Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Urban Eggs

Grow your own eggs!

Urban chicken farming.  What?  Who, me? Well, it is a time honored tradition.  You would be surprised to know the cities that allow keeping of chickens.  I'd love to know your experiences - please feel welcome to post.

Isn't it illegal?  Well, that depends on where you live.  If it is illegal, don't try it at home. But do lobby for having the law changed. Various communities have changed their laws in recent years.  After this "egg scandal" I bet more will.  Be sure to do your research so you don't learn "the hard way".

Again, this isn't a political blog so I will keep to my area of expertise - I do love chickens, and I used to keep them. But be aware:  it is work!  (but maybe no more than owning a couple of dogs.)

We haven't tried urban chicken farming.  Yet.  But the latest scare, the famous Iowa egg scare, may have a lot of people thinking about trying it.

I'm not going to give you a lot of advice, having only raised and kept chickens in rural settings.  Instead, if you are lucky and your local laws allow, here are some tips from my store of experience:

1. Stick to the ladies.  You probably will have to, anyway, as urban laws generally ban roosters (for very good reasons).  But chickens will lay eggs quite happily without a rooster.  I doubt they miss the males anyway.  You won't miss roosters either.  They can be very aggressive and they have spurs on their legs. (Ouch!) They don't crow once at dawn and shut up for the day.  Oh no.  It's more like every few minutes and they only stop at night.  They will wear your ladies out. Again, stick to the ladies unless you want to eat chicken, also.

2.  Socialize your ladies.  If you get the chicks young, spend time with them.  Handle them.  They do make good pets, if you don't mind pets who can dig up your garden in seconds flat.  Fence well.  They can fly, especially the smaller breeds and your neighbors won't want chickens in their flowers any more than they want your cats in their flowers. 

3. Get the right breed for your needs.  Decide if you want the chickens for both meat and eggs or just meat, or just eggs.  If you want meat well...is there a place or person who will do the deed or will you have to?  Are you up to it?  It's not pretty.  But some will say you should do this from beginning to end.  Be sure to choose a breed with a name.  Some "all purpose" breeds will give both good meat and nice, brown eggs.

You won't be able to do the mail order of my last post, as you have to get 25 at a time (to keep each other warm).  If you are lucky you have access to a farm store.  Otherwise, you will have to find some friends and split an order.  

4.  But if you do eat your chickens be aware these are not your supermarket chickens.  They will have lots of flavor-and lots of toughness.  There are some very nice recipes out there for "free range" chickens and there is a reason for those recipes. They make wonderful soup, by the way.  Wonderful, golden, tasty true chicken soup. They say it is great for colds.  My son sure swears by chicken soup for colds.

5.  But back to eggs....one thing you also need to be aware of is that egg production is photo sensitive.  In other words, if you want eggs in the winter you are (unless you live in a place like Florida) going to have to put lights on them to artifically extend their day.  If you don't, you aren't going to get many eggs.  Be sure you make provision for that.

Feed?   If you don't have a local farm store you can mail order the food.  They will need a mix of grains, or layer pellets if you want to simplify their feeding.  Great supplements include weeds from your garden and bugs from your garden.  (Squeamish alert) we used to feed our chickens grasshoppers and weeds.  They love both.

6.  Finally, chickens....well, um, that food you feed them comes out the other end.  Don't use it on your garden without aging it, and make sure your neighbors are OK with it.  Otherwise, dispose of in an "organic" manner.  I guarantee it if you offer the used bedding for free you will have some very eager gardeners ready to haul it away for you.  (maybe you could sell them some eggs, too.....)  Be considerate of your neighbors, always.  If you tick them off you aren't going to be successful - period.

Sorry for the ramble but I just couldn't resist sharing what little I know.  Good luck, and take my advice for what it is worth-I hope it is worth something to you.  Maybe one day we will take the urban plunge-although I don't think so, we want to travel too much!

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