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some chickens in a small suburban backyard ... is it possible?

 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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Hi Permies. I live in a ground-floor appartment. There is a front- and a back yard, each about 8 meters wide and 6 meters deep. Large parts of both yards were paved with concrete tiles. Step by step I am turning both into 'edible gardens', with veggies, herbs and fruits. I would like to have some chickens there too; it seems 3 or 4 hens are enough to provide us (2 adults) with the needed eggs.
But ... these chickens need to eat ... If I have to buy all the food, it's cheaper to buy my eggs instead. When I see photos of chickens in permaculture, they always have a large pasture. I don't! I don't even have a lawn, it's all tiles or garden-beds (or 'borders').
What do you suggest?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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If you are trying to have in town chickens without any space for them to forage (about 100 sq. ft. per chicken is needed to reduce feed cost) then you are going to have to provide their food consistently.
Value wise, the things to consider are 1) without them being able to forage a wide variety of food sources (bugs, worms, grass, vegetables) then the eggs are going to be close nutritionally to store bought eggs.
2) you can increase the nutritional value by providing a wide and varied diet such as leftover vegetables, meal worms, crickets.

In your situation, the first thing to consider is if the landlord will even allow chickens on the property and if he will, will he also allow you to re construct a back yard for the chickens and the necessary coop to house them.
 
Kate Muller
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Location: New Hampshire
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Can you legally have them? Hiding chickens on a small property would be difficult.

We free range our 14 chickens on a couple of acres and we still buy a lot of feed. It would be cheaper to buy organically fed pastured eggs but we love the birds for composting, bug control, and entertainment value.

Kitchen scraps and garden leftovers are great for reducing feed costs. Having friends and neighbors save kitchen scraps may be another way to reduce costs.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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Kate Muller wrote:Can you legally have them? Hiding chickens on a small property would be difficult.

Here in the Netherlands we can legally have chickens in our yards. But the neighbours can complain (f.e. about the noise or smell). If there are too many complaints, the situation has to change ...
 
wayne fajkus
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Feeding them store bought food is gonna get you happier eggs than anything you buy at a store.

Management of the garden may be an issue. I remember planting 100 ft of onion sets and after I was done, I looked left and the chickens pulled out everyone I just planted. I was mad, but that's what they do. I could only blame myself.
 
Bradley Dillinger
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Location: Cincinnati,OH Zone 6a
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Inge, I wanted to suggest that you research Coturnix Quail. I have done a lot of research and they take a very small footprint, are quiet, and give eggs. I plan on getting some this spring. Most people keep them caged, but I have also seen where some people are making a Quail Tractor type of setup and keeping them outside. I plan on keeping them outside and feeding them produce and yard waste. Hopefully I won't have to supplement with a lot of feed.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
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Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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Thank you for this suggestion. I know these little birds, a friend has them.
 
Galadriel Freden
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Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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I have eleven chickens in my 10m x 10m back garden. We do a paddock shift system with them, moving them to a different section once a week; we have four sections during the summer, and allow them two more in winter (the vegetable beds). Each paddock section has established perennials, both edible and ornamental, and all but the veg beds have a bit of lawn.

I use moveable chicken wire and metal posts to keep them contained in their paddocks, and the whole back garden is completely fenced and pretty much chicken proof; I keep their wings clipped too. We also have no predators big enough to take on a chicken: no foxes, no eagles. Because we have no predators, we can go away and leave them on their own for a few days at a time, so long as they have plenty of food and water.

They are pretty content, and enjoy foraging for bugs and greens; they get very excited when they see us come out with the mallet: it means it's time to move to a new paddock section! We generally buy about 50kg of feed per month; we buy (the more expensive) non-GMO feed. At the moment, we're getting only about four eggs per day, so it's not exactly cost effective in winter; in summer we have to buy their feed less often and we get 8-10 eggs a day. We also buy a bale of straw for their coop a couple times a year.

There are other benefits of chickens besides the eggs: they produce fantastic fertiliser, they eat weeds and pests, and they are fun to watch and interact with. My garden soil has really improved since getting chickens four years ago, and I have no weeds in my lawn any more. We like to sit outside in summer and watch "chicken tv." One of our hens loves to sit on my husband's lap and have a nice cuddle.

But chickens can also wreak havoc in the garden with their scratching and pecking. Just this week mine broke out of their paddock and ate all the leaves off my spring cabbage and broccoli! And there have been times when they scratched up whole beds of new seedlings, or even established plants. However, last year I had a terrible growing year for vegetables--nearly everything was destroyed by a plague of slugs--yet I still had a harvest of food from my garden every day, in the form of eggs.

In conclusion in my experience chickens are very doable in a small garden. The benefits outweigh the disadvantages, in my opinion. I think the biggest concern in keeping them in a small space is to make sure they are well fenced, protected from predators, and provided with enough space to meet their needs.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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thank you Galadriel. I think it's really doable, but I'll have to change my garden first. There are too many parts with concrete tiles now. Those parts have to become garden 'paths' with herbs the chickens like to eat (maybe even grass ... )
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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In this photo you can see my back yard. A lot of steps are still needed to make it comfortable (and partly edible) for some chickens.
 
Jacob Smith
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I've been experimenting with small scale permaculture in a "city" environment for 4 years. In our way of living, cost is rarely a factor I pay attention to, because nothing will be as cheap as running to "food mart" and buying junk that is available and cheap. My wife and I have a spent a small fortune on tests, proof of theories, and implemented plans simply to be more self sufficient and know where our food is coming from.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Bradley, I had heard that all quail are noisy. Are yours as quiet as hens? Do you do anything special to keep them quiet?
 
Ken W Wilson
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Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Inge, I'd try just removing one paving stone where ever you want to plant something and leaving the ones around it. They might work like mulch. The plant roots will grow under the other stones. The leaves and branches can hang over. I think it'd work real well with cucumbers and other vines. This is just a theory though. I haven't tried it.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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Thank you Ken. I think that's a good plan for a part of our garden, especially the front yard.
Because my husband rides a 'scootmobile' (I don't know if that 3-wheeled vehicle is called like that in English too), which is parked next to the kitchen, there has to be a wide paved path in the back yard.
 
Bella Simple
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I'm a newbie, and I run a dozen chickens in my suburban backyard. I've found my young Orpingtons to be very quiet (except for the roosters). They make their happy "bok bok bok" sounds when they're getting their meals, but besides that, they hardly make a sound. My neighbours (who live practically on my fence line) didn't even realise I had chickens until the roosters started expressing their roosterness.
My Barnevelders, on the other hand, cluck regardless of what they're doing. The rooster hasn't started crowing, yet, but it sounds like I have a duck in my yard with how he clucks. They're significantly more noisy than my Orpingtons. Now I just need to see who's noisiest when they start laying eggs.

If you're looking to have chickens only to save money on eggs, you'll be disappointed. I haven't got the room to rotate them, so I instead have to use deep bedding to keep my coop and run clean and smell-free. It costs me just under $60 every 4 months in bedding alone (granted, everything in Australia is expensive... including straw). I've got garden beds equal to your yard space full of edibles, and it's still not enough to feed my chickens. I have to supplement with grains and seeds from the farm supply shop (about $20 per 25kg bag per ingredient). I mix up my own feed, because I CAN'T get my hands on unmedicated premixes in my area.

I pay $9 for a dozen medium sized eggs from my local permaculture farm- still cheaper than keeping my chickens at a small scale. I've got a lot of money invested in my chickens so far, and they haven't even started laying. But I wanted chickens for much, much more than just eggs, so I'm pretty darn happy. Would you feel the same way? If so, go for it! Even if you have to buy feed and bedding, chickens are a blast.


 
Chris Sargent
Posts: 45
Location: SE Alaska
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I've had quail when I live on a small city lot and they are very quit. Most of the time they make almost no noise. Occasionally they make a soft cooing sound but that's it. None of my neighbors even knew I had them.

I had 10 in a large dog kennel in my garage over the winter. Had to change the bedding often but other than they seemed perfectly happy in that space. In the summer I had an outdoor cage, wire and wood sides on bare ground. It was 3x4 ft (or about 1x1.3 meters). They did scratch about in the ground a bit so seemed to enjoy being on soil but not nearly so much as a chicken. I ended up with just 6 females and butchered the males and that was more than enough space for them. I pretty much got an egg from each of them every day. So 10-12 quail will produce the same volume of egg as 3 chickens but only need about 1/3 the space.

I think a small quail pen in one corner of you yard would be a nice set up for you. That could be a permanent place for them. Then have a few runs along each side of your property. I'd remove the concrete pavers and maybe add a small raised bed or border and some additional soil and compost. These areas could be planted with garden veggies. Quail will eat or scratch up small seedling and tender plants like lettuce but once a plant is a bit bigger they don't damage it. So you keep the quail out when plants are seedling and then let them in the area one the plants are a bit bigger to forage for bugs. Having one on either side means you could let them rotate or keep them out of one when there are small new plants. Quail can fly though so you'd have to cover the area or keep their wings clipped. Something like this...


This set up might also work for smaller bantam chickens. But they can still do a fair bit of damage to plants so you'd likely not be able to grow veggies but could maybe plant the runs with some fruit shrubs, hardy herbs, and the like.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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Thank you. I decided not to have chickens (at least not this year). And maybe quails are better in my small back yard, when I decide I really want to have some fowl here.
 
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