Saturday, October 24, 2009

A quick chicken tutorial

Over the last week two friends have asked some questions about keeping urban chickens. The first question is pretty simple - "Are we allowed to keep chickens in the city?"

Answer: "Check with your municipality!" We are allowed to keep chickens in our neighbourhood, but not a Rooster.

The other question is more in depth so here is a quick tut on setting a coop up and the care of them for beginners.


When we got our girls in June 2008, we planned on getting just two. We built a very simple coop for them which we could lift up to let them out. It was easily portable so we planned to move it over half of a raised bed each week in a rotational way. It was about 2.5m X 2.5m.

However, we came home with 4 chickens (I mean, how can I not get each child a chicken?!?) and the coop sufficed for a few months while the chooks were small.

We added a pole across the width under the sheltered part for them to roost on at night. We also made a little area for them to lay and sit with straw in one corner.

We did let them out daily for a couple of hours while the dogs were locked up, but I still felt that the coop was too small. Superman didn't want to make anything permanent until we new we were keeping the girls...he was a bit hesitant to have chickens in the gardern.

The second coop was built in April 2009. This is a permanent feature at the end of the initial veggie garden. It is +/- 5m x 2 m. The back half has a wood roof and sides. In winter with all our rain we cover it with builder's plastic as it is not waterproof. The front half is meshed inside what used to be the veggie garden fence as the support. It has a loose lid on the meshed side to lift off so that "Robyn" can clean it weekly.

In the back are two roosting poles and two tyres for them to lay in. The straw is replaced weekly. The old straw goes to the compost heap. While there are two tyres, they tend to prefer the one that is in the darker corner.

This coop has a sand floor which they still scratch in and sandbath. When we added our two new girls we found that they have ample space. Half is in the shade and half in the sun. Beside a sand bath, they love to sunbathe.


We buy 25kg's of chicken feed every 3 months. We give them one large cup twice a day. I mix it up with more sunflower seeds and laying pellets. Although sometimes we go without the laying pellets and it doesn't seem to affect their laying.

They also get lots and lots of greens. All my vegetable leaves that are too holey go to them, all the outer leaves of things like cabbage and broccoli, as well as apple cores, tomato ends that we don't cook with...well you get the idea. Oh, and they LOVE cucumber.

To entice them back into the coop after their walk-about, we crumble two old crusts from our bread. Then it is like a feeding frenzy!

We used to have a lot of snails, but they sorted that population out in a blitz. So now I embaress my family and on a Sunday go for a walk around our block and collect snails off my neigbours walls. This caught the attention of a family down the road...and they are now thinking of getting chickens too! They eat the shells too which is necesary for their digestion.

The girls also love digging in the compost heap for any creepy crawlies...especially earthworms! That's a bit of a catch-22 as I want the worms in my garden and they want them in their tummies! They suck them up like spaghetti!!

And we also give them left over oat porridge if we make it for breakfast and then I scramble 2 eggs a week for them and they gobble that up with relish. I also crush their eggs shells every now and again and give it to them with their grain.

This picture above shows two eggs from different chickens. As we got to know our chickens we were able to identify whose egg was whose. The larger one had a double yolk which is a faily common occurence.


We bought them a water feeder which we refresh daily. It is a large plastic dome that trickles into a plate to automatically replace what is drunk. Water in important for chickens as they actually do get thirsty.

I think this is about all I can think of....oh, safety!

We have dogs which haven't been trained to share their space so we always lock them inside with us while the girls roam. A friend has managed to train her dog to cohabit well, we just haven't done it yet.

Cats can also get into unsecure coops, so do make sure they are safe.

Another bother we had were the rats (eek!) but we have managed to successfully get rid of all of them.

Hope this encourages those "sitting on the fence" to take the leap and get some of your own chickens.


Sonja said...

Thanks a lot for this post!! This was very interesting. I'put mine in a corner between walls and high schrubs with a very high fence on the open side with a gate. Then we made them a shelter with some old roofing plates in the corner which is very sheltered for sleeping, but it is open at the top. Luckily we didn't had problems with that yet! I just love your shelter, it looks so neat. MY chicens also eat the dog food if the dogs have leftovers!
The other day I bought some organic eggs and to my amazement our egg yolks were even darker yellow that the ones from the shop!I notticed that the not-organic ones have very light yellow eggyolks.Thank for this, it was nice reading this!

Linda said...

Such a lovely blog post, thank you :)

Jacqui said...

Thanks Wendy,

This answers so many questions! Now I just need to convince my superman who is also sitting on the fence! One last question though, what attention do chickens need from the vet? Do they need deworming? hahaha no pun intended! Do they need shots? Are they prone to any disease? Thanks again for a lovely post!

Wendy said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Jacqui, we have had only two "illnesses" and one was just me being paranoid!

One of our first girls got broody and wouldn't leave the nest right in the beginning of us having her. I didn't know she was broody (we eventually got her a fertilized egg to hatch) and I panicked and called the vet.

The other time is that one of them had a bleeding leg. We are not sure what caused it, but we just "purple sprayed" it and it cleared up.

You can get purple spray at most vets - its like gentian (?sp) violet in a spray can.

Wendy said...

Sorry - about deworming - yes they ned to be treated once to two times a year. You can get it from a feed/pet store or vet.

Bobbi said...

We *love* *love* *love* our girls! They are now 4wks 3days old. We are having a total blast with them. Right now they are kept in my master bathroom. My husband is in the middle of making their coop, AKA "the hen palace" right now. We have a lot of predators around here, mountain lions, coyotes, etc. So we are building the coop inside our garage. We have a two car garage so there is still plenty room for my car. We are building their entrance/exit from the coop thru a an existing window.
Its much larger than we need....but we figure it will give us room to grow when the need for more chickens arise!

Great post!

Sharon said...

Thanks for your info Wendy!!!!

You spoke about laying pellets and other pellets that you give your chickens. What is the name of the other pellets you give as I thought they only ate the laying pellets when they were older. Also another family mentioned that the laying pellets have bad things them and so it makes your eggs, non-organic. Is this true?