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July-August 2009

Be an urban chicken farmer in 5 easy steps

Erica Butler

A growing number of Canadians are extolling the virtues of the urban chicken. And why not? They’re an affordable source of fresh, local, organic protein; eat lawn-destroying insects; produce nitrogen-rich fertilizer; and are fun to have around. Intrigued? Here are some key steps toward taking on your own personal flock.

1. Look before you leap. Make sure you have the time, space, and cash to care for your feathered friends; 10 minutes a day, 10 square feet per bird, and about $5 per bird per month is recommended. And remember, they’re not just a sustainable source of eggs; they’re pets. Grab some face time with a real, live chicken before you decide to take one on.

Eggs and the city. Illustration by Dave Donald.

Eggs and the city. Illustration by Dave Donald.

2. Learn the law. Residents of Victoria, Niagara Falls, Ont., Brampton, Ont., and, in a few months, Vancouver, can legally keep hens (though not roosters) in their backyards, but most Canadian cities outlaw them. If your local bylaws ban backyard flocks, you might consider joining the ranks of renegade chicken-keepers in Canada. Most bylaw enforcement is complaint-driven, so start with getting your neighbours on side (think free, fresh eggs).

3. Baby chicks or laying hens? Silver Spangled Spitzhauben or Egyptian Fayoumi? Ask around at your local farmers’ market for advice on where to get chicks or hens and what breed is best for you and your region. You can order live chickens online, but why miss an opportunity to meet someone with real-life chicken experience to share?

4. Get cooped up. Your chickens need a place off the ground to roost, a cozy spot to lay eggs, and room to run around, all safe from predators like raccoons, rats, and neighbourhood pets. Until prefab coops like the stylish eglu or the Stealth Coop (designed to avoid detection by nosy neighbours and/or bylaw officers) are available in Canada, you’ll likely be building your own with some plywood, chicken wire, and insulation for the winter months.

5. Educate yourself. Sites like backyardchickens.com and urbanchickens.org are packed with advice on everything from wing clipping to lobbying your local city council to legalize your backyard birds.

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