There are a lot of ways homeowners are getting back in touch with nature. Some dig up high-maintenance lawns and install raised garden beds to produce their own food. Others save kitchen scraps and compost them in the backyard to reduce the amount of waste they produce. But there’s another growing “back to nature” trend: Enter the world of backyard chickens.
Rob Ludlow, owner of the chicken enthusiast site BackyardChickens.com, says interest in raising backyard chickens has spiked in recent years. His site, which started with just 50 members in 2007, now has an active membership of more than 235,000 members, with roughly 200 people joining each day, he says.
So, why the growing interest of late?
Ludlow, who is also co-author of such backyard-chicken-themed books as “Raising Chickens for Dummies” and “Building Chicken Coops for Dummies,” says people are increasingly interested in becoming more self-sufficient, and that chickens are easier to raise than cows, pigs and even large gardens. You can have a handful of egg-laying hens in a relatively small yard without drastically changing your lifestyle, he says.
There’s also increasing preference for eggs from chickens that were raised humanely, Ludlow says. When you collect eggs from your backyard flock, you know exactly how they were treated, fed and cared for, he explains.
A third element driving the backyard chicken trend, says Ludlow, is growing awareness of how fun and easy it actually is to do. “[Chickens are] a multipurpose pet,” he says. “They eat bugs and weeds in your yard, generate fantastic fertilizer and [even] make you breakfast.”
So, let’s say you’re a complete newbie when it comes to this backyard chicken business, but you think you’d like to give it a try. Where on earth do you start?
First, you need to make sure that it’s legal to keep a small flock of chickens in your community. You don’t need to live in a rural area to raise chickens; some big cities, like Chicago, allow for it (Editor’s note: See this fun map identifying chicken-friendly suburbs around Chicago).
Rules and ordinances vary widely, so check in with your municipality to inquire. (Tip: Even if it’s legal in your town, you might want to avoid getting a rooster. Enthusiasts will tell you that it can be a surefire way to annoy neighbors.)
Next, decide what stage/age of chicken you’d like to acquire: eggs that you’ll hatch, baby chicks, or grown hens. Ludlow’s website goes through the pros and cons of each option:
Costs will vary widely by state, by the breed and age of chicken, etc. But Ludlow offers the following estimates of costs required to raise backyard chickens:
Originally published on March 26, 2014.