5 things learned from raising chickens
Raising chickens in an urban environment is a great way to meet your neighbors. | Photo by Kelli Wefenstette
Updated: December 5, 2012 10:03AM
As morning light peeks through our bedroom windows, I slip from slumber and into a pair of boots. Once outside, I fumble with the latch on the chicken run, a 10’ x 10’ repurposed dog kennel.
Inside the run, I check the food and water levels and layer chaff — the light, fluffy shell of roasted coffee beans — across the ground to soak up moisture. Upon opening the coop, Frances Farmer hits the ground in one heroic leap while Marigold saunters down the plank with Mrs. Butterworth timidly behind. The hens enthusiastically search for bugs, chase squirrels and will soon nap under our remaining Swiss chard.
My husband Jimmy and I live in Chicago and raise chickens in our front yard.
My parents joke that I moved to Chicago to start a farm. As I was raised in a small, rural town in central Illinois, our journey to urban homesteading grew quite organically. We have aspired to simple living since moving to our house in 2009. Rain barrels, raised bed gardens, compost bins and urban chickens dot our micro-farm.
For more than two years, we explored the ins and outs of keeping small flocks. We read books like Ashley English’s Raising Chickens and absorbed information from the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts, Angelic Organics Learning Center, and chicken keepers around the area who likewise are interested in self-sufficiency, of shortening the journey from farm to table.
Over the past year we’ve gained insight in poultry keeping, decried numerous myths, and met a myriad of neighbors in the process. We can recite Chicago’s ordinances verbatim (no selling and no slaughtering) and explain the cycle of poultry ovulation on request (they don’t need a rooster to lay eggs). Our hens have introduced us to the majority of folks in the neighborhood and a preschool down the street whose students now greet the hens by name.
Today, as communities around the area consider legalizing (or banning) chickens, I’d like to share five bits of wisdom we’ve gained as chicken owners.
1. Chickens are not loud. Hens joyfully celebrate egg laying or release an alarm squawk if something’s amiss yet are rarely audible from inside our home. Their standard clucking rarely reaches a decibel louder than normal conversation and never louder than a barking dog.
2. Chickens are cleaner than dogs. Diligent attention given to bedding will eliminate smells and organic bedding such as coffee chaff, pine shavings and straw, are compostable.
3. Chickens eliminate pests. Voracious omnivores, they eat insects, grubs, slugs and can also eat mice and small snakes as well as chase off squirrels.
4. Chickens can be an attraction. Our neighbors’ house sold this spring, due in part to our hens. The new family cited the flock as a selling point in that they had grown up raising chickens and wanted similar experiences for their children.
5. Chickens build community. Our neighbors have become invested in our flock. The 11-year-old across the alley watches them while we’re away, one neighbor once called in the middle of the night about a prowling opossum, and the 75-year-old couple next door love telling friends about “their girls.”
Passers-by regale us with tales from Poland to Guatemala, of grandfathers who raised chickens and mothers who cooked them. We all share a deeply seeded desire to connect to our food, to the earth and to produce what we can. One August afternoon, an elderly woman in an ankle-length coat paused at our fence. As her pearls clanked against the chain link and perfume wafted across the summer air, she grasped my hands in hers. “Beautiful,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you for sharing them with me.”