Here’s our first post from Natty, the ChickenKeeper. For folks interested in urban farming, radical homemaking, or an on-going dramatic thread involving chickens, this is the gal to watch.
These are The Girls. They make noise. And my breakfast.
- Got treats?
It all started with an egg (and here, in one fell swoop, I solve the age-old question! Stay tuned for next week, when I offer my opinion on chickens and roads). The egg I’m talking about is in the photo below. I got it from my neighbor so I could make muffins. It’s the one with the dark orange yolk, as compared to its counterpart, the “regular egg.” Now, the regular egg is actually a super-expensive, free-range, vegetarian, sung-to-every-night, (insert many other adjectives here) expensive egg from Whole Foods. And yet you can still see the difference.
Just as I was about to beat both eggs and erase any evidence of their difference, The Greek walked in and said:
“Why does that one look different? It looks like a Greek egg. We have the best eggs in Greece. The yolks are orange and they are way tastier than American eggs. I can never get good eggs in this country.”
Turns out the egg was not, in fact, from Greece. It was from a backyard chicken raised by my neighbor. Two weeks later, we had set up our own chicken coop so that “we could get good eggs in this country.”
Backyard or urban chickens are all the rage. The other day, a friend was walking around in San Francisco, and there was a rogue chicken running around on Market Street downtown. As chickens do not spontaneously generate in urban environments, it’s obvious that people are keeping them for a reason. And while I won’t get into the whole factory-farmed vs. free-range chicken debate that keeps flaming on the Internets, that seems to be one of the driving forces behind the backyard chicken explosion.
For me, I like the fresh eggs, and I think the birds look cool in my yard. They are not pets. I am not particularly attached to them, and when the time comes and they stop laying, I will probably “do the deed.” They are kind of like Koi fish, but without the pond. About as messy too. But with eggs.
Currently, we have seven chickens. First, there’s the management team consisting of Black Chicken and White Chicken:
Black Chicken. Not a rooster, but about as badass. Lays white eggs.
- White Chicken is an Americauna-Leghorn cross. The idea was to create create a mellow chicken that is a good layer: the egg production of a Leghorn and temperament of an Americauna. It didn’t seem to work, as this one is batshit crazy and impossible to catch. Lays nice white eggs though.
Next, we have “the exotics”:
Nekkid. No she is not sick. No she didn’t pluck her feathers out. She is a breed called “Naked Neck” or “Turken”. She’s a mean bird that always steals everyone’s food, but she lays a brown egg almost every day, so I keep her.
Kiwi. The “cool” Americauna. Likes to stare down dogs. Lays green eggs, but only when she feels like it.
In additions to “the exotics” we have a special needs chicken:
Original. She is special. She has a crossed beak, which means she can only eat chicken pellets and never gets any snacks. Despite this little limitation, she’s fat as can be. Lays tiny little brown eggs.
And finally, we have just, you know, chickens:
Twister. Despite her name, she’s the normal one. Lays like clockwork, an egg a day with a break on Sunday. She is a regular boring Rhode Island Red chicken.
Pretty Chicken. She’s pretty, but of unknown breed. Used to lay brown eggs, but has been slacking off recently. Uh oh.
As far as chicken accommodations go, mine are mid-range. Looking online (which is how everyone learns about urban chicken keeping these days), you can find setups in every price range: from the minimalist (rebar posts strung with chicken wire) to the McMansion (custom-built coops with porches, windows, shutters, on wheels, and electronic raccoon-repelling doors.) The Girls have small coop (about the size of a large dog crate) and a 10×15 foot run fenced run in a shady corner of my yard.
Sometimes, when I feel like it, I let them run in the back yard. I usually regret it because they get into the vegetable garden, or poop on the deck, or dig large holes in my kid’s sandbox. Mostly they spend time in their run. They eat chicken pellets and whatever random kitchen scraps I feel like throwing at them. Yesterday they got a pound of raw hamburger than was past expiration date. It was a big hit — I think they thought it was a really large fat worm.
For all that trouble, they give me 3-4 eggs a day. That’s actually not a lot; chickens are supposed to lay almost an egg a day in their “prime”. But most of my hens are pretty old, and the one that’s young is a cool breed that is not very productive, but lays green eggs. 3-4 eggs a day is still more than we can possibly eat, so I give away the extra eggs as gifts. Around here, that makes me really popular. (In other places people bring flowers, or chocolate, or zucchini bread when they are invited for dinner. I bring a half dozen eggs and people love me for it.)
- Easter Basket from a ChickenKeeper. Is this cool, or what.
So there you have it. Backyard chickens. About as complicated to keep as goldfish.