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Urban Permaculture and Chickens

 
David Mcgowan Hicks
Posts: 33
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Im trying to become a bit more self-reliant, while staying in my current downtown house. Ive got enough yard that I should be able to grow a fair amount of fruits and veggies, but due to local laws, the only livestock I'm allowed is chickens. Each household is allowed 4 hens.

Because I cant breed my own chickens, Im wondering if they make economic sense. I would love fresh natural eggs, but will the chickens 'pay for themselves'

I plan on having a rather large enclosure for them, so that they can forage for bugs and such for part of their diet, but its obvious to me that I will need to supplement their food somehow.

How much do these things cost to feed?
How much can I expect to pay for a chick?
How long will it take for a chick to begin laying?
How long will a chicken continue to lay?
How many eggs a week can I expect from 4 mature hens?
When a hen stops laying, will the meat be any good? (I'm not technically allowed to slaughter any chickens in the city, but I defy them to come in my kitchen and stop me from wringing a chickens neck.)

Considering what I want out of my chickens, what breed makes the most sense? (if any of them make sense at all)
 
John Polk
master steward
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Posts: 8018
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Right off the bat, I'll say that small scale chicken raising does not make economic sense, particularly if you need to buy food for them. Most home growers do it because they are getting a quality of eggs that is not available in the supermarkets.

A rule of thumb number is that it takes 4 pounds of feed to produce 1 egg. Most commercial egg houses use White Leghorns for the simple reason that they can do it for 3 pounds of feed.

Most hatcheries have a minimum order of 25 birds because that is the least quantity that can keep itself warm during the postal transit time. If you live rurally, you should check out Craig's List (Farm & Garden), as many people either raise their own, or buy the 25 from a hatchery, and sell what they don't need.

It depends on breed, but most pullets should begin laying between 16-20 weeks old. They can lay for several years, but after the second year, their production will usually drop. The first 2 years, you should expect 5-6 eggs/week from the better laying breeds. Production will drop in the colder/darker months unless you provide extra lighting, but that reduces their productive life...generally not worth doing unless you are selling eggs and plan to replace the hens every couple years anyways.

After she can no longer justify feeding her, yes, she is suitable for eating...soup or stew...not much for fry/roasting.

If cost/quantity of eggs is your primary concern, a White Leghorn is probably the best breed. If you want brown eggs, and something that isn't quite so 'industrialized', good choices would include Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Plymouth Rock White, or 'Sex-Linked'. They will also give a larger cooking hen than a Leghorn when the time comes.

Good luck.

 
Ani Tapper
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As was said, if you want to count the pennies alone, by the time you've built the coop and fed them, maybe it's not worth it. 4 is enough to make eggs for a small family.

But if you consider truly fresh organic eggs, work done for you in your vege garden and the enjoyment of keeping hens as having value, then yes - it's worth it. If you manage your chickens around permaculture principles then they will serve more than just one purpose which helps to balance the books.

Perhaps you will be setting their run up as a multi-sectioned area like we are building at our house - you can keep the chooks in one small-ish section (eg 6sqm for 4) at a time, so they clear the grass, manure the soil, eat grubs and slugs, turn and compost the mulch you put down.
Then you put them in section 2 on fresh fodder and plant your vegetable seedlings in the soil of section 1.
Continue rotating so they eat up the finished vege plants and pest insects for you. Along with your kitchen scraps and the fresh greens they get from the garden, you can supplement them with commercial feed in exchange for your eggs.

Voila! Low maintenance gardening (no weeding or digging) with eggs as a by-product, the straw or chip you bring in as chook litter becomes a gardening asset rather than soiled muck to be removed manually. With our new design based on our experience with hens on our soil, we will be keeping 10 hens rotating on 3 x 15sqm penned garden beds with shelter and nest boxes. I'm so over weeding, this seems like the sensible solution to me.
Good luck, I cant recommend chickens enough - it's so lovely to have them clucking away happily outside the window and announcing that your breakfast has been laid!
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
Posts: 1401
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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I am so excited to see more urban folk keeping chickens again. Even at work more of my co-workers are asking me about keeping chickens.

My mothers suburban Chicago home is over 200 years old. She has records from the families that lived there before her and even garden journals of what was planted in the postage stamp sized yard.

In those days people didn't go to the store and buy starter-grower or laying pellets.

People ate 'real' food and there were usually trimmings and scraps from a meal every day. The wood pile was also a source of insects worms and other critters for the chickens to scratch around in. And there are always plenty of weeds that need to be pulled somewhere and my chickens stand waiting for me to throw them the weeds.

In the journals from my moms house they list a maximum of 10 chickens one year, most years only show 4 chickens.

Granted - the egg production will not be as high if the chickens are fed in this manner - but back then they made do with what they had - they didn't have the options that we have today and that is why they had the tiny gardens and the chickens at home. It was a way to provide for themselves when cash flow simply wasn't there. And, of course, during war rationing you were only allowed a certain amount - the rest you provided for yourself.

My point here is that it is possible to do this in a way that both saves you money and provides you with top quality (not quantity) food.

If you are comparing it to cheap grocery store factory farmed eggs? No, they will always be cheaper - and costlier to your health.

And.... final point.... cage free and organic in the store can't always be trusted. Sadly you are often paying a premium price for a 'greenwashed' product. But you can trust your own back yard.
 
Karl Teceno
Posts: 91
Location: Portland Maine
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David,

I live in Portland Maine and have a small backyard. I have had the maximum allowable amount of chickens, which is 6, for about 4 years now. I buy commercial organic feed but I also buy winter wheat, buckwheat and whole oats which I sprout in old plastic gutters screwed to a picket fence and give the mats of sprouts to them daily. My chickens get tons of garden refuse and table scraps including meat. So if the compost bins are full, the chickens get it.
An additional point that everyone seems to miss when it comes to weighing out the cost effectiveness of keeping chickens. ( Maybe it's only relative to me.) Is the chicken manure. I move them in the fall to the backside of the lot. Then a use a square shovel and scrape the ground of their yard moving the scrapings to the compost area or even the gardens themselves. I then throw down winter rye and let it grow until next spring whent the chickens go back to their original yard.
The organic matter and the nitrgen are a great boost for the gardens next spring.
So for me the eggs are only a small part. Not adding matter to the waste stream and generating tons of organic matter for my gardens is the bigger part.

Karl
 
Jay Green
Posts: 587
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A more quiet and proliferate food production animal would be meat rabbits. I bet you are allowed to keep those as "pets" and still be able to produce more meat. They don't need range setups, their manure doesn't need to be composted and can be placed right on the garden as is, they won't disturb the neighbors with announcing their eggs each day, they are less susceptible to predation as they are raised in secure pens off the ground and can be fed relatively cheap if you use your noggin..whole grains and alfalfa hay with a vitamin wheel free choice...ACV in the water and you are done with feeding problems.

The more you breed them, the better they produce and they have few health problems if you are doing it correctly. It's a good, lean meat and they will breed their own replacement does...you can keep a male without offending the neighbors as well. For urban life, I always suggest rabbits as a supplemental protein source. They need very little to thrive and produce healthy meat for you and anyone else with whom you wish to share. They are much more quiet to kill than chickens and can indeed be done right in your kitchen and won't put feathers all over your house in their death throes.
 
Jason Lindsay
Posts: 54
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Just do it.
This is my first year with them and I can't be more pissed about how easy and cheap it is compared to what i expected.
The number of years missed... oh well. Anyway we have 15 with the garden fenced off so they only get couple hours a night there but they have two backyards to forage (neighbor loves it, we were lucky). They are now full grown and due to foraging use about 100 lbs a month of feed. For us that's $23. Bedding about $6 for 3 months. Coop cost $500 but only because it is an addition to the house otherwise would have been free. We get 3-9 eggs a day averaging about 4 dozen a week.
I don't care about comparing to shitty dollar dozen store eggs because they don't count. These eggs in a store go for 3-5 dollars and you still have to be wary. So $4 x 16 doz = $64 before tax. Do the math.
Also just so fun and awesome watching them.
We have our bantam old english game hen known as "fierce mothers" (our only banty) raising two 6 day olds she hatched herself and they are already outside sunning and dustbathing and they sleep under the roosters wing at night.
I don't care who you are, you can't beat that with anything.
Hope this helps, love to all, jason
Ps feel free to pick my brain for any details, I was very observant through the whole process and had to change plans and learn constantly.
 
Jason Lindsay
Posts: 54
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I forgot to mention that we only eat at most 2 dozen a week the rest go to neighbors and family.

We implemented the egg jar so anyone who gets a dozen puts a dollar in the jar which makes it cheap enough to me in my mind to be considered free.

This also builds community, relationships, socializing and good old fashioned story-telling from everyone's past. Also all the neighborhood kids love coming over and watching something real (not reality shows) and they are learning lessons and connections lost to most urban children now.
 
Ed Johnson
Posts: 86
Location: Durham region - Ontario, Canada - Zone 5
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What sort of square footage/day does a tractored chicken require? I calculated 0.6 sqft/day/bird based on some numbers I heard from a farmer, does that seem right?

Also, I'm taking over a urban lot and it's just grass at this point, will that affect it (I imagine it will). Given that, can anyone recommend a seed mix to spread for future forage?
 
wayne stephen
steward
Posts: 1793
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
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Have you thought about a tractor for at least part of the time? Moving them through your garden , around trees and plant beds -pest control and fertilzer. Get a rooster just to give your urban neighborhood that country feeling . You and your neighbors could unplug your alarm clocks and save a little electricity. They will be worth having if you factor in the other benifits besides eggs. Fertility, insect control , aesthetics.
 
Jeff Henderson
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I am only a couple months away from completing my first year having chickens.It has been well worth it. They eat all of your kitchen scraps, bugs from the garden, provide eggs of course...it really has been a joy for me as well as my children. I highly recommend it. I live in what I'd call a suburb with a rural hint. I have a good sized back yard, fenced in. The chickens have a coop and run but after only a couple months I realized that I never have to close the run and they just wander around the yard all day and go home at night. They haven't even tried to get out of the yard once (my privacy fence is a 6' wooden fence).

You have to consider what you are getting when you consider the economics of it. It's not even the same food as store bought eggs when you look at the nutrient content you will get from your eggs vs store bought. And if you REALLY want to balance off the budget, do what I did. Get an extra chicken or two and sell the extra eggs. Supplemental feed costs me about $13 every 2 or 3 months, and in that time I sell multiple dozen eggs at $4 each. In that respect, they pay for themselves. But even if I wasn't able to sell them, I'd still do it.

Handle your chickens often when they are young and it will be a joy to go visit them in the yard down the stretch. They come when called, like to be pet, eat from your hand etc. BTW, you'll be using more eggs than you'd think. I underestimated when I figured how much my family of 5 eats because I forgot about baking, cooking, and the other things I now make from the eggs like mayonnaise and ranch dressing.

The ONLY down side is that I had to fence in my garden because those girls eat their weight in lettuce and young corn leaves! Don't waste your time with a rooster, just get some healthy female chicks from southern states or tractor supply in the spring and roll with it. If worse comes to worst and you don't like having them (not even sure that's possible), you can either eat them or sell them. Have fun!
 
Grant Fulcher
Posts: 34
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Check out aquaponic gardening, quail and rabbits. If there "pets" and you butcher their babies in a different area then most city laws allow pet birds or rabbits. Even though they lay an egg/day or meat sized by 7 weeks

FYI eating organic GMO free food is cheaper than a life in hospitals, Id also reccomend educating yourself on tinctured oregano, mms from jimhumble.com, and colloidal silver
 
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