The Urban Homesteader: What the Cluck?
Spring is just around the corner and with it come images of cute chicks and eggs – and I don’t mean the sugar-coated or chocolatefilled kind! Chickens have been gaining more attention lately as worthwhile and fun backyard companions. As their popularity grows, I get more and more questions about what it’s like sharing our yard with a flock of feathered ladies.
Keeping chickens isn’t that much different than keeping house cats as pets – they need to be fed and watered every day and, yes, you have to deal with poop. However, most local veterinarians won’t check chickens, so you’ll also need to monitor your birds to know if a health intervention is needed. Handling and socializing your chickens from an early age makes it easier to get them to cooperate, but it also makes it more fun for you to enjoy their antics and unique personalities.
If you’re thinking about getting chickens, the first thing to ask yourself is “why?” For humane food production, self-sufficiency, selling eggs, entertainment, education for kids or simply as pets? Owning chickens can be all of these things. Your “why” will help you determine how much you want to invest, as well as guide you to what kind of chickens and coop you will eventually need.
We got into chicken-keeping for the sustainability of it, as well as knowing we would have humanely raised, well-fed hens who produced tasty, healthy eggs. We were surprised by how much entertainment and companionship owning chickens also offers! Before bringing home your own flock, be sure to look up the regulations for your city or county. You don’t want to invest in and get attached to your birds only to find out they are illegal squatters. Most localities will not allow roosters in backyard flocks, but that’s okay, you don’t need one to get eggs!
Next, do your research. I went through dozens of books and websites and talked to chicken owners to assess what kind of chicken husbandry needs we would have to consider (food, shelter, space requirements, waste management, predator control), particularly given Florida’s hot and rainy climate.
Chickens are a commitment – they can live eight to 12 years, but only lay eggs for a few of those years. Some local farms that sell chickens will take older birds back when they’re done laying, which is why it’s a good idea to work with a local farm or breeder to get your chickens. Otherwise, you’ll need a plan for managing your flock after their egg-laying days are over.
Having your own backyard chickens will produce some of the best eggs you’ve ever eaten – if you’re a foodie, it’s well worth it just for that alone. However, having your own personal comedy troupe in your yard may inspire you to pull up a lawn chair, grab a cold drink and just enjoy the show.
START PECKING AROUND for information about raising your own chickens online. Here are a few sites that might help.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension has several articles on keeping chickens, as well as links to local county extension offices, some of which offer “Chickens 101” courses.solutionsforyourlife.com (search “backyard chickens”)
The Pinellas County Citizens for Backyard Poultry site has helpful links to organizations nationwide, as well as resources for raising chickens in the Tampa Bay area. pinellascountycitizensforbackyardpoultry.weebly.com
A good general site about backyard chicken keeping, including forums to get answers from others and share information, is backyardchickens.com
You may also want to check out your local library or bookstore – there are many detailed books specifically geared towards urban chicken keeping, backyard chickens, or raising “micro-flocks” (of 6 or less birds).
Ready to get started? Martin Farms in Largo (727-525-1110) is a great place to buy chicks; you might also try City Chicks in Pinellas Park (727-546-3478), which is recommended by the Pinellas County extension office.