This post is by regular contributor Arlee Greenwood of Small Potatoes.
“Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way. ~ John Muir
We have chickens in our backyard. We gather eggs every day. We live in the city.
Those are three sentences I never thought I would write all in a row, but they are all indeed, true. We have five clucky hens in our backyard, Frenchie, Lil’ Missy, Hermione, Mrs. Waffles, and Maggy… and we love them.
It all started with a few eggs and an incubator. I thought it would be fun to hatch chicks with my children and the children that I care for in my home. We did some research, bought an incubator and procured fertilized eggs from my cousin’s farm.
It was so exciting come hatching day, we could hardly stand it! The little peeps coming from inside the shells and then that moment when the children saw the wee birds trying so hard to make their way into the world…
Three of our eggs hatched successfully! Annie, TimBit, and Charlotte. My children were enamoured by them. They took turns in the night stimulating the weak little Charlotte who barely made it out of the egg alive. My children were their parents, and they made sure those chicks were safe and warm, fed, and out of danger.
The chicks loved to snuggle anyone, anywhere! I was constantly finding them in hoodie pockets, and doll blankets. They found their way into my herb garden from time to time…
They even liked to hang out with our dog…
In no time at all, the chicks started to lose their downy cuteness, and they grew older. We were excited. In fact, we decided to keep them instead of sending them back to the farm! What could be better than fresh eggs on your plate every morning?
Turned out there was a really big problem.
Our chicks were in fact, ROOSTERS! What luck! We can’t keep roosters in the city!
After we found new homes for our chicks, I decided that raising backyard hens was really something I still wanted for my children. And so I got down to business.
I purchased a bureau from the furniture store for $199 and began to make plans to turn the bureau into a hen house. That’s right. Our chicken coop is a dresser, and not a very expensive one, either!
Armed with a jigsaw and a piece of paper I had sketched my plans on, I got to work…
I made paper templates of all the holes I wanted to cut, traced them onto the bureau and cut them with a jigsaw. I sanded the entire piece with a palm sander when I was finished cutting.
Now it was ready for some paint! I painted first with outdoor quality spray paint. I wanted the undercoat to be different colours so that when I “distressed” the coop by sanding bits of the top coat off, the bright colours would show through. I was looking for a shabby chic hen house for our girls! I used an outdoor grade latex paint for the top coat…
I let it cure for 24 hours before I sanded some of the top coat off. I clear coated the entire coop, stapled chicken wire in the door window, put on some fancy knobs, and our hen house was finished!
Here’s a look at the inside of the coop…
Now that our coop was ready, it was time to find some hens to live in it! Because our coop is little, I decided to go with bantam hens. That way we could have more hens in a small space. Oh, move-in day was an exciting one! I couldn’t keep my two youngest ones out of the chicken run!
I know right about now, you may be thinking I’m a little bit nuts to put chickens in my backyard. I mean, what will the neighbours think? However, I’m really only a wee bit crazy. Let me give you my top 5 reasons I think this whole chicken business is a fantastic idea…
1. FRESH EGGS: Not only do our fresh eggs taste better, they are also better for us! They are lower in cholesterol and higher in Vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and Vitamin E.
2. TEACHES RESPONSIBILITY: My children are each in charge of their own hens. They feed and water the hens and make sure they are all safe in the coop at night. They actually argue over who GETS to gather the eggs!
3. RAISING HENS REDUCES WASTE: Our hens are spoiled, I will admit it. They eat all our scraps from meal prep and what’s left on kids’ plates throughout the day. Just about anything goes! They cannot eat potato peels, avocado, or junky sweet foods. I keep a bucket by my sink labelled “hen scraps”, and the children take the bucket out each morning and feed it to the ladies. Since we started keeping chickens, we have had very little “wet garbage” in our trash can. This means our can is less smelly, and we are throwing out a lot less.
4. MY CHILDREN HAVE OUTDOOR PETS: The children have given their hens names, they cuddle them, they run with them, and they visit and chat with them, just like any other pet. The hens ARE their pets. Even the children I look after everyday have a soft spot for these birds.
Best part? It’s all outside. That means no house-training for me to have to get involved with, and the poop they DO create goes nicely in my garden and makes things grow.
5. A GREAT WAY TO CREATE A SELF-SUSTAINING LIFE: The only things our hens require of us are food, water, and bedding for their coop. In return, they provide food for our family. No matter what happens in the “egg economy”, we will have breakfast on our table. If we are snowed in, we can still bake those muffins, because we can snatch an egg from our backyard. As long as we take care of them, they will take care of us. It’s a pretty good deal.
Do I ever regret getting into the backyard chicken business? Do any of my children get tired or bored of the responsibility? Absolutely not. They love their hens and their quirky personalities. Maggy is a little bossy thing, Frenchie is a tender “mama wanna-be” and Mrs. Waffles loves to sit and have her feathers stroked. Lil’ Missy is the loudie of the bunch and sweet Hermione wouldn’t harm a flea unless she was really, really hungry!
Our city allows for 6 hens/yard and we have only 5. We are currently on the look-out for that last clucky lady to join our urban hen family.
Do you keep chickens in your backyard? If not, have you ever considered them as pets?