Urban Farm Handbook

Have you ever heard this un-urban noise drift through your neighborhood? Something like, cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck? That is the sound of your neighbors backyard chickens. You're not hallucinating. Raising backyard chickens is the new big thing.

As Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols write in their new book, The Urban Farm Handbook, backyard chickens are a simple and healthy alternative to paying six or seven dollars for free-range organic eggs at your local farmer's market.

Backyard eggs are nutrient-dense and filled with naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids -- actually healthier than farmer's market eggs. They're laid by chickens that can peck around in the sunlight and run free. In these days of confusing egg box labels (what does organic, cage free, free range really mean?), backyard chickens are easy and cheap -- and the first step for transforming your backyard into an urban farm. If building a chicken run and turning your backyard into a chicken coop sound daunting, just follow Annette and Joshua's simple steps to raising your very own backyard chickens.

Know your city ordinances. Most cities allow for small flocks of backyard hens -- not roosters. Seattle's ordinances allow for eight hens. Visit www.TheCityChicken.com for your city's guidelines.

Count your chickens. How many backyard chickens do you want? Three mature hens will lay anywhere from six to eighteen eggs per week. Your backyard size might limit the number of chickens you raise: The Urban Farm Handbook suggests chicken coops with 4 square feet of space per hen and chicken runs with 5 square feet per hen.

Bribe the neighbors. First, plan to eliminate early morning noise by installing shutters on the windows of your backyard chicken coop (or tossing a tarp over it every night). Wake your chickens at a reasonable time so your neighbors won't be startled awake every morning by squawking hens and grow to despise your urban farm. Then bribe them with a dozen of healthy, homegrown eggs every few weeks. Beautiful, healthy, free eggs will instantly turn your neighbors on to your backyard chickens.

Design your backyard chicken's home. Your chickens will need a coop, run, and food and water for their backyard home. The chicken coop should provide protection and ventilation: a dry roost (like a closet rod) for the chickens to sleep and a dry nest box for them to lay eggs. Consider using an old dog house for the chicken coop. The chicken run is where your hens will play and forage: make sure there's sunlight and some sort of enclosure -- chickens can ruin backyard gardens, and city predators can hurt chickens. Safe and warm backyard hens will lay more eggs. And more eggs will save you more money!

Raising backyard chickens is just the beginning. If you're fascinated with the idea of local farmers markets, sustainable home gardens, and healthy urban farms, check out The Urban Farm Handbook for tips on raising hens, growing vegetables and fruit, and becoming an urban farmer.


- Adapted from the Urban Farm Handbook by Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols (Skipstone, $24.95 paperback)


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