Chickens are colorful and entertaining transformers of kitchen scraps and garden waste into delicious organic food. What could be better than a small flock?

Chickens have been part of our lives for decades. We can’t imagine living without them. Today millions of American families are building coops and enjoying the benefits of flocks as small as a few hens.

Previously, ordinances banned chickens from many towns, but recent interest in local food has reached city hall, and antichicken ordinances are falling like autumn leaves. Many cities now allow backyard flocks in even urban areas, but often limit them to six hens and no noisy roosters.

Six hens will do these wonderful things:

Lay three or four fresh and delicious eggs every day.

  • Quickly repurpose food scraps and weeds into eggs.
  • Provide a wonderful opportunity for children to learn responsibility by caring for chicken. And they’ll learn where food really comes from.
  • Add color and life to the back yard.

Chickens are easy to raise and care for but need attention 365 days a year.  Anyone who has kept any domestic animal can easily learn to care for a small flock. They just need these things:

  • A coop to protect them from the wind, rain, raccoons and other predators. Chickens only need four square feet per hen, so a backyard coop can be tiny and can be purchased ready-made, is easily built with simple carpentry skills and tools, or crafted inside an existing garage or shed.
  • An optional but helpful outdoor run that gives the birds fresh air, sunshine, and plenty of plants and insects to eat. 
  •  Someone to check on them daily to harvest eggs, fill feeders and waterers, close the door at night to keep nocturnal predators at bay and open it in the morning.

 How to Get Started

 The first step is to either call your town’s city clerk or check the municipal website to see if keeping chickens is legal and, if so, what restrictions are in place. Assuming that your city has endorsed backyard chickens here is what you can do:

  •  Read a few how to books that help beginners learn the basics. There’s also plenty of information on the Internet.
  • Scan websites of hatcheries for information on chicken care and breeds. Just Google chicken hatcheries and a screen of websites appears. We’ve ordered chicks from Murray McMurray and Hoover’s Hatcheries. Both have been part of the Iowa business scene for decades. McMurray’s on line and paper catalog is a gem of information and they sell dozens of breeds of chickens. Hoover is a down home hatchery that sells fewer breeds but of top notch quality.
  • Check with your local nature center or county extension office to see if a basic chicken care workshop will be held in your area. Take it in. They may be able to put you in touch with nearby families who have chickens.
  • For a list of nature centers scan the website of the Association of Nature Center Administrators.
  • Subscribe to on line chicken care blogs. Two good ones are  Scoop From the Coop and Community Chickens.
  • Read more on chicken care in future Winding Pathways Blog.
  • Then, have fun with your chickens.