Whole lotta clucking going on in cities
More Americans raise chickens in their backyards
(Page 2 of 2)
In today's computer age, starting a flock is as simple as the click of a mouse. Chicks can be ordered online and delivered right to your door.Skip to next paragraph
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Annual "coop tours" in some cities educate chicken enthusiasts about enclosures (a necessity for keeping flocks safe from predators) by showcasing structures ranging from the fanciful to the practical.
Classes such as Seattle Tilth's "City Chickens 101" generally sell out months in advance. Interest has been so great this year that the group has offered nine classes, each with 35 to 45 people in attendance. Normally, only two or three classes are held each year.
An online plethora of poultry websites, blogs, and chat rooms exist, too.
Taylor, the house hunter, started a Yahoo group earlier this year as a way for chicken owners in western Massachusetts to share information. So far, about 70 people are members of the Pioneer Valley Backyard Chicken Association (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/pvbca).
Taylor says that she's often surprised by how many people own chickens but keep it hush-hush because they're afraid the birds might not be legal where they live.
At a recent community fair that she attended with her pet chickens, dozens of people secretly confided in her that they also owned backyard poultry.
"They came up to me, kind of looked on either side of them, and said in a quiet voice: 'I've got a flock, too,' " she recalls with a laugh.
Many people are surprised to learn that not all chickens are plain white like the ones found on commercial farms. Hundreds of breeds exist in a dizzying array of sizes, shapes, colors, and patterns.
Some even lay light blue, olive green, or chocolate brown eggs.
In the 1800s, when what are called fancy poultry breeds were first introduced into the United States, people got so excited about raising them, they were said to have "hen fever."
As part of her job, Dr. Bradley frequently gives advice to backyard hobbyists and parents whose kids bring home chicks hatched during school science projects.
"Owning a chicken is no different than owning a dog or cat," says Bradley. "If you're going to be the steward of an animal, you should know how to take care of it before you purchase one."
Cooperative Extension offices, located in every county nationwide, can provide novice chicken fanciers with reliable information on raising backyard flocks, she adds.
The biggest mistake Bradley sees first-time owners make is not feeding their pets properly.
"I often get people calling who can't figure out why their chicks look a little funny and aren't growing well, or why their hens haven't been laying eggs," she says. "Then I find out that they're feeding them only one thing: organic polenta. Organic or otherwise, cornmeal is not a balanced diet for a chicken."
Bradley recommends buying food especially formulated for chickens at a feed supply store. "We know more about the nutrition for chickens than any other living animal, including humans," she says, "so there's no excuse for not feeding a bird well."
Although keeping chickens in urban settings is gaining in popularity, a surprising number of people have done it for years.
In the 1970s, California officials attempted to figure out how many people owned backyard flocks. They decided to use feed sales at local stores as a gauge since commercial ranchers buy directly from feed mills.
"They were amazed at the amount of chicken feed sold within the city of San Francisco," recalls Bradley. "And if you go at the right time of day into any neighborhood in San Francisco [today], you can hear cocks crowing, so there are backyard chickens everywhere."