Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Urban Hens & the Women Who Raise Them (Guest Post)

Many many months ago, I stumbled across a blog called The Little Hen House while I was trying to figure out how to make a blog button with a grab box. I didn't even leave a comment thanking her for it.

How rude of me!!!!

Anywhoo, I kept reading her blog off & on and becoming more & more jealous that she lives in San Diego, so I started interacting with her on Twitter and finally leaving some comments on her blog.  I'm glad I did.  Morgan is a delightful person with a wonderful sense of humor.  Her blog covers everything from fashion to family, from blog tips to humor, and, of course, her life within the hen house.

When I mentioned my interest in one day owning hens (& goats, but that's another story for another day), she was totally game for a litte Q&A about hen ownership in an urban/suburban setting.  Even if you have no desire to own hens yourself, I think you'll at least be entertained.  When you are done here, make sure you check out her blog!

Thank you, Morgan!!!

How long have you had hens & what made you decide, "OMG I want some hens in my backyard"?

We have had hens since February, and are coming up on our sixth month anniversary with them. I can't say that I had an "ah ha!" moment that moved us to become urban chicken farmers. My family and I live in the barrio, and many of our neighbors have chickens. We joked about getting chickens when we bought our house five years ago (to better acclimate to the neighborhood), and over time the idea of raising backyard chickens sounded better and better.

How much space is required per hen? How much can you get away with at an absolute minimum? Describe your first chicken coop.

It really depends on the breed of chicken. There are breeds that are better for meat, some are well-known for their egg laying, and others are just for show.

As far as space goes, good rule of thumb is this: The interior of the coop should have 2 square feet of floor space per bird, the exterior of the coop (the run) should have, at bare minimum, four square feet of space per bird. That is still quite restrictive though. Something like 10 square feet per bird would provide your hens with a very comfortable living environment. If you decide to let your hens roam the yard, make sure your fence is at least six feet high, or clip their wings. You also want to make sure that they can't climb under the fence, between the pickets, and that they are safe from ariel predators like hawks.

Our chicken coop (the only one we have ever owned) was purchased on Craigslist for $200. Is there anything you can't find on Craigslist? I mean, really. If you don't go the Craigslist route, you can purchase coop building kits online for really cheap, or even find some for free. Depending on how many hens you have, you can use a guinea pig cage as a coop or even convert and old dog house into a coop. There are also pre-fab wooden coop kits sold online, Eglu makes a hard-shelled coop, or you can easily build a simple coop out of scrap wood.

Describe the perfect hen personality for an urban/suburban setting.

Ok, this made me crack up because it's hard to believe, but chickens really do have different personalities. The chickens we have right now are very docile and not too adventurous. They are destructive by nature, and if you wind up with a crafty one on your hands she can cause a slew of problems. Which brings me to the next question....

Describe the worst hen personality for an urban/suburban setting.

Some of Dagny's handiwork
We just had to get rid of one of our hens, Dagny. She was bossy, pecked the other hens on the neck, and was very naughty. Dagny nearly drew blood on one of the hen's necks and she was always breaking out of the yard or getting in my vegetable garden. Once we even found her roaming in an alley down the street from my house! The day after Dagny went to live at my friend's house, I got a text from her saying she and her husband came home to find Dagny sitting in their living room watching TV with the dog.

Speaking of the devil, Dagny. Do you miss her? Do the other hens miss her? Do they even remember her? Their brains aren't all that big.

I have to say that I don't miss Dagny one bit. Ok, maybe that's not entirely true: I miss her eggs. That's it. My husband was sad to see Dagny go, but he's not the one who had to deal with her bad attitude. While I can't speak for the other hens, I'm pretty sure they were happy to see Dagny go too. Things are quite peaceful around The Little Hen House these days.

Have you ever thought about bringing a rooster into the hen house (other than your husband)?

Ummmm. Hell to the no. Our next door neighbor had a rooster when we first moved in and I wanted to DIE. Actually, I wanted the rooster to die. It crowed non-stop. All day and all night. Whomever made up the old adage about the rooster crowing at sunrise was a liar. Don't tell anyone, but we finally had to call the city and have it removed from our neighbor's property. Hens are legal in our city under certain conditions, but roosters are entirely illegal. Considering our chicken coop breaks the city's code, it was pretty hypocritical of us to rat out our neighbor, but my sanity depended on it.

How much time per day do you have to allocate towards taking care of the hens? What is the most difficult aspect of their care? Other than the eggs, what are the benefits to owning hens?

I don't check on the hens every day. I probably spend about an hour a week cleaning up after them, refilling their food and water, and collecting the eggs. Once a month I do a big clean out of the coop, and that takes about an hour to an hour and a half. I think a dog is a lot more work than a chicken!

The most difficult aspect of their care is keeping them contained and dealing with their destructive habits. They love to dig up plants and make a mess. I have pretty much let go of the idea that my chickens are going to live in some manicured little grassy area. It's a pig sty.

Not only do chickens provide fresh, high-quality eggs, but they also serve as an in-house fertilizing and bug removal system. My plants, when they aren't being dug up, are lush and healthy. I haven't seen a slug in months, and the brown widow spiders that used to plague my yard are nonexistent. I love it!

A family I nannied for had hens and one night raccoons got all but one hen (she was really smart for a hen). It was very sad for everyone, myself included. Are there any other predators you have to prepare for in an urban/suburban setting? What about, say, really big dogs or sneaky cats? Toddlers?

How terrible for that family! Whatever environment you raise chickens in, predators are a constant threat. My neighborhood has a feral cat epidemic, and I was really worried about the cats hunting down the chickens. I think the fact that I have enough hens for them to form a flock, has kept the cats at bay. I'm pretty sure they would kick any cat's ass that tried to attack one of the brood. There are also stray dogs in the area, but my fence keeps them out. I also worry about skunks attacking the coop at night, but so far we haven't had any problems. Luckily, my toddlers have a healthy dose of fear of the hens. They have a tendency to peck at my girls, which doesn't hurt, but it sure does startle the bejeesus out of them!

Do you think a few hens could take out a maltese dog that is never on leash & always poops in our yard? Hypothetically speaking, of course.

If we are speaking hypothetically, then I might suggest that a rooster would probably take care of their little Maltese problem. Not that I would know about these things, especially anything about the aggressive and territorial nature of roosters. Ahem.

What is the number one piece of advice you would give to someone like myself who might be considering owning a couple of hens?

I would say this: Do your homework. I highly recommend checking out:

and/or reading "Raising Backyard Chickens for Dummies." Then, just go for it! Life is short and it should be full of adventure. Here is how I look at it: Raising chickens isn't boring. Plus, if all else fails, it makes for great blog fodder. :)

 Have you every wanted to own hens (or goats, because I love them)?  Do you raise any now?  Why or why not?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...