Urban Chicken Handout- Workshops 2010
Selecting the Best Chickens
The right chicken depends on your needs. Consider these factors when choosing which breed to raise: temperament, size, demand for feed, noisiness, appearance, climate preference, self-reliance, what is locally available, and whether you want the chickens for eggs, meat, or both. Production hens used in factory farms are not ideal for backyards, since they have a weak brooding instinct and require lots of food. We recommend raising an endangered or heirloom breed to help preserve diversity. See the books listed below for information about particular breeds and visit the annual County and State Fairs.
Chickens that are encouraged to stay outside in the fresh air will be healthier and their coop will stay cleaner. Outdoor fences should be at least 4 feet high and may be electrified to discourage predators. Chickens also need a place to roost at night and to lay eggs. Coop designs can vary in design, but they must have these elements for success:
Easy to clean
Protection from wind and sun
Keeps out rodents, wild birds, and predators
Provides enough space (about 2-4 square feet per bird, if it’s an open coop)
Perches for birds to roost
Plenty of light (natural and artificial)
Sanitary feed and water station
Clean your coop thoroughly every spring. Scrape off caked manure with a hoe, and scrub the inside with a mixture of hot water and bleach. A clean coop keeps your chickens healthy. Allow your chickens to maintain a stable pecking order by giving them plenty of room to roam and places to hide. Avoid mixing chickens of different ages, which creates social stress and increases chance of disease.
Feeding chickens can be complex. The easiest solution is to buy pre-mixed rations tailored to the kind of chickens that you have (layers, broilers, breeders, chicks, etc). You can buy a feeder at IFA or through a catalog (see list of resources below). You can supplement this feed with scratch, a mix of grains. Chickens generally need more protein when they molt (lose their feathers) and more feed during the cold months. A few food and plant scraps can be added as well. Just avoid raw potato peels, spoiled food, or strong-tasting foods like onions and fish. Chickens might need additional supplements of calcium if their eggshells are very thin. If they are not fed with pre-mixed rations, they probably need additional grit (sand and pebbles), phosophorus, and a tiny amount of salt.
Make sure water is always available to your chickens. Use a water-warming device or deliver warm water to the coop twice a day during the winter when water might freeze. Make sure the water stays clean of droppings, and that the feed and bedding don’t get wet. Watering devices can be bought or homemade.
Weather can traumatize or even kill your chickens. In the winter, keep drinking water from freezing and reduce dampness and drafts in the coop. Windows that are high above the chickens are a good idea. Feed them frequently.
Heat is even more stressful to chickens, and can easily result in death at over 104° F. In the summer, increase water stations, deliver small rations more frequently, open doors and windows, install a fan or mister (if temp is above 95°), provide outdoor areas of shade, hose down the coop outside walls several times a day, and let chickens relax during the hottest times of day.
Predators of chickens include weasels, minks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, hawks, rats, snakes, opossums and skunks. A good dog will protect a coop, but many dogs enjoy killing chickens. Most predators work at night. Count your chickens, secure your fence, put the coop on a solid foundation, and if necessary, set traps.
Rodents are always a major concern. Store feed securely and clean up spills. Get rid of hide-outs, like piles of stuff in the yard, and consider adopting a cat. Never use Bromethalin as rat poison because it is toxic to all animals.
Use bedding on the floor of the coop, and under any dropping boards. Bedding absorbs droppings, cushions the birds’ feet, and helps control temperature. Examples of bedding are wood shavings, chopped straw, shredded corn cobs, and shredded newspaper. On the coop floor, start out with a 4-inch layer of bedding and gradually add from there, until the bedding is 10-15 inches deep.
Manage litter (the bedding and manure that builds up in the hen house) by allowing it to build up over time and adding bedding as necessary, keeping it slightly moist but not too wet. Remove damp spots, keep the roof water-tight, and aerate the litter by loosening and turning. The litter will decompose naturally, a process that sanitizes the litter (after about 6 months), helps reduce flies, warms and insulates the coop in the winter, and even provides vitamin B-12 for your chickens.
Chickens and the Garden
Composted chicken manure is great for your garden. Litter that builds up and decomposes in the coop can be added directly to your garden before planting. Fresh manure can be dug into your garden beds in the fall and allowed to decompose in time for spring planting. Fresh manure can also be added to compost piles, as long as carbon-rich materials like bedding, leaves, etc. are also added. About 45 pounds or manure per 100-square feet of garden is a good minimum. One chicken produces about 45 pounds of manure per year.
Don’t leave chickens to roam in the garden for more than an hour, and keep them away from tempting tomatoes and strawberries! Do put the coop near the garden so it’s easy to throw them plant scraps and collect manure for the compost. You can also build a portable shelter that fits right on top of a raised bed and can be moved around the garden. See Andy Lee’s Chicken Tractor for more ideas on that!
The ordinance in Salt Lake City has recently gone through some changes. The changes that have been made make chicken ownership more reasonable for people in urban settings:
THE LAW (in an egg-shell):
Up to 15 hens (no roosters) may be kept for the sole purpose of producing eggs.
Chickens must be confined in a secure, enclosed, outdoor area.
The enclosed area must include a covered, ventilated, and predator-resistant coop.
The coop must have a minimum floor area of 2 square feet per chicken. If chickens are not allowed to roam within an enclosed area outside the coop, the coop must have a minimum of 6 square feet per chicken.
Coop must be in the rear yard, at least 25 feet from any dwelling on an adjacent lot.
Coop must be maintained, neat and sanitary condition
Chicken feed should be stored in a rodent-proof and predator-proof container.
A permit from Animal Services is required for raising chickens. Permits can be obtained from Animal Services, and are $5 per chicken, up to $40 total.
For permit information please contact your local Animal Services. Salt Lake County residents: www.slcoanimalservices.org 801-559-1100
Wastch Community Gardens Blog and Online Handouts:
The Chicken Health Handbook, Gail Damerow, Storey Communications, 1994.
Barnyard in Your Backyard: A Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cows, Gail Damerow, Storey Publishing, 2003.
A Guide to Raising Chickens: Care,Feeding,Facilities, Gail Damerow, Storey Communications, 1995.
Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces, Barbara Kilarski, Storey Publishing, 2003.
Chicken Tractor, Andy Lee, Good Earth Publications, 1994
Chickens and supplies:
*Azure Standard (organic chicken feed)
*Clifford Family Farms (organic feed)
*Intermountain Farmer's Association
1147 W 2100 S, SLC, UT (801) 972-3009
1045 E 12400 S, Draper, UT (801) 571-0125
*McMurray Hatchery Catalog
*Salt Lake County Fair (poultry exhibition and sales)
Salt Lake County Event Center and Fairgrounds
*Utah State Fair (poultry exhibition and sales)
155 N 1000 W, Salt Lake City
*Utah Extension Service, Salt Lake County (answers general questions)
2001 S State Street #1200, SLC, UT
John Wesley- (801) 468-3183
From March through May, you can ask John to pick up extra fertile eggs on his trips to the USU Poultry Farm in Logan ($5/dozen, specific pick-up days arranged with John)
* Utah State University (answers general questions)
Associate Professor, Extension Poultry Specialist
Bird and Exotic All Pet Hospital
12720 Pony Express Road, Sandy, UT
Parish Creek Veterinary Clinic
86 N 70 W, Centerville, UT
Lakeview Animal Hospital
1975 S Orchard Dr., Bountiful, UT
Much of the material on this handout is taken from Gail Damerow’s book A Guide to Raising Chickens. Updated 6/23/09