6 things to know about raising backyard chickens
The eggs are great - just be prepared to work for them
Store-bought eggs can’t compare to the taste of an egg so fresh that it was laid that day in your own backyard, says Laurie Kostiuk, a NAIT staffer who, just over a year ago, began raising chickens in her north-Edmonton neighbourhood.
“They’re richer and creamier and the yolks are orange,” she adds.
The stewardship administrator in NAIT’s Advancement office is a self-described empty-nester (pun intended) and city gal who has learned a lot about chickens since adopting her own backyard brood.
She and husband Greg spend much of their free time in their huge and beautiful yard, adorned with lush flower beds, fruit trees, a huge garden and a koi pond. After their kids flew the coop, they were looking for a new backyard project.
They first considered keeping bees. But when the city announced it would offer 50 backyard chicken licences in 2016 (expanding a pilot program set up in 2014), they opted for birds over bees.
The hens (named Phyllis, Margaret, Berle and Myrtle after Laurie’s great aunts) live in a palatial coop built by Greg, complete with a ladder, nesting boxes, a slider window and printed curtains.
The surrounding pen is roomy and spotlessly clean, fitted with a heat lamp for winter and clear, vinyl panels that insulate and block the wind. In winter, there’s a sandbox filled with potting soil where they can take “dust baths” to clean their feathers.
Laurie acknowledges they’ve gone a little overboard to accommodate their feathered friends. But even a more modest chicken operation is a big commitment, she says. Here are her nuggets of wisdom for those considering raising their own, gleaned from her experience over the past year.
The beginner's guide to raising urban chickens
- You’ll need to get a licence and inform your neighbours. The Kostiuks had to take a “Chickens 101” course, then submit photos and plans of their lot and zoning to the city. They had to get a chicken mentor from the local community to provide advice, and notify their immediate neighbours. Then a city inspector checked out their yard and coop and banded their chicken to identify them.
- The chickens will need you. It may seem obvious, but they can’t just be left for a few days with some food and water. Laurie or Greg spends about an hour a day cleaning the pen and feeding them, and they don’t take holidays unless one of their kids is available to care for the chickens.
- Give them their own space. At first, Laurie let their hens roam freely in the yard, like peacocks. “We thought they were so cute, until they started wrecking everything,” she says. They quickly realized the term “chicken scratch” is rooted in truth, when the birds shredded some of her flowers and plants. Instead, they fenced in a patch of yard for them to roam.
- Expect some noise. Hens don’t crow like roosters, but when they’re hungry, they let you know it. “They’re very food-driven,” Laurie says. “If they can see us through the kitchen window in the morning, they start squawking.”
- Chickens are not pets. While the hens are fun to watch, they aren’t like a cat or a dog, says Laurie. “I thought we’d be able to cuddle them, and they’d come when we called.” It turns out chickens don’t snuggle, and contrary to YouTube videos, most won’t follow you around, unless you have food. They will eat Saskatoon berries – their favourite treat – right out of Laurie’s hand, though.
- Do your research. “We enjoy them, and we enjoy their eggs, but I would tell someone before getting them, take a turn looking after [someone else's] and check out what they’re all about,” Laurie advises.