It’s really no surprise that urban chicken farming has become so popular. Chickens have made their way into our culture through our language and popular iconography.
Terms like, “come home to roost”; “henpecked” or even the term “cock” has evolved into our colloquial slang. Although the majority of of the country has moved away from a mostly agrarian culture, we still cling to the idea of chickens to communicate and even decorate our homes (chicken trivets, anyone?)
Raising chickens in urban areas has risen quickly in the United States. With its beginnings in London, England, and quickly burning through cities like Portland and Austin, urban chicken farming is finding its home in places like Chicago, Oakland and Phoenix. The poster child for “shop local,” the chicken has come home to roost.
So, why is urban chicken farming so cool these days? What considerations should you keep in mind before you go off and purchase your first hens? Also, why is the word ‘hen party’ typically only used in British English to describe a bachelorette party? (Just kidding, but it is rather interesting.)
Wait, food doesn’t come from the grocery store?!
If you’ve ever done some research on how animals are treated in order for them to come to us as food, it can be downright disturbing. But, you don’t have to turn completely vegan or vegetarian to become a more ethical and mindful consumer.
According to Kara Roschi, an artist who lives in downtown Phoenix, AZ, there were a combination of factors that led to her and her husband’s decision to bring feathers into their family menagerie.
“My husband Chris had begun to research the labeling used by commercial farms to connote different chicken farming practices, and he realized how cagey much of it is,” says Kara. “Though he wound up finding brands that he had pretty high confidence in, he was then spending upwards of $7.00 a dozen for them.”
Kara and Chris describe themselves as ‘animal people’ anyway, so they started considering costs of owning their own chickens. “We also thought about how enriching it would be for our six-year old daughter, Ella to grow up with a greater understanding of animal rearing and food production issues,” Kara says.
A Family Chicken Affair
Molly Morelock, marketing account manager and resident of Oakland, California agrees. “It’s a wonderful experience for the whole family. My kids helped me build the chicken coop and learned about what they could eat and what went in our compost. (Learn what can and can’t be composted here. Then, find our favorite tumbling composter here.) They also noticed something amazing on garbage night. Before, our trash was as full as our recycling. After chickens, we rarely filled our garbage can. So they really saw the benefit to Mother Earth. Reuse. Recycle and leave a smaller footprint on this earth.”
Molly says that she and her family were also shelling out a lot of money for organic eggs. Paying upwards of $12 for a dozen organic eggs at the Farmers Market was painful. However, she cautions, raising chickens may not always save you money. “Knowing where my eggs come from makes me feel good. I know my chickens are truly free range, organic and loved!”
Molly says that her kids, ages 7 and 8 love chickens as much as she does. This is important because family buy-in is a key component as chicken farming is truly a family activity and commitment.
Some Chicken Research
Both Molly and Kara 100% endorse urban chicken farming and would encourage anyone to do it with one caveat: do your research. From accidentally purchasing a rooster who will loudly greet the day much to the chagrin of your neighbors to losing some flock members to coyotes or dogs, there are some downsides.
However, “life is much better with chickens in your backyard,” says Molly. “It also brought simple joy to our everyday lives. The chickens would greet us, follow us, and even let us pick them up. They each had their unique personality and intelligence. We quickly learned that chickens are very smart.”
Kara agrees. “Do it! They’re easy pets that provide nourishment you know for a fact is cruelty-free. And, for the most part, our dogs, cats and kiddo all get along with them. As long as you can bear to be a little extra diligent in the Phoenix summer to keep ‘em cool, they’re pretty easy to manage.”
3 Quick Urban Chicken Farming Guidelines
Here are 3 quick guidelines you should keep in mind if you think urban chicken farming is for something you’d like to explore:
- You may or may not need a permit, depending on your neighborhood. Both Kara and Molly did not need permits but, roosters weren’t allowed. In both cases, they had purchased roosters and didn’t even know it. (If you recall, roosters are the ones who will wake you up around 5:00 am to sing cock-a-doodle-do)
- Try to build a large hen house, with an area for them to lay eggs. And make sure you have a timer to open and close the house. “This is the one thing we didn’t do and we lost a lot of girls because of this. If you can, let them roam your garden. They will eat the bugs and follow you around like a puppy,” says Molly
- Temper monetary expectations: Molly says “Between the food, equipment, shavings and mealworms (a must) chickens are not going to save you much money. But your life will be richer with chickens in your backyard.”
Kara agrees, “There was the original cost for the chicks, incubator and feed, and then the cost of the coop(s), the ongoing costs of the feed (whether they’re laying or not) and also the likelihood of us keeping them for the remainder of their lives even after the laying days are over. After all, Cuddler, Hoggle, Sunshine, Clementine, Boo and Brian are family!”