Frankly, the sustainable, local, organic, slow food movement can be a little exhausting. In our nanosecond-attention span world, who’s got the time to look for farmer’s markets and Whole Foods everywhere? Still, the benefits of healthy eating and wholesome, fresh ingredients – not to mention the taste and teaching your kids where their food comes from- are undeniably favorable. Try a farm-fresh egg from a local chicken and you’re never buy retail again.

Why Chickens When Our Kids Want a Puppy?
Raising chickens in an urban environment is surprisingly easy, affordable and is a great way to get your kids on the path to responsibility when it comes to raising a pet (Mom I want a dog. Does that sound familiar?). As an ancillary advantage, chickens are great organic gardeners, eating bugs and compost and creating fertilizer. Plus they’re fairly self-sufficient pets – never need to be walked – and the kiddies can witness firsthand the anthropological mystery of which came first…Here are a few helpful guidelines before embarking on backyard – or balcony – or rooftop – farming.

Habitat
First off, you need a place to put them. Coops come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from simple, homemade structures of wire or polymer mesh and wood to small residences designed to match your own architectural gem. This is where the hens will sleep and lay eggs, so the size of the coop depends upon the number of chickens. A flock of 3 is recommended for harmonious living, but 2 hens will keep each other company. The general rule of thumb for housing is 2-4 sq. ft. per chicken.

Work Out Time
In addition to housing, the cluckers need to exercise. A run – a fenced area connected to the coop – can be any size your yard can accommodate, ideally at least 10 ft. per chicken. Having a dedicated area where they can roam, like a toddler in a playpen, is nice and where space allows, ‘free range’ hens are happy hens. If opting for the peeps to roam freely about your property, be sure to install poly netting around the perimeter. A 100’ roll, measuring 7’ high is available at Home Depot for about $75. The neighbors will be appreciative, and there’ll be less chance of escape.

What Comes First: the chicken or the egg?
Now that the real estate is ready, just add chicks. Now, do you get a chicken or an egg first? Either actually. Fertile eggs or live chicks can be purchased online, from feed supply stores and in some cases, local pet stores. Baby chicks are fun for the little ones to watch grow, and little ones can hold them, which creates generally mellow, friendly adult chickens.

Incubating an egg is a life lesson that requires time and attention daily for at least a month. A viable embryo will hatch in about 21 days when properly incubated. Dedicated incubators are available in a range of sizes and prices, both from the Internet and big-box stores like Walmart.

A caveat – fertile eggs are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. There’s no guarantee that the eggs will hatch, and some may turn out to be roosters.  Most cities have local ordinances that prohibit raising roosters in a residential area (both for noise and aggression). If you find you have a lone bantam on your hands and don’t fancy homemade chicken soup, a rural rescue will take it off your hands for a small donation.

Meals
Feeding the chickens is the best part, because they’ll eat what you eat.  Keep water and a compost bin in their run and supply them with table scraps.  Grains and greens are favorites and will produce delicious eggs.  Healthy hens will typically produce an egg a day.

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For more details, Backyard Chickens has an extensive learning center and community forum as well as information about local laws, various breeds and supplies.

Let us know in the comment section below if you have your own chicken coop or if you plan on backyard chickens in the future. Have any advice to share?

— Kim Orchen Cooper