Published on July 31st, 2012 | by Ed + Jane Seib0
Our Life as Urban Chicken Farmers
One of the best things we’ve done since we moved into our home in Indianapolis is deciding to raise backyard chickens. We are both teachers and live near St. Vincent on the Northwest side. We have had chickens for just over a year. We have four chickens that are a year old and five that are just over two months old. There are many reasons we decided to raise chickens. Jane has taught a unit where her class incubated and hatched chicks for several years and we always enjoyed it. Ed had recently become a vegetarian for medical reasons and needed a source of protein. We knew several families that had flourishing backyard flocks. Finally, we are always looking for ways to be more environmentally conscious. While the eggs are a great benefit, we also enjoy watching the chickens’ personalities develop, their beauty, and how they interact with each other.
We got started with chicks from Jane’s class, but you can get chicks online, at farm supply stores in the spring, or by calling a local farm. You do not need roosters for hens to lay eggs so unless you plan to hatch chicks yourself, we recommend that you get hens. The number depends on how much space you can provide when they are in their outside coops. We recommend at least 4. The chicks will need to be kept inside for the first 6-8 weeks or until their feathers are fully developed.
We kept our chicks in a cage in the garage. The chicks will need a heat lamp on at all times. You will need water and food dispensers that will be changed daily. We recommend medicated chick feed. It helps prevent sicknesses that can spread quickly from chick to chick. Finally, you will need some form of bedding. We use compostable wood chips. We changed out their chips once a week. Near the end of their inside stay you will be as ready as the chicks are for them to be outside, so you should be planning and building their coop long before.
We were lucky to have a friend that had some leftover lumber and then we supplied the chicken wire and were able to build a coop in a couple of days. You can find coops and coops designs online. When looking for coops make sure you get one with enough room for your chickens. They should have about 10 square feet per bird in the run and about 5 square feet per bird in the coop. There should also have nesting beds, chickens like a quiet place to lay their eggs. It is important to have additional space for your chickens to roam so we highly recommend getting a fence to put around your coop. When we are home we let our chickens roam in the fenced in area. A fence allows you to walk with confidence in the rest of your yard and cuts down on how much food you have to buy them. Once you have built your coop you will need a few things. You will need large water and feed dispensers. We recommend hanging them from the ceiling of the coop to keep dirt out. You will need a bowl for grit. These are small rocks that the chickens will eat to help them digest their food. In the winter you will need a heat lamp and bowl deicer. We found a plug that turns both of ours on when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. They will need layer food and some scratch. The layer food goes into the feeder and the scratch can be thrown in the yard and run or used to get them in the coop if you need to leave. It takes a lot of time and effort to get the coop started, but after that maintenance is minimal. Speaking of maintenance, we refresh our water every two days or every day if it’s hot. We clean out their coop and refill their layer pellets every week. When cleaning out the coop, we rake the run and replace bedding in the coop. All of this gets put into our compost tumbler and creates excellent fertilizer for our flower and vegetable beds.
We have been able to spread our eggs around to family and friends as well as promote the chickens at our school. We feel, in a small way, we have made an impact in the lives of people around us, and that they will think about being a little more green themselves. We love that we are closer to our food, and we really enjoy watching the pecking order!
Supplies – Tractor Supply Store in Lebanon, IN
Everything You Need To Know – www.backyardchickens.com
Periodicals – Urban Farm Magazine, Backyard Poultry Magazine