustainable and reliable sourceof food, no matter what’s happening in the supply chain. An entire flock is easier to care for than a single housecat, and they’re less temperamental. A flock’s upkeep is inexpensive and doesn’t take much time. By taking preventive measures and paying attention to cleanliness, chickens will rarely fall ill and can remain spunky, healthy, animal friends for 10 years or more. They make the funniest chuckles and chortles you’ve ever heard, and their antics never cease. You will never be bored keeping chickens.

Getting Started with Chickens

Contact your city’s health and zoning boards—or check online—to see if chick- ens are legal within the city’s limits. Some cities limit the number of birds you may keep and may also require a permit and charge a small yearly fee.

Talk to your neighbors. Assure them you’ll keep a clean, attractive coop—and no rooster. If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association, ask the board if they allow chickens.

Chickens require a bit of daily attention: egg collecting, visual checks for illness or injury, and a quick scan of the coop’s perimeter. If you provide large water fonts and feeders, feeding and watering chores can happen every other day or so. You’ll need to lock them in the coop each evening and open the coop door again each morning.

There will be start-up costs for housing, equipment, bedding, feed, and supplements. The latter three items will be continuous monthly or yearly costs, so budget accordingly. You can spend thousands of dollars on a deluxe chicken coop, or you can retrofit an old shed. It’s really up to you, your budget, and your skill set.

Chickens need room to roam. How much depends on how large your flock is. You can’t really give a chicken too much space; more is definitely better. The only hard-and-fast requirement is that the space be located outdoors.

Expect to commit. A well-cared-for domestic chicken may live up to 10 years. While the first two to four years of life are the most productive, most layer breeds will dependably lay for up to seven years.

This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue.

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