For city-dwelling folk, the charms of country living only exist in their imaginations. However, it is possible to bring a slice of country life into your very own inner-city backyard. Raising chickens in the city might be the last thing you’d imagine in your compact city garden, but they are relatively easy to maintain and care for whilst offering a plethora of benefits.
Benefits of raising chickens in the city
Live a greener life
They’ll be no more food waste with a hen house out back. Your feathery housemates will gladly feast on most of your food scraps. They particularly enjoy vegetable peels, various fruits, vegetables and leafy greens, and a small amount of cooked pasta or grains for the occasional treat. Remember to check with your veterinarian before introducing new foods.
Know where your eggs come from
Barn raised, cage-free, free-range – the list goes on. Choosing the most ethical egg is a complicated task. Raising chickens in the city means you’ll never have to question where your eggs come from and what conditions the chickens are kept again.
Cheap, delicious eggs
There is no better tasting egg than one you’ve plucked fresh from the chickens in your backyard. With a couple of laying hens, you’ll have an abundance of eggs for your family, friends and neighbours.
Manure is excellent for garden
Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, making it an excellent fertilizer for the garden. However, make sure you compost the manure first, as raw manure can burn and even kill plants.
Encourages time spent outside
Time spent in the garden is time well spent. Raising chickens in the city will force you to spend more time outdoors – feeding them, cleaning the hen house, collecting their eggs, and reaping all the health benefits at the same time.
Education for the kids
Raising chickens in the city from chicks can provide invaluable lessons to your little ones. Not only will it teach your children about the responsibilities of caring for another living being, but it will give them an insight into where their food comes from.
A chicken’s appetite for insects, bugs and grubs makes them excellent helpers in the garden. Allow them to roam free in your backyard, and they’ll happily clear your garden of plant destroying pests. They’ll also help keep any other pets safe as they make a meal out of fleas and ticks.
Entertainment and companionship
Chickens can provide hours and hours of entertainment and fun for the whole family. Yes, you’ll be putting in the time to care for them, but you’ll very quickly learn that each chicken has individual quirks and personality traits. Don’t be surprised if you end up loving them just as much as your four-legged friends.
A complete guide to raising chickens in the city
Make sure it’s legal
Before you start construction on your henhouse, check your local council’s rules on keeping chickens. Most councils will allow you to keep up to six chickens without a rooster (because they lead to a lot of noise complaints and baby chickens). Each council will usually have rules around where a hen house can sit on your property, e.g., distance from the neighbours’ house or main dwelling.
Check with your neighbours
This isn’t a requirement, but it might be an idea to check with your neighbours if the hen house will be particularly close to their boundaries. Although a lot quieter than roosters, chickens are still chatty birds that will happily cluck all day. No matter how rigorously you clean and maintain the hen house, there will also be some interesting smells your neighbours might object to.
Choose a breed
There are a surprising number of chicken breeds, but a few in particular that are good egg layers and suited to backyard living.
Australorp – Australian, good for both breeding and egg-laying. Large, handsome, black, docile bird. Up to 250 eggs each year.
Rhode Island Red – U.S., good for both breeding and egg-laying. Docile. 200+ eggs each year.
Isa Brown – Cross between Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White breeds. Gentle and docile. Up to 300 eggs each year.
Sussex – U.K., good for both breeding and egg-laying. Docile and suited to cool climates. 240-260 eggs each year.
Wyandotte – U.S., good for both breeding and egg-laying. Docile, friendly and cute. 200-240 eggs each year.
Chick or chicken?
Buying a chick or a chicken both have their benefits. Chicks are time-consuming, are a little more costly and won’t produce eggs for many months. However, raising chickens in the city from babies is an adorable and rewarding experience. People with children may be drawn to this option as the whole family will get to experience the different growth stages of a chicken whilst forming a strong bond with their new friends.
Fully grown chickens are the best option for someone who wants an egg-laying bird from day dot. Although they are the more expensive option, they are hardier and easy to care for.
If you are looking for the best of both worlds, a pullet or young bird may be the best option. Pullets are around ten weeks of age, have all of their adult plumage, and require much less care than chicks. You will have to wait a few more months for eggs but will be able to bond with and tame your birds like you would a chick.
Build a secure home
You can get creative when it comes to the layout of your hen house, but it must include the following:
- Must be predator proof
- Must be weatherproof – no cold drafts, no leaky roofs and plenty of shade for hot summer days.
- Chooks need to perch off the ground at night. A perch should be at least 30cm off the ground with 30cm of space per hen.
- Nesting boxes where the chooks can lay their eggs in private
- A concrete floor under the roost will help keep the area clean
- A dirt floor under the run for foraging – cover with organic material like straw or untreated wood shavings.
Caring for your chickens
Chickens need access to plenty of clean, fresh water as well as high-protein chicken pellets. Vegetable scraps are a great addition to a chicken’s diet but are not enough by themselves. You may want to consider adding shell grit to their feed to help with shell formation and digestion.
Remember to clean out the chicken coop regularly. Old straw and chicken waste can be composted and used in the garden. Keeping their home clean will ensure your chickens remain happy and healthy whilst warding off any nasty smells.
Watch out for predators
Don’t assume a city environment is safe for your chickens, as there are still plenty of predators lurking about. To keep your girls safe, lock them away each night in their secure pen. Construct your hen house from a hardier chicken wire and add a safety latch. To avoid a predator borrowing into the hen house, extend the chicken wire around the entire circumference of the structure to form a 40cm ‘skirt’.
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Words by Nell Matzen
- How to raise chickens in the city
- A Beginner’s guide to keeping chickens in urban areas
- Six benefits of owning chickens
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