Tuesday, June 22, 2010

household: keeping chickens

Have you found that everyone around you is beginning to keep chickens? When I was little, my grandpa kept chickens, and growing up, my best friend's family had a coop, near the alley that ran behind all the bungalows on the street. But it's been years - since high school - since I'd seen the beasties up close.

One morning, Allen ran inside and told me to come to the back yard. Chickens had appeared next door overnight!

In the back yard next door were two cleanly modern A-frame coops, and nearly a dozen chickens of all colors. The neighbors have been raising chickens for years, but had only just built coops at the new house, a couple of weeks after they'd moved in.

I'd introduced myself to the new neighbors, and since the hens arrived, they've been gifting me half-dozens of tan, brown, cream, and light blue eggs.

Francina, our new neighbor, was nice enough to tell me about her different breeds. Francina recommends Cinnamon Queens, which are copper in color, for backyard coops - they lay an egg nearly every day. Ameraucanas - which can be a range of beautiful colors, from cream to black, to a tricolor mix - lay beautiful light blue eggs. Frannie also keeps Barred Rocks and Australorps.

BackyardChickens.com has a helpful chart of breeds, sorted by size, climate hardiness, egg production, and other factors. I'd like a Sizzle, please!

Francina feeds the hens a soy-free diet, and supplements the feed with vegetable scraps she brings home from her restaurant job. The chickens have free run of the fenced yard, and they scratch constantly for grubs and weeds (neither of which you want in your yard).

So why raise chickens? Well, at peak baking times, I go through two dozen eggs a week. We've always bought free-range organic eggs, and I felt like those were fine. But take a look at our neighbor chickens' egg yolks on the right, versus grocery store yolks on the left:

The two-days-old, truly free-range eggs put store-bought organic eggs to shame. And cooked up for breakfast, they taste amazing.

Having driven past commercial chicken farms, which you can smell for miles, I'd always had the idea that chickens are gross. But these pretty, healthy hens are so nice to watch as they root around the yard, softly clucking, and the coops aren't the least bit smelly. Francina has never had trouble with bird mites or other pests.

The design for Francina's coops came from a plan book, and she recruited a handy friend to help built them. Of course, there are infinite options for coop designs, including this Ikea hack, and this rather more extreme alteration. Chickens need space to move around inside the coop if they're not to be free range, and they need a sheltered, close space for roosting. Francina placed a "decoy egg" (in this case, a golf ball) to encourage the hens to roost there.

The folks over at Garden Hood in Atlanta also have a nice-looking coop, with plenty of happy, healthy chickens.

I've been lobbying Allen for chickens for years, and I think this friendly expert next door may just help me get my way. In that case, expect a lot more posts about baking!

Here are some resources for raising chickens in your yard:
The Urban Chickens Network
Back Yard Chickens (and their great, concise primer)
Chicken Hop


  1. I want a chicken to take to the Common in the mornings!

    How exciting, Elizabeth! I can't wait to visit!

  2. The way I see it, our neighbors have chickens now, so why do we need them too? Plus I don't think your parents would be thrilled about taking care of our chickens when we go out of town.

  3. I will babysit the chickens if you go out of town! (I would do anything for some home-lain eggs!)