Raising Urban Chickens and What You Need to Know

O.K.  I saw one of the latest catalogs for Williams- Sonoma that featured everything from bee keeping, canning, to raising chickens.  Here’s a peek at what they are offering.

Yes, they are selling chicken coops.  I had to laugh at this one.  I know raising your own chickens is getting more popular, but I didn’t realize it was this popular.  So, I decided I was going to an informative post about raising chickens that may help you decide whether or not to start raising your own chickens in an urban/suburban setting.

I remember having chickens when I was younger.  However, our barn wasn’t where our house was.  It was several miles away.  So, I was very removed from having to care for the chickens on a daily basis.  My Dad took care of all of it.  When my husband and I decided to get chickens, we didn’t really know a whole lot or what to expect even though my husband and I both had a little experience with them as kids.  This was pretty much new territory for both of us.  I hope this post is helpful to anyone who is looking to own chickens.

Here are some important things about deciding to raise chickens:

1.) Research What Type Of Chickens You Want:  Just like any pet you would purchase say cat or dog, you will want to do some research.  This initial cost of buying baby chicks is very reasonable.  We payed about $2.00 a chick.  I’m sure that depending on where you live will affect the price of your chicks.  Do some research and decide what type of chickens you want.  You can base your decision on many factors such as size, markings of the chicken, or color of the eggs.  After you have done your research, visit your local feed store to see if they have those baby chicks or you may need to special order them.  You should be able to do this through your local feed store or even online.  You would be surprised  how easy it is to find a feed store near you.  We have one just a couples miles away from even though we live in a very populated area of Southern California without a lot of farms close by.  We have found the people at the feed store are very informative, very helpful and extremely friendly.

We initially wanted Ameraucanas.  I wanted them for the blue, green or pink eggs.   However, we ended up with Golden Laced Wyandottes.  Emma really liked them at the feed store.  Be prepared for this too.  It’s just like the little puppies at the pet store that always appeal to the kids.  We were going to have to special order the Americanas and Emma fell in love with the Laced Wyandotte chicks.  We have two Laced Wyandottes (Blackie and Brownie) and one Rhode Island Red, (Ginger).   Read more about how we came to have three chickens here.

2.) Purchase a Baby Chick Starter Kit or Necessary Materials:  Once you have your chicks, you will have to have a temporary home for them.  We purchased a kit that included a medium sized cage, a heat lamp, feeder, a small 5 lb. bag of chick starter mash, a few packets of vitamins for their water and a water dispenser.  The cost was $81.34.  Looking at some of the prices now, this is somewhat high.  Here is a picture similar to what we had.

Photo courtesy of backyardchickens.com

Have a place that is safe for the chickens.  We put them in the garage so they were completely safe from any neighbors cats, etc.  This also protected them from any harsh weather elements.  Not that we experience too many here in Southern California, but in other parts of the country it is something to consider.

3.) Start Building A Chicken Coop or Purchase One:  O.K.  The sooner you get your chicks transitioned into the coop the better.  For us, we should’ve done this a lot sooner.  However, with my husband and I both working full time it was very difficult to fit this in.  So our chickens, have the night time habit of perching on my mosaic table and chairs that is next to the house where they can see inside.  My girls think they just like to watch t.v.  I’m not too happy about this habit.  So, be careful.  The sooner you get them into the coop the better.  You have to decide if the chickens will be limited to only their coop or not.  We wanted the chickens to have a little more freedom and be free range.  They have the ability to roam in two parts of the backyard.  If they are going to be limited to just the coop, consider having a large enough enclosed area for the chickens to roam/run.

After looking at various coops online and doing some research, my architect husband decided he was going to design ours.  They do have some decent chicken coops out there for purchase.  But my husband wanted to design one that was going to fit our needs a little better for what we wanted and had the modern look.  Plus, for the size of the coop we built, it did save us some money.

We have a small run for our chickens that is enclosed and protected for when we are away.

Ginger eating.

We built three boxes for each of our chickens and it has a shelf up above.  If you notice, we put corrugated clear acrylic on the top of the coop.  This allows for natural lighting and for ventilation of the heat through the holes.   When the chickens are on the shelf, they can actually see out.  It’s their penthouse view.

The overall cost for us for the chicken coop was $294.86.  This did not include the paint.  We already had that.  It cost a lot more than what I wanted to spend, but overall it’s really nice. All of the other premade coops for sale from the feed store were upwards of $300 anyways. My husband did a great job building it, and it became the family project to paint it too.

4.)Daily Care of Chickens:  As with any pet, there is the daily responsibility of taking care of the animal.  The more you have the bigger the responsibility.  Every morning, if they are free range chickens, you have to let them out of the coop.  We close both doors on our coop up at night to protect them, So each morning someone needs open one of the doors to let them out.  We don’t want any problems with neighborhood cats or the occasional coyote to get them.  I have also heard of raccoons hunting in the neighborhood that have eaten chicken.  So, they are closed up tight at night.

In the morning, the water needs to be filled up and food is topped off if needed.  They have automatic feeders that do this, but we do not own one.   Scratch is given to the chickens.  During hot summer months, we have extra water out for the chickens and it has to be filled up during the day.  At night, we have to walk the chickens back to the coop that is under the avocado tree.  Like I said before, at dusk they like to perch on my mosaic table and do not go back to their coop on their own.  If yours chickens stay exclusively in their coop, you will definitely not have this problem.  We give the chickens more scratch.  It’s like a treat for them.  We make sure all the girls are in the coop and they have food and fresh water.

This entire experience has been great for my oldest daughter, Emma.  It has given her (and still does) a lot of responsibility which she has been great with.

Lily will go after school and collect the eggs.  She loves to do this.  If she doesn’t, we collect them at night.  We average 18 to 20 eggs a week for the three chickens.  This is plenty for our family and some weeks we have enough to give to the neighbors and friends which the kids love doing.

5.) Your Chicken Is What…?

Broody?  Yes.  We had no idea this could happen.  This is when there is no rooster.  We did not want to introduce a rooster to our mix of chickens.  Roosters can be very mean and can even come after you because they are territorial over their hens.  My husband had a rooster attack his younger brother when he was little.  It was not a good situation.  With our two girls, we didn’t want to take the chance of this happening.  Not too mention, you don’t want the neighbors calling the police because the rooster is crowing at dawn.

Hens however, want to sit on eggs and raise baby chicks.  We found Blackie in the coop making these crazy noises and wasn’t getting out of the coop.  After some research, we found that she was broody.  Chicken depression is what I call it.  We had to isolate Blackie in her own pen that my husband had to build.  We put down astro turf so she couldn’t dig a nest.  The web is full of informative posts about this.  We isolated her for 7 days.  She paced and paced.  But, this seemed to do the trick.  If she were to return to the coop immediately, she would go back to the pen for 4 more days. Not long ago, Brownie also went broody on us.

6.)Chickens Can Become Family Members:  Just like any other pet you may have had growing up your kids will become very attached.  Keep this in mind if you have to move frequently.

Ginger is the favorite of the girls.  She is the sweetest thing ever if a chicken can be sweet.  Ginger can be picked up by all of us.  She has even rode in the girls play shopping cart.  Emma will go and pick Ginger up and carry her around the yard.  Ginger loves to be right at our side if we are doing anything in the backyard.  She is a funny and quirky chicken which makes her our favorite.  Ginger is also the lowest on the pecking order and you can tell by looking at her.  She definitely has a soft spot in my heart which I didn’t ever think would happen.

7.) Chicken Babysitters:  Yes.  If you go out of town as a family, you will have to have someone watch the chickens.  Lol!  Or at least make sure they have plenty of fresh water, food, eggs are collected, and the chicken are locked up safely at night.  Fortunately, our neighbors across the street volunteer to watch the chickens.  We let them have all the eggs which is a very nice trade.  We have also offered to pay them, but they have said that the eggs are plenty enough.  So, if you are a family that travels a lot.  You will want to consider this too.

8.) Everyone or Every Chicken Poops:  This is also on my list of cons.  I know this is a given for any animal.  However, don’t forget the more chickens you have the more poop you will have too.  You will have to frequently clean out the chicken coop.  We put the chicken poop in the compost bin.  I never thought chicken poop could be so big though.  I know…I’m talking in depth about chicken poop which I never though I would be blogging about.  Except beware that chickens poop can be the size of a small dog.  This might be an important deciding factor for some of you.

9.) Chicken Cons:

  • One again…chicken poop.
  • Chickens can be loud at times.  This is especially true when they are laying an egg.  If you have neighbors that are very particular about noise, this will not work.
  • They like to dig.  If you have any gardening in you backyard, you will have to fence it off and protect it from the chickens if you decide to let them roam in your backyard.  So, if you have wonderful flower garden, the free range approach may not work well for you.  You will have to keep them strictly in a run or figure out a fencing method.
  • Chickens are curious.  They will be all over and into everything.  Nothing is off limits to them.
  • They can also hop walls.  We have had to chase Ginger down in the neighbors backyard.  Luckily are neighbors are really nice about this and actually like the chickens.  I’m sure it also helps that we give them plenty of eggs too.
  • You will have cats attracted to them.  We have had out the broom to chase the neighborhood cats away which seem to come out the wood work. Our chickens are large and I think any cat that tries to mess with them is in for some trouble, but we don’t want to take the chance.
  • If they get sick or eventually die… This is a possibility with any pet and will be very difficult for our daughters.  I don’t look forward to that day.

10.) Benefits To Having Chickens:

  • Fresh eggs.  Can I say any more.  We wanted our girls to have fresh eggs.  Did you know fresh eggs, if not washed don’t have to be refrigerated? We refrigerate them though.  There is really no comparison. The yolks contain more nutrients and are such a dark yellow and almost orangish in color.  It took a while to get used to the look of scrambled eggs because they were such a deep yellow color they looked strange, but that’s the way scrambled eggs SHOULD look. Did you also know when you get eggs at the grocery store, they are already weeks old.  Check out this article by Mother Earth News.
  • Entertainment. They make us laugh…alot!
  • Teach responsibility. Very low maintenance way to begin teaching kids responsibility. You don’t have to take chickens on walks or take them to the park. Our girls just let them out of the coop in the AM, make sure they have food or water, help put them away at night, and of course collect eggs. They enjoy the last two so much that they often argue about who gets to do what. 

Just to let you know.  We don’t have a very big backyard… at all.  Living in Southern California, the lots are very small.  We are squeezed in like sardines here.  When the neighbors have their door open next door, we can here their entire conversation or know who is winning the Dodger game.  I know, not very ideal at all.  However, if we can raise them in our teeny backyard so can you!  I hope you have found this post to be helpful.  If you have any questions about raising backyard chickens ask me and I will do my best to answer them. Thanks for commenting and reading!




Chicken Diaries-Trying to Stay Cool

I haven’t written anything lately about our chickens.  Yes, they are still up to no good.  The summer heat is coming on strong lately in Southern California.  We usually heat up in August all the way into October.  I’m not one who is fond of the heat.  Being a true Midwestern girl, I miss the seasons and especially fall with the cool, crisp air and the beautiful foliage.  So, I find it hard with the extreme heat as I think the entire nation is right now. Well, these little girls are finding it even harder to beat the heat.

Yep, I opened the back door today and they were right there.  I think Ginger, scrawny looking one, would’ve come right into the house if I’d had let her.  They are also panting too.  I had no idea that chickens pant.  I mean it makes sense.  But, it’s kinda funny to see.  Poor girls.  They have been hiding for most of the day under the avocado tree in the back.  I don’t blame them.

Stay Cool!

Chicken Diaries #3

I have to show you our really modern and cool chicken coop that my husband designed.      He did such a great job.  It has a little running area for the chickens to be outdoors, but still protected.  The enclosed area has 3 little nesting boxes for our ladies and a shelf above the boxes for the chickens to perch.  It all has a clear acrylic roof on top of it so when the chickens jump up on the shelf they can actually see outside.  We call it the penthouse.  It was an entire family endeavor to make and paint it.  We had to give it a modern twist with the blocks of color.  What fun.   I think our little ladies are living large!

Chicken Diaries #2

It’s not every day that you see a chicken going for a ride in a grocery cart.  Like I told you in the first     Chicken Diaries post.  The chickens are very friendly.  Ginger I think is more like the family dog than the family chicken.

In Ginger went and about minute later she flew out of the cart.  I’m surprised she lasted that long.

Chicken Diaries

This is just a little series based on the funny antics of our chickens.  I would never had guessed that chickens could be so funny.  We have jumped on the backyard chicken band wagon.  It all started when my daughter wanted chickens for her 7th birthday. My husband and Emma went to a local feed store that happened to be just right down the street.  Emma fell in love with them.  What seven year old wouldn’t?  So, after some research, debating, and some hemming and haughing, we decided to go for it.  We bought two Lacy Wyandotte chicks.  Emma came up with their names, Browney and Blackey.  Not very original, but cute, and this is what she wanted to name them and they were HER chickens.

We raised them from chicks that were 3 weeks old. The girls held, petted, and played with them.  We gave them lots of TLC and still do.  We watched them grow up to be these HUGE chickens.

Here, meet the girls.  This is Brownie and Blackie.  Brownie by far has the most beautiful markings.  Pretty golden and rust color browns with the black .  Brownie is sort of the ring leader and a real take charge girl.

With Blackie, the name says it all.  She has some of the golden and rusty colors but not like that of her sister.  Yes, they are sisters.  Blackie is the biggest and by far the heaviest of the chickens.  She is not so heavy that my daughter cannot carry her.  All of the chickens will let Emma pick them up and Emma often carries them into their coop at night.  We built the coop after the chickens were a little older…so they aren’t yet fully trained go to their coop at night and sometimes have to be carried.

We ended up receiving a third chicken.  At first, I wanted no part in having a third chicken.  Then I heard that a co-worker of my husbands had bought five chicks at once and it was too many for him.  If he couldn’t find a good home for this chicken, it was going to be SOUP.  I didn’t want that to happen.  So, I reluctantly said o.k. and here we are with a third chicken.  Her name is Ginger.  The elusive Ginger or sometimes we call her Roadrunner.

When we first got her she was in sad shape.  She was really skinny and her feathers looked unhealthy and were matted down.  It looked like she had been picked on and may have been the runt of the group.  My husband brought her home one night and the girls were so excited to have a third chicken.  Although, this didn’t bode well with the sisters who are inseperable.  Blackie immediately started pecking on her.  I guess it’s true what they say about the pecking order.  Eventually, they have grown to put up with each other and they all get along pretty well now.

Ginger has to be the funniest though.  This chicken LOVES to be around us.  Whenever we’re outside she is right there on our heels.  Emma picks her up like a dog and strokes her feathers.  Ginger will even come to the window in the evening to watch t.v. before it gets too dark.  Who knew chickens like to watch t.v.?  Yes, that is blue paint on Ginger.  When we painted the chicken coop, Emma painted her blue and tried to say Ginger did it.  She painted the chicken’s feet first.  I was convinced that it was Ginger who stepped in the paint.  This gave Emma free reign.  She thought Mommy was convinced Ginger was being a dummy and getting into the paint, so, Emma painted her feet some more.  Then I looked and the sides of her neck and they were painted.  We had a blue chicken.  Needless to say, Emma was so busted!  She had been found out.  My husband and I had to wash Ginger’s feet off in the laundry sink.  Never in a million years would I have imagined myself washing a LIVE chicken’s feet.

You can see a little of the remaining blue paint on Ginger’s neck feathers

So, this is my little introduction to our girls.  Besides providing us with more than a dozen, free range brown eggs a week, they are quite humorous.  I will be keeping you posted periodically of some of the antics of our backyard chickens.


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