Spending more time at home during this historic year has given people ideas for updating their houses. These uncertain times have also inspired some to become more self-sufficient. Gardening, for example, has experienced an upsurge.
What about raising your own backyard chickens? It is easier than you think and extremely rewarding with fresh eggs that taste rich and have bright yellow yolks. According to a 2007 Mother Earth News study, free-range eggs can contain a third-less cholesterol and more vitamin A and E, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids than grocery store eggs. They are a visual treat as well with blue, green, tan and white eggshells.
“It’s fun to open the nesting boxes and see how many eggs are waiting each day,” said 12-year-old Boone K.*, who oversees his family’s chickens in their Boulder backyard. “One day there won’t be any and then the next day there is an explosion!”
Boulder has long permitted having chickens, but some surrounding communities have only recently come on board and may require a permit. Boulder allows up to eight chickens per home, although roosters are not permitted due to their noisy crowing. Rules for having chickens vary by community so be sure to check your city or county ordinances. Also, HOAs will have opinions about this as well.
A secure chicken coop is imperative to provide shelter and to protect the hens from predators. They can be purchased ready-made, as pre-fab kits or you can be creative and design your own.
Boone, who refers to his hens as “the girls,” said they are easy to care for. They need food, water and shelter and must get time and space outside to run around. “It’s not good for them to be cooped up,” he explained. He also said that despite what you may think, chickens are not smelly nor noisy. “You just have to clean the coop a couple times a month. And they only make noise clucking if they want to be let out,” he said.
Hens start laying when they are about one year old and lay every 25 hours during warmer months. (You don’t need a rooster for them to lay eggs.) Egg production slows down when it gets colder. They eat kitchen food scraps, including meat and vegetables, and dig up insects and worms in the yard. (Just protect your favorite flowers and plants!)
Boone’s family chose breeds that are cold-weather hardy as well as people-friendly, such as Rhode Island Red, Speckled Sussex, Ameraucana and Buff Orpington (the hens follow Boone around the yard like puppies).
Keeping chickens “isn’t a full-time job,” said Boone, but requires tasks that need to be done on a regular basis. The result will be a flock of happy and healthy hens providing you with fresh and nutritious eggs.
Backyard chickens basics
• A coop with indoor and outdoor space.
• Protection from predators (dogs, hawks, fox, coyote, raccoons).
• Room to roam, either within a run or in an enclosed yard.
• Heating lamps for winter.
• Nesting boxes
• Feed containers
Editors Note: *Boone’s last name has been omitted at his family’s request since he is a minor.