Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day 32: Should we get chickens?

Dan and I are an urban couple. We both love the convenience of living in the city, and the eccentricities that go along with it. In our old place, we had a town-home with a nicely landscaped shared yard, leaving zero work for the people that lived there. And we liked it that way. No work, all play, the true city life. 

When we moved into our new home, we were actually excited about having a small yard...mostly for growing a garden and having a little more privacy. Ever since starting this project, we've been daydreaming about the things we can do with our yard. We pictured decks, planters, maybe even a hot tub...but the one thing we never pictured was chickens. That is, until a few weeks ago.

Before we discovered we could buy local eggs at PCC (a natural food co-op in Seattle) for $2.99 a dozen, we were buying them for $5-$6 a dozen at the farmer's market. Because of all of the baking we do, eggs are a major staple in our home. We easily burn through 2 dozen a week--that's $40 a month just in eggs! Youch. 

So our minds naturally drifted to the thought of raising backyard chickens. Think about it, we mused, we could wander into our own backyard and have a plentiful supply of fresh, VERY local eggs. 

Before heading down to the lumber yard to build ourselves a coop, I thought it might be a good idea to know what we were getting ourselves in to. I turned to Seattle Tilth, the local go-to for any kind of gardening or urban livestock class. I signed up for "City Chicken's 101", and headed to north seattle to wrap my head around raising chickens.

I feel very lucky that I live in a city that I can take a class on raising chickens. Judging by the size of the class, I guess I'm not the only one. From grandparents to bike messengers, urban couples to empty nesters, the class was filled with 30 plus people, all anxiously taking notes about how to raise chickens properly. It seems that chickens are very en vogue.

The first part of the class covered the genus of the chicken, history and natural habitat, which was used throughout the rest of the class to explain modern day chicken behavior. Fascinating, yes, but by the time we got through the "how" of raising chickens, I realized it was not for us. 

Here's why:

First, you need 3-6 feet of space per hen, which quickly covers the span of our backyard. Second, that space needs be completely contained with wire to protect them from predators (raccoons, etc). It also needs to be covered to protect them from the rain. Then there are the other things to consider, like rats, vermin and lice. And the kicker? Each bird lays an average of 300 eggs per year. After the first year, the egg production drops by about half. Then what?

Yes, they are cute, and such a great conversation piece for guests! If we had twice the space, I would probably consider it. Considering the cost of the start up involved (covered pen, wire, lumber, feeders, food, etc.), I'm thinking that $2.99 a dozen at PCC is a pretty good deal.


  1. Hey! I am a friend of Tina's and she sent me your way.. I have been reading your blog for a little while and find it super interesting :) But I wanted to tell you about our chickens! lol~ chicken people are everywhere! We have a fairly large size flock of bantams.. for pets, showing and eggs. They take up way less space, produce smaller (i.e. you use more!) eggs and are very cute to boot. Check out Silkies or cochins... They don't have to be out in your yard 24/7--their pen needn't take up your WHOLE back yard, as they can come out and 'free range' when you are home. They need to be put away at night of course, to be safe. anyway.. just another view point. PCC eggs are pretty convenient of course! lol!

  2. What comes first: the chickens or the coop? In our case we had the chickens first. They were Araucanas (the ones that lay eggs with green and blue tinted shells) and they are excellent flyers. Every night, we would sit in our lawn chairs and watch them get up into the trees to roost. It was better than TV (we didn't have TV): there'd be 2 chickens on a branch and another one would come up and kick the two off and they would have to start all over again, until they finally all got settled. We never lost any to predators.
    We did live in the country, though, and I can see where it would be a bit difficult in town.
    Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy it.

  3. Thanks for the comments! I LOVE the feedback on chickens...we still waver between getting them and not, but the class honestly scared me off a bit. It's nice to know that there are options for the "space-challenged" people like us! :)

    Thanks for reading the blog, it's great to know people are enjoying it!

  4. We live in unincorporated Edmonds, north of you, and there are lots of folks here with chickens (actually, my back-door neighbor has a 400 lb. pet pig!). Like you, I have wavering positive and negative thoughts about having chickens. Last spring we got a large New Zealand rabbit that we use for his garden fertilizer, and we allow him to "free-range" in our backyard on nice days.

    You should go to Mother Earth News's website and sign up for the sweepstakes to win the fancy chicken coop! (it's under "community" then "win") I told my hubby if we won, then maybe it'd be worth a trial!

    P.S. I found your blog yesterday via Eating Rules and I have enjoyed reading your archived posts. You and I are moving along parallel tracks in life! If you'd like to see stuff about my delving into intensive FRONTYARD gardening, see my blog.

  5. Oops, most of the garden info is under my Momma Pajama blog.

  6. Funny and interesting! I'm WAY too lazy and hate to be tied down way too much to even consider raising chickens. My sister is raising them in Tucson on a large city lot, and has had to have baby monitors even with a totally fortressed chicken area. They have had bobcats trying to raid the hutch every night. Of course, hens get anxious and don't lay too well if they can't roost peacefully.

  7. Hi Paula! I went to your blog--your rabbit is CUTE! I love that idea! And your blog is fantastic. I'm very excited to pick your brain about gardening in the spring. :) I'm so glad you found me through Eating Rules! That site is just fantastic, as is the project. @Rosemary, no bobcats here, thankfully! But a predator is a predator, and it seems there are plenty in Washington as well.

  8. I can only say that from my point of view, you made the right choice about chickens. Start up is expensive, care is intensive, and the pay off would be way down the line, if you still had your hens by then, that is.

  9. Thanks for backing me up, Linda! Maybe we can borrow a chicken in the spring to help with our garden? Hmmm, business idea...lending chickens! :)

  10. Hi Amy! After looking through your whole blog here, I had a few questions! (Forgive me if I missed your email address, I don't see one)
    - Did you ever find local popcorn?
    - Do you have an extra freezer? We picked up a small deep freezer on Craigslist this summer for $25!
    - Did you find local yogurt or are you making it? I make yogurt all the time, but from soy because I am dairy and gluten-free.

    A tip for you: thrift stores (like Value Village) are great places to pick up canning jars for pennies each. Garage sales too. I check for good ones throughout the year and stock up, then just buy new rings and lids at the store. Thrift stores are also awesome for used appliances that you want to give a try before investing in a fancy new one: juicers, pasta presses, etc. I got my dehydrator for $5 and it works great!

    You've inspired me to get my blog updated with all my info I've collected on my 2nd year garden. I have it all in a notebook, I just need to crunch numbers.

  11. I am so excited to find your genius of a blog via twitter. Can't wait to follow you on this journey and learn more about eating locally in Seattle.

  12. Hi Paula! First, thanks for the great suggestions and questions! Here are a few answers:

    - Popcorn - We are still searching, though have allowed it as a once-in-awhile exception, since we no longer have chips or other junk food. We would LOVE to find some local popcorn, if you have any suggestions!
    - Freezer - Yes! We have a great freezer which is now almost full. :)
    - Yes, we've found a local source for yogurt, but I'm still adjusting. It still tastes a bit gamey. Do you have a yogurt maker? I would love to hear how you go about making it. We can't do soy, sadly, because there is zero local soy in Washington. :(

    I'm glad that I've inspired you to update your blog--I checked it out and it's very cool! Can't wait to see what other tips you have on gardening!

    I LOVE Thrift Stores...I've found GIANT stockpots (canning pots, but I use them for cooking and baking for large groups) and lots of kitchen accessories. Maybe I should start hunting for a yogurt maker?? Hmmm....

    @ Lucy - Thanks so much for your comment! I checked out your blog, too... VERY cool! Let me know if you have any questions about local resources in the Seattle area! I love to spread the word about places I've found and loved. :)

  13. Amy~~ for store bought yogurt--Yami is made in Auburn.... or is that the yogurt you are talking about adjusting to.. ;) I love Stoneyfield Vanilla, and found the Yami Vanilla to be pretty similar....

    I like your local Washington Farm List too btw.

  14. Thanks for the tip! I just called Yami direct, and they said that they do get their dairy from Washington State. They get the dairy from a "Co-op", so it's from different farms, but definitely Washington State.

    The reason I called is that yesterday I called Cascade Fresh to find out where their "Northwest" yogurt comes from (they brag a lot about being in Washington), and it turns out their dairy comes from Southern California. Interesting. But for now? Yami it is. Thanks again!

  15. Huh.. verrry interesting! :) It is curious how when you dig a little deeper you find that 'local' doesn't always mean local... :-/ We get Smith Bros milk, they do the Co-op thing for their milk too, their main dairy is now in EW, it used to also be in Auburn. As I understand it, their milk is all from Washington farms...

    Darigold is also local, although a dairy co-op too if I read their info right and I don't know where they pull all their milk from. I am not sure if the whole dairy co-op is the same state wide co-op or if they are different--do you know??