Monday, February 28, 2011

backyard chickens!?!?

You have no idea how surprised I was when Able-Bodied Boy mentioned a year or so ago that he might like to have some egg-layers. Sweeeeeet! My friend Barnhenge Momma has a few dozen egg-layers and meat birds, and she makes it look so easy. Which, it seems, it is pretty easy:

a Rhode Island Red
Buy/build coop and run. Raise chicks or buy pullets (teen-aged birds). Put them in the coop. Give them a hand with where to lay eggs (if it's the first set of birds you own, they need a bit of training since they don't have other birds to watch). Collect eggs and check water and feed daily. Clean the coop and run every 1- 2- 3- 4- weeks, depending who you talk to and the conditions. Overall, not really all that difficult!

We learned most of what we know from the PASA Backyard Chicken class we took on Saturday, led by the very knowledgeable and sweet Amy and Chris. They definitely made it seem very attainable for a lot of different folks. We also plan to spend a day with Barnhenge Mama (and Papa) to do a "chicken internship" :)

We have quite a list of things to consider before we make the plunge, though.

  • Do local ordinances allow us to have them? Is the coop a large enough structure that it needs to follow some sort of code? (Zoning officer will be dropping off information this week!)
  • Where do we put the coop and run? Will it get a mix of sun and shade, or do we need to provide some sort of shade cover (vines over the top)? Will a little smell bother you if it's close to the house, or can you combat that with fragrant flowers/herbs?
  • How do we procure the coop? DIY, help from an experienced coop-builder, buy it online...?
  • Do we get a rooster? They can help with protection when the birds are outside of their run. Are we letting them out of the run much? Will our neighbors care about the crowing?
  • Do we get chicks or pullets? Chicks take a bit of care for 3 months to raise, but the handling will get them used to you (and kids, if you have them). Is it much more expensive to get pullets?
  • Where will we get our hay/cedar chips from?
  • Do we have a reliable chicken-sitter when we are both away?
Needless today, Able-Bodied Boy and I don't really see eye-to-eye on a lot of this. Tons of discussions to come. But I'm sure we'll come up with a good plan that works for both of us!

Once we have 3-4 birds laying, we'll start getting around a dozen eggs each week. Which is quite a bit for us, but I think we can use them to barter with others for garden produce or other homemade goods. We'll also have a good bit of fertilizer to use in the garden, to supplement the worm compost. And they will eat most excess foods we don't give the worms, so we can stop putting scraps in the trash or bushline (even at Thanksgiving!).

Amusingly, mentioning all this on Facebook prompted a lot of my friends to speak up about their experiences with chicken-raising. Have you had chickens? What's the best/worst thing about it?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl

EDIT: We got the copy of the relevant local code; looks like this might be a problem. For any agricultural/farming uses, we need to have 5+ acres and set the structure 200ft from the property line. With only 1.5 acres, that puts the coop under our house and still 3.5 acres short. Our property is bordered by the road on one side and by one owner's horse pasture or unused land. So there would really be no residential issue, if that's the concern.
We're going to look into the feasibility of getting a variance (will ask if it's ever been done before). If we might be able to get one, we'll try to get the neighbor's support and take our tiny coop plans to see about a variance. If it doesn't look like a variance is going to happen, we may just talk to the neighbor and/or take our chances... I'll keep you posted!



  1. Quite honestly surprised there's that much of a restriction on the ordinance. I mean... for pity's sake... you're in the middle of NOWHERE. Definitely go for a variance... I'm just boggling over there even being any issue in your location. NJ farm rules are weird. Other locations in Salem County you've got to dodge chickens off the highway (thinking Rt. 49, specifically). I mean... I know all locales are going to be different, but really. Seriously?
    *boggles some more*

  2. Wow. This is something that has never crossed my mind. Our mindlink must be broken.

  3. Depending on the size coop, most of them are the same size as large dog kennels. It wouldn't be much different than having a dog yard. Go for the variance; also see if anyone else has gotten one in your area. It'll help your case if there are people nearby who also have one.