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Raising Chickens in the City

Updated on November 12, 2015

Chicken Raising Revival

With the rise of industrialized food production, the iconic family farm with a red barn and chickens running around the yard may be a fading vision. Modern urbanites have little connection to our food sources and less and less control of how those foods are produced. In spite of this trend, there is a growing interest in taking back control of our food sources by purchasing locally grown items, growing small gardens, and even raising small livestock, right in the middle of the city.

Due to their small size and simple needs, as well as the reward of fresh eggs, raising chickens is a rapidly growing urban activity. This article will walk the newcomer step-by-step through the activities involved in keeping happy and healthy hens.

This article will focus on starting with "point of lay" hens, poults that are sold just prior to or just after they start to lay eggs.

Photo credit: "Early Rooster" by artist Ed Wargo

IF you are not certain whether you want chickens and need to know what questions to ask...

OR, you are interested in raising chicks, visit the following lens first:

Raising Backyard Chickens from Scratch on Hub Pages.

The article contains information on such topics as the following:

Chicken Keeping: Is It For Me?

Choosing Breeds

Where to Buy Chickens

Starting from Chicks

Children and Baby Chicks

Transitioning from Brooder to Coop

Our coop is a remodeled playhouse with a connecting run.
Our coop is a remodeled playhouse with a connecting run.

Chicken Coop Basics

Before you bring your hens home, prepare the coop so that they can be placed straight into it when they arrive to begin the adjustment period. Keep your new hens inside the coop for a week or two so that they will learn that it is their home. After this adjustment period, you can begin to let them out into a secure run or to wander free range, and they will know by instinct to return to the safety of the coop at nightfall.

There are many housing options, ranging from stationary coops to transportable "chicken tractors" that can be moved around a yard. Some coops are large and fancy, even artful. Others are made out of recycled materials and consist of function over form. An abundance of coop photos, ideas and plans are obtainable online. Some of my favorite coop-related articles and photos are located at the following websites:

Backyard Chickens

The City Chicken

Top 7 Things to Consider When Deciding on a Chicken Coop

How to Keep Your Hens Cool This Summer

Your coop should be a peaceful place where your hens can feel secure and be protected from the elements and predators. Chickens are "homebodies," preferring the safety of their familiar coop and run area, particularly at night when they will instinctively return to the coop to settle in for the night as the sun goes down. The structure of the coop should include a roof and walls to protect hens from the elements. Chickens need plenty of ventilation as their respiratory systems are sensitive, so provide windows or entire walls made of wire mesh instead of solid material. Use hardware cloth, not chicken wire, to fence and secure the coop if predators (including pet dogs) are an issue. Hardware cloth is metal mesh screening that is typically stronger than chicken wire. It will also serve to keep small wild birds out of the coop and the run area, which will prevent them from eating your chickens' feed and spreading disease.

Though it's not the best material for fencing, metal chicken wire (also known as poultry fence) is useful buried in the ground under the coop and under fence lines to prevent predators from digging underneath barriers to get to your hens. Bury it to a depth of 1 foot to 18 inches.

No matter what kind of coop you decide to use, it should provide 4 square feet of floor space per chicken inside the coop, and 8 square feet outside in the run. The floor can be made of dirt, wood, vinyl, concrete or small wire mesh. Coop floors are often elevated to allow fecal matter to fall through and to keep the floor dry. Raised floors can also help to keep rodents out. If the floor is hard, be certain to provide lots of soft bedding to cushion their feet. Bedding can be made of straw, hay, soft or hard wood chips or shredded paper. Some folks even use sand, in which the chickens love to 'bathe" (see more on this later in the article.)

Bedding should be fresh, not moldy or mildewed, and the coop should have plenty of aeration because chickens are susceptible to respiratory issues.

Fences and Coops

There is a large selection of hardware cloth and poultry fence on the market. I recommend galvanized metal over plastic varieties. Amazon offers FREE Super Saver shipping when you purchase $25 worth of eligible items. I have found that items are often less expenisve online than at the 'big box' stores. Shop around for the best value, comparing both the height and width of the fencing, as rolls come in many sizes.

Mat Midwest Air 308243B Tech 36-Inch-by-100-Foot 1/2-Inch Mesh 19-Gauge Galvanized Hardware Cloth
Mat Midwest Air 308243B Tech 36-Inch-by-100-Foot 1/2-Inch Mesh 19-Gauge Galvanized Hardware Cloth

Hardware cloth is a much better option for fencing than chicken wire. It resists predators and lasts much longer than flimsy chicken wire, and will save you a lot of repair headaches!

 

Stationary Coops

Backyard Chickens' Guide to Coops and Tractors: Planning, Building, and Real-Life Advice
Backyard Chickens' Guide to Coops and Tractors: Planning, Building, and Real-Life Advice

If you want to make your own coop, or would like advice about coop options, here's a great resource.

 
Ware Manufacturing Premium Plus Chick-N-Villa Chicken Villa
Ware Manufacturing Premium Plus Chick-N-Villa Chicken Villa

Small coops like this one can house several chickens and are easy to move around the yard to provide your chickens with fresh grass to eat. As a bonus, they will keep the grass short, take care of bugs and fertilize the lawn for you.

 
Photo credit:  Better Hens and Gardens
Photo credit: Better Hens and Gardens

The Deep Litter Method

If your coop has a dirt floor, you may want to try the deep litter bedding method. Using the deep litter method, you're basically forming a compost pile of chicken poop right on the coop floor. Similar to a regular compost pile, you begin with a layer of pine shavings or straw in the "browns" category. The high-nitrogen chicken poop serves as the "green."

Add shavings periodically to cover fresh poop. The chickens will do the aeration for you with their scratching behavior. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the composting litter is healthy for the chickens. It has beneficial microbes that break down the litter and poop, and which also serve as probiotics for your hens.

Clean the coop out a couple of times each year. If you garden, do this before planting and spread the fully composted litter in your garden beds. Leave fresher material in the coop or add it to your regular compost pile to finish breaking down. If you are using this method on a wood or concrete floor, or any kind of floor other than earth, the litter not break down as well as it would on a dirt floor, and will likely need to be finished in a regular compost pile before using in a garden.

To help the poop to dry out faster and keep the flies down, mix some food grade DE (diatomaceous earth) or hydrated lime into the litter. This will also help to prevent mites and lice from infesting your coop.

The deep litter method has several benefits, as follows:

It is easy to maintain and takes very little time.

It provides healthy bacteria to your hens.

It doesn't smell bad.

The end product is compost!

For more information about the deep litter method, visit the following website:

Deep Litter in Chicken Houses

Bedding Resources

Order your heavy, bulk items online and have them delivered right to your door. Amazon offers FREE Super Saver shipping when you purchase $25 worth of eligible items. I have found that I can often buy items cheaper than retail on Amazon, and plus get the shipping for free!

Bundle: Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 50 Lb with Applicator
Bundle: Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 50 Lb with Applicator

When purchasing D.E., make certain that you select food grade, pet grade or garden grade as opposed to pool grade, which is not suitable for livestock or landscape applications.

 
Truper 30331 Tru Tough 54-Inch Manure/Bedding Fork, 10-Tine, Long Handle
Truper 30331 Tru Tough 54-Inch Manure/Bedding Fork, 10-Tine, Long Handle

A bedding fork like this one makes cleaning the coop easy. It easily fluffs and separates cleaner straw from matted, dirty bedding and makes spreading hay or straw a cinch.

 
A young Barred Rock gets her first view of the garden when she discovers how to reach the roosting bar.
A young Barred Rock gets her first view of the garden when she discovers how to reach the roosting bar.

Roosting Bars

In the evenings, when your hens return to the shelter of the coop for the evening, they will want to sleep off of the ground on roosting bars. These bars are also a means of escape for hens who are being picked on by other hens, or in the event of a predator getting into the coop.

Provide 2 linear feet of roost space per bird. If possible, start your roosts low, and move them up as birds mature and are able to fly higher. Adult chickens can easily reach 6-8 foot high bars. They will often go as high as they are able, roosting in the eaves of the roof if they can get to them. Hens may squabble over the highest roosting bar, so provide plenty of space for them.

Roosting bars can be made of round or squared-off pieces of wood or other material that they can grip. It is not recommended to make bars out of metal, which is more slick and may get too cold for their feet in the winter. Large pieces of bamboo are good material for roosting bars, but they will need a rough sanding or to be notched with a knife to make it easy for chicken feet to grip them.

Roosting bars can be made of round or squared-off pieces of wood or other material that they can grip. It is not recommended to make bars out of metal, which is more slick and may get too cold for their feet in the winter. Large pieces of bamboo are good material for roosting bars, but they will need a rough sanding or to be notched with a knife to make it easy for chicken feet to grip them.

We started our hens out with a wooden ladder and closet bars mounted to the walls a couple of feet off of the floor. We were so proud when they were able to hop up onto the bars, and were delighted when one brave chicken reached the top step of the ladder. As they grew, we raised the bars accordingly.

It is not advisable to place roosts over nesting boxes. Chickens sleep on the roosts, and they poop a lot in their sleep, which will collect on the nesting boxes if they are placed right under the chicken's beds. This creates unsanitary conditions in the "egg production" area of the coop.

Because of the tendency for chickens poop so much when they are sleeping, some keepers place a "poop box" under their roosting bars. The concept is similar to a litter box, and it consists either of a low wooden box with a chicken wire lid, or simply a large piece of chicken wire with a wooden frame. Thick bedding is placed inside the box or under the frame. During the night, chickens poop on the wire. The next morning, they are unable to scratch through the bedding that is under the wire. The poop remains on the top layer of the bedding. On cleaning day, the frame or lid is lifted and the top layer of bedding is scraped away. New bedding is added only when needed.

Nesting box made from a plastic utility bucket.
Nesting box made from a plastic utility bucket.

Nesting Boxes

When your hens are between 5 and 8 months old, they will begin to lay eggs. This is an exciting time for everyone, chickens included! In the absence of a rooster as your hens your approach sexual maturity, they may begin to tip forward and show you their "bloomers," which is what I call the fluffy feathers underneath their tail feathers. They will also squat in front of you as you walk near them. This is a signal to begin to watch for eggs. Hens will often cackle and squawk when they are about to lay an egg, giving you the signal to go check the nesting boxes.

Hens prefer to lay their precious eggs in a spot that seems safe to them, usually a low, quiet, protected area. You may find eggs in unusual places, but this can be minimized if you provide attractive nesting boxes.

To train hens to use a new nesting box, place a fake egg or a golf ball in it. Chickens like to lay in a nest that has already been used. Presumably, according to chicken logic, if someone else has used the nest, it must be safe. Occasionally, several chickens will begin to prefer the same nesting box, and may even stand in line for the opportunity to use that particular box, even when others are available. If this is the case, you may need to lift a hen and place her on another nest to show her that it is a perfectly safe place in which to lay. This may or may not work. Human women stand in long lines for restrooms; hens queue up for prime nesting boxes.

Our nesting boxes are lined with straw, wood chips or shredded paper, depending on what we have available. We change this material every week by simply sweeping old material out of the boxes and onto the coop floor. We do not currently use the deep litter method, so when the floor bedding gets too deep or too dirty, we compost some of the litter and sweep the rest out into the run, where it naturally dissipates. Bedding constantly rotates, starting in the nesting boxes, moving to the floor, and then ending up in the compost pile or out in the run.

Nesting boxes can be purchased at feed stores, or assembled from scratch out of all sorts of materials. I have seen them made from large buckets turned on their sides, moving boxes, baskets, cubicle book shelves, even old computer monitors with the screens removed. Some people make it simple to collect eggs by mounting their boxes inside the coop with an exterior door through which a human can reach without entering the coop itself. Construction plans and photos are available online. Google "nesting boxes."

If you want to get creative and make your own, here are some guidelines:

  • Provide 1 nesting box for every 4-6 hens (2 boxes minimum.)
  • Boxes should be low, in a quiet, dark place.
  • Boxes should be 12-14 square inches in size (some suggest short boxes to encourage the hen to leave quickly when she is finished.)
  • Line nesting boxes with soft bedding, and clean this bedding often.
  • Provide a lip on the front of the box to keep eggs and bedding in, and to give the chickens a grip to hold onto when entering the box.
  • Deter hens from roosting on top of boxes by leaving the top open or creating a pitched roof.

Nesting Boxes

Nesting boxes are easy to make, but if you prefer to purchase one, there is a large selection of reasonably priced boxes online. Amazon is the easiest place to buy your coop supplies without having to drive all over town to find them. Amazon also offers FREE Super Saver shipping when you purchase $25 worth of eligible items. I have found that I can often buy items cheaper than retail on Amazon, and plus get the shipping for free!

Treadle feeders prevent other birds from eating your chicken feed.
Treadle feeders prevent other birds from eating your chicken feed.

Chicken Feed and Feeders

Did you know that it takes 3-4 pounds of chicken feed to produce a dozen eggs? And if you are growing meat chickens, approximately 2 pounds of feed is necessary to produce 1 pound of body weight. Fortunately, poultry food is very inexpensive (hence, one euphemism for a cheap price is "chicken feed.") Locally, we pay about $18 for 50 pounds of layer feed, or a few dollars more for organic feed.

When your hens are between the ages of 16 and 20 weeks, begin to give them "layer" feed. Read the instructions for your preferred brand of feed to know exactly at what age to make the switch. Laying hens need feed that contains between 16% and 18% protein.

There are a couple of schools of thought on feeding hens. Some owners prefer to personally bring feed to them twice per day so that the birds are socialized and learn to look forward to their arrival. Others prefer to provide an automatic feeder that their chickens are able to access any time of day. Hens eat approximately 1/4 pound of food each day. You do not need to ration their food as they regulate themselves quite well.

Keep birds and rodents out of the feed to conserve it and keep it free of disease. Store feed in metal containers with tight-fitting lids, not in plastic or wooden bins, as rodents can easily chew through them.

Choices of feeder types are abundant. I have found that hanging feeders work well and keep feed from getting spilled or dirty. Trough feeders are also common. The key is to be certain that more than one hen can eat at a time so that a bully cannot crowd out other hens and prevent them from getting to the feed.

Recently, treadle feeders have become popular. These ingenious devices remain closed, protecting the feed from other birds and rodents, until a chicken steps on the treadle lever. The weight of the hen lowers the lever, simultaneously lifting the lid that covers the food. As long as the hen remains standing on the lever, she has access to the feed. Once she steps off the lever, the lid closes. Using a treadle feeder requires a little bit of training on the part of the hens, but can be very useful if you have any problems rodents and small birds raiding your feed.

Treadle feeders are fairly expensive to purchase online, but plans are available to build your own.

How to Make a Treadle Chicken Feeder

Help your hens stay cool in the summer by providing wading pools.
Help your hens stay cool in the summer by providing wading pools.

Water

Hens need constant fresh water. They can only live less than a day without it, and water stress can cause laying hens to stop producing. Provide an abundance of fresh, clean, cool water and always have two sources of water available. This protects your flock if one water source goes dry, spills, freezes or gets too dirty to drink. It also prevents a bully hen from keeping others from being able to access necessary water.

If your watering devices are made of plastic, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon to slow summer algae growth. However, never use vinegar if your water containers are made of metal.

Watering devices vary from containers that are filled manually to systems that are plumbed to provide water automatically. Some even have heaters to prevent the water from freezing. Research various systems on the web to find one that is right for your situation.

In addition to drinking water, I also provide shallow pools of water in which my hens can wade and cool off during the heat of summer. I use terra cotta planter bases for this purpose, but any shallow container would be suitable. Hens stand in the water, and also poop in it, so they need to be cleaned daily. I spray down the run with cool water on summer afternoons. Some people have suggested installing misting systems, but I tend to think that misters may exacerbate respiratory problems to which hens are already susceptible.

Waterers

There are many types of watering devices available to chicken keepers. I prefer to use plastic waterers because I can add apple cider vinegar to the water to keep my birds healthy and prevent algae growth in the waterer. I also prefer models that open from the top as opposed to those that open by unscrewing the base. I think that top-fill versions are much easier to use because they do not need to be inverted in order to open them. The only downside is that they are a little bit more difficult to clean.

TOP-FILL POULTRY FOUNTAIN, Size: 3 GALLON (Catalog Category: Barn & Stable Supplies:BUCKETS, TUBS, FEEDERS & TANKS)
TOP-FILL POULTRY FOUNTAIN, Size: 3 GALLON (Catalog Category: Barn & Stable Supplies:BUCKETS, TUBS, FEEDERS & TANKS)

In my opinion and experience, top-fill water jugs are much easier to use then those that must be taken apart to fill. This is the model that I prefer.

 
Our chickens devour a large stalk of chard that I pulled out of the garden for them.
Our chickens devour a large stalk of chard that I pulled out of the garden for them.

Nutritional Supplements

If you are feeding your hens anything other than commercial feed, you will need to provide them with grit to aid in digestion. Grit consists of small stones that act like teeth, helping the hen to grind up her food. Free range chickens pick up small rocks naturally as they dig around in the dirt for bugs. If they are kept in a run, sprinkle some grit on top of the treats that you give them, as though your are salting the food with it.

You may be surprised to see scrambled eggs and crushed egg shells on the "do feed" list below. As long as they are served in a form that your hens don't recognize, eggs are a great source of calcium and protein for your flock.

Because our chickens have access to feed any time they want it, we use treats to socialize them. Every afternoon, we take something special out to them, saying "chick,chick, chick, chick" as we go. When our hens hear us, they come running!

DO feed...

"Scratch" nuts, seeds, corn (this is especially good for your hens in the winter.)

Crushed oyster shell for added calcium

Free-range foraging

Grit

Red worms, meal worms

Dry oatmeal or other grains (these are especially good for hens in the summer.)

Scrambled eggs

Washed, dry , crushed egg shells

Leftovers from your table

Food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE helps to prevent internal parasites.)

DON"T feed...

Salty food

Chocolate, candy, sugar

Avocado or avocado skin

Raw potatoes, potato vines or skins

Tomato or pepper vines, stems or leaves

Spoiled food

Citrus (okay in limited quantities)

Raw eggs

For a more complete list of treats and supplements, visit the following link:

Chicken Treat Chart

Hen Supplement Kit (Organic Layer Feed + Layer Grit + Organic Herbs)
Hen Supplement Kit (Organic Layer Feed + Layer Grit + Organic Herbs)

I like this package, which includes D.E. to prevent parasites, oyster shell to provide calcium, and grit to help with digestion. These items can be purchased separately on Amazon, as well.

 
Kaytee Mealworms, 17.6-Ounce Pouch
Kaytee Mealworms, 17.6-Ounce Pouch

Mealworms are an excellent source of protein for hens, which is especially important to help restore feathers during moulting.

 

More Information

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Thanks for stopping by. I would love to hear from you! Leave your comments, questions or advice here.

Comments or Questions?

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    • profile image

      DrJeff7 4 years ago

      This is a very nice lens. I love my chickens!

    • StewartClan profile image

      StewartClan 4 years ago

      This is a lovely lens. I cannot have chickens where I live so it is just nice to come here and look at your pictures. Makes me feel more cheerful. I like this lens!

    • profile image

      GeniePark 4 years ago

      Great tips. Didn't know raising chickens in the city is possible.

    • Craig O profile image

      Craig O 4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Every city is different. In Las Vegas,you can have chickens but they have to be cooped up so to speak. BUt across the street is a different regulation because it's a different township or whatever. I've always gone with ask for forgiveness instead of permission. In my neighborhood, I had to have written consent from any neighbors within 300feet of the chicken coop, so just check into it and go for it,

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Fantastic post filled with TONS of great information. We live in a development in a suburban area and I have often thought about getting chickens. I will have to check our township laws to see what is allowed. But I'll be pinning this for future reference!

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      You certainly have all the info for those who are interested in raising chickens! My family raised chickens when I was young. My siblings and I to this day think that butchering them was one of the grossest things... Having them for eggs would be a better idea. ;)

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      We travel too much to keep chickens ourselves, but generous neighbours over the years have convinced me of how wonderful truly fresh eggs are. This is a great article for anyone considering keeping their own chickens!

    • profile image

      farhan-sheikh-31 3 years ago

      Well information about the basic know how to keep backyard chickens in city!

    • mistyriver profile image

      mistyriver 2 years ago

      Thank you for the informative lens. My husband and I are considering raising chickens, and all of this is good to know first!

    • profile image

      Lenna 2 years ago

      You're a real deep thnirek. Thanks for sharing.

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