Ever been driving along, minding your own business, then see something so exciting you swerve off the road like the loser in a game of chicken? You know, like a yard sale in a rich neighborhood, or a burning building, or the “Hot Doughnuts NOW” sign, or a produce stand during peach season. Well, one of those exciting moments for me is the arrival of baby chicks.
Did you know that every spring, you can walk into many hardware and farm-and-garden stores and, for a few bucks apiece, fill your buggy with peeping, curious, downy soft baby chickens? Sometimes they have ducklings too, all goofy and waddling and not sure what to do with their wings. And they’re easy to find – just walk in the front door, and the chorus of peeping will lead the way.
I can’t resist chick season, and last weekend I popped in for a love-fest with the fuzzballs, watching them fall all over each other in their rush to examine my hand, peck at my rings, and just generally act so cute you can’t stand it. A store employee, who was standing nearby, remarked, “Yeah, they’re cute NOW . . .”
It’s a trick, you know. The cuteness. A clever trick designed to make people like me (who have no business bringing home a flock of chickens) walk out with a flock of chickens. And if you truly are an animal lover, then when the cuteness gives way to, well, chickenness, you’re already too attached to care.
The Great Chicken Movement
I’ve been moving and traveling too much lately to start my own flock, but it’s very exciting to see how the idea of chicken farming is making its way into even the most “citified” of perspectives. Local, organic, free-range eggs in your own backyard (not to mention drumsticks if you’re so inclined) – the notion is growing in such popularity that many cities now have ordinances specifically addressing urban chickens.
For example, in my nearby city of Raleigh, North Carolina, you can have up to four hens (no roosters) in city backyards without a permit. Four hens! That’s enough to supply breakfast, and it’s small enough even for kids to manage without a lot of equipment. And every year they have a “Tour d’Coop” where you can visit a variety of backyard chicken coops and learn about the process.
Other cities have similar programs, and the ones that don’t are being pressured to do so by a growing flap from chicken advocacy groups. To find out how your city feels about chickens, backyardchickens.com has a searchable database of city ordinances.
If you can get used to the idea of your backyard having something other than swing sets, chickens are a great investment. As if the nutritious egg supply wasn’t enough, chickens also:
- Supply Fertilizer: When you clean out your chicken coop, you can add that rich manure to your garden for even more benefit.
How to Get Started
The chicks at the store are usually about a day old. They’ll need to be started off in a brooder – a box or cage fitted with a warm light bulb to keep them cozy – with water and some special chick feed.
Once they get their feathers, they move out to the coop and enjoy adult chicken feed in addition to treats such as cracked wheat. They also need some room to run outdoors and hunt insects, with a sturdy fence to keep them safe.
There are a variety of resources out there to help you get started with your chicken flock: