If you’re like half of our readers, you live either in a suburb, a subdivision, in the city proper or in an apartment. Your choices appear very limited in what you can do as far as growing food or raising poultry. However, with a little ingenuity, a fertile imagination, and a little bit of creative problem-solving, you should be able to put together a small chicken coop that will provide you and your family with eggs…no matter where you live.
The first thing to find out is whether or not there are ordinances or home-owner association rules that prohibit you from raising chickens. Many communities have tried to ban roosters and chickens … just generally interfere with a citizen’s right to raise his own food. If your area has such ordinances, then the first thing you need to do is to work to get those changed.
In addition, many cities have restrictions that require your chickens to be a certain distance from the property line, the house, a street, or an alley. They may also have restrictions on the number of birds you can have. Some say you can keep hens but no roosters. Many of these ordinances prohibit slaughter. Once you’ve figured all this out, then it’s on to preparing a place for your brood.
How Much Room Do You Have?
According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, for your run-of-the-mill layers you are going to need 1.5 square feet of inside area and 8 square feet of outside run per bird. If your space is really limited and you’re going to go with Bantam chickens, then 1 square foot of inside area and 4 square feet of outside run per bird is adequate. If you have a small backyard, then a moveable chicken tractor may be your best bet. This moveable coop is a chicken nesting area and run all in one, with wheels on it so it can be moved anywhere around the yard.
If you live in an apartment, your options are a little more limited. You’re probably going to have to improvise a hutch of some sort for a room in the apartment and you’ll probably limit yourself to just a couple of hens. If you have a balcony, you’ll need a pen there so that your birds can enjoy some fresh air. A two story coop would be one option, as is a dog house with dog run on the rest of the balcony. However, if you’re growing a rooftop garden at your apartment, you can designate one of your raised beds for the chickens and build a small moveable run that will fit inside it. You’ll still bring them in at night, but during the day they could enjoy some time in the fresh air, scratching in the dirt and eating bugs and grass.
Remember, Cleanliness is Next to Godliness…
You don’t want to create an environment that the neighbors will complain about or create an odor. There are many ways to handle this. For a most unique and novel idea, there are chicken diapers if you’re thinking about giving your feathered friends the run of the apartment! However, short of that here are a few suggestions…
If you’ve got a small backyard, you’re a step ahead….
Using a chicken tractor, you can move your birds around the yard. They’ll scratch, eat bugs and grass, and poop. Move the tractor periodically to keep the area healthy. The chicken poop will fertilize the yard and you’ll provide the bird with an environment that is conducive to their natural instincts of scratching and pecking.
If you live in an apartment or have little to no yard…
You can build the run you have on your balcony with a shallow sandbox underneath. If you don’t have a balcony, then a room or garage will work as well. Include in this sandbox food-grade Diatomaceous Earth. This is a natural pest deterrent, will kill fleas, ticks, and digestive worms, will naturally keep roaches out of your chicken feeder, and will provide your birds with trace minerals when added in small amounts to their feed. Use only food grade since other grades can have chemicals added to them.
For the nesting area, have a pull-out pan under your hutch so that you can wash it out every day. Use wood shavings or pine straw to help absorb the moisture of the chicken poop. Remember, chickens do not urinate. All their voiding is done through their digestive system.
The thing to remember is that dirty, ill-kept chickens produce disease-infested eggs. You’re not just working to keep your chickens healthy—everything you do also affects the health of your family.
Let Them Scratch!
The instinct of the chicken is to scratch for his food. Of course, if you’ve got a back yard and a portable tractor, you’re giving them the environment they need. If you have little or no yard however, you can still provide them with the means to scratch for food. If your chickens have access to fresh greens, a balanced diet and fresh water, they can be happy and healthy in an apartment setting.
Some people have taken plastic grass mats and have sprinkled birdseed throughout. Others have filled a small tub or pan with dirt and have sprinkled mealworms throughout. Others have suggested going to the local nursery and buying a square of sod, or planting edible plants. You’re only limited by the creativity of your imagination!
Remember, your goal isn’t to start up the next large-scale chicken farm. All you’re looking to do is have a few birds that will not only provide you with eggs for the family, but also provide you with a bartering tool should things get really bad in the near future. And while you’re honing your survival skills, you may also teach a few of your neighbors the same.
Other articles in this issue:
- Urban Gardening: Indoor and Balcony Gardening Tips
- How Ready is Your Neighborhood?
- The Need for a Paper Library