How to keep chicks happy - but not within Castlegar city limits
Ed. Note: Urban chickens are not allowed within Castlegar city limits. But enough people in the surrounding areas are looking for direction on creating small personal flocks that we thought this was interesting and relevant information, courtesy of Amy Enns, owner of Fluster Cluck Farm (and also the photographer who took the attached photo).
How to Raise Urban Chickens
Backyard poultry ownership provides a great opportunity for improved self-reliance and small-scale agricultural sustainability. They are fantastic pets and, besides the obvious benefits, are just plain entertaining and enjoyable animals to have around.
Chickens need a dry, well-ventilated, yet draft-free building with about four square feet of floor space per bird. They will need six inches each of roost space for sleeping, and one nesting box for every four to five hens, more if you have hens that tend to go broody, or you plan on letting your hens hatch chicks for you. Ten square feet per chicken of covered area outside will ensure that they spend most of their time outdoors and minimize clean-up duties inside the coop.
The ideal site for your chicken coop and run is elevated, well draining and dry. Be sure to check with your community’s or district’s planning department to make sure you are complying with site setbacks, and permitting requirements. Keep your neighbours in mind when choosing your new coop location, and don’t place it next to their patio, or under their bedroom window.
The key to effectively predator proofing your coop is to know which animals are a potential threat to your flock. Dogs, bears, coyotes, bobcats, house cats, foxes, raccoons, weasels, skunks, rats, opossums, snakes, hawks, and owls are all potential predators, and each one requires special consideration to prevent losses. Choose fencing material with high tensile strength such as farm fence or metal hardware cloth. Most predators can tear right through chicken wire and netting. Since the majority of predators are nocturnal, you can minimize the risk of losses by locking up your coop at night, as chickens can easily be trained to sleep inside their shelter. Adding an automatic door opener with a timer and/or a photocell will allow you to keep your chickens safe at night, and still sleep in on weekends.
Choosing your chickens
Some things that you will want to consider are the size, colour, and number of eggs a hen will produce, the breed’s temperament, cold hardiness, and adaptability to confinement. If you have limited space for your hens to free range, then the confinement factor is especially important for a happy, healthy flock. Some breeds to consider are Wyandottes, Australorps, Ameraucanas, Silkies, Cochins, Orpingtons, Sussex, Marans, Plymouth Rocks, and Sex Links. Avoid breeds that tend to be vocal, aggressive or flighty. feathersite.com is an excellent resource for breed information.
For the small backyard poultry-keeper, purchasing ready-to-lay, feathered-out pullets from a local breeder is the most economical way to build your flock, as you don’t have to worry about investing in brooding equipment, or finding homes for any unwanted roosters.
A clean coop is a recipe for healthy chickens, and properly composted poultry waste is an amazing resource for amending and fertilizing soils. Properly managed, you should only have to clean your coop a few times per year, and you will have plenty of free fertilizer for your garden, and no offensive smells.
Share the benefits
Bring some eggs to your neighbours once in awhile, allow their kids to feed the chickens, and share your compost with a gardening neighbour. Do what you can to make your chickens a mutually beneficial endeavour, and not only will you have better neighbours, but you will likely fly under the radar if you happen to acquire a few extra hens.
Depending on where you live, it might be illegal to raise backyard chickens. If it is against zoning regulations in your area, start lobbying your local government and try to get things changed in support of local food production. In the mean time, you can do the next best thing and buy your eggs from local farmers who let their chickens live more natural lives outside, as opposed to on factory farms. Everyone doesn’t need to produce their own food, but by supporting each other, we can create stronger local food networks that will serve all of us better.