Why keep chickens in urban backyards?

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Why do people want to keep backyard chickens in small town houses in urban areas?

Urban chicken keeping has as many vocal advocates as it does determined opposition. For every individual who wants to keep his own hens there will be an unrelenting character somewhere that does not want them to.

People want to keep their own chickens because it provides them with fresh and tasty eggs on tap from birds they know have been well treated. There is also the amusement factor of having new pets about the place.

When you go to the supermarket, you will see walls of eggs available to purchase. The process is simple and affordable, which leaves a lot of people wondering why people would opt instead to raise their own chickens in urban areas.

supermarket shelves are full of eggs

Supermarkets are full of eggs so why produce your own? 

What’s wrong with supermarket eggs?

1. They have often been laid by a badly cared for hybrid chicken with little or no access to the outdoors and often kept in cramped cages in smelly barns.

2. The eggs may have been in storage for as much as 42 days before the store takes delivery of them. Then they may be in the shop a few days before spending a week or so in your fridge.

3. Food miles. It is becoming unacceptable to buy and consume foods that have been needlessly trucked for hundreds or thousands of miles. Some might argue you still have to pay for the animal feed to be transported but you can have it delivered by a courier already on a round.

4. There have been several contamination and poisoning scares like the fipronil in Dutch eggs and Ecoli in US eggs.

hens in battery cages

Hens in row upon row of stacked cages is not how people want their eggs producing. It would upset me if I had anything to do with eggs farmed this way.

battery chicken cramped ina cage

Chickens are becoming the new family pets, you can have one for each member of the family and there is a fantastic range of sizes and types to suit everyones tastes. And they lay eggs, really nice eggs.

People often see the backyard coop as a Eco-friendly or environmentally sound way to produce some food on their doorstep. People with pets generally live longer happier lives.

Cities are doing their part, Seattle has raised the number of hens you can keep to eight from three subject to a few conditions. You can now do a tour of participating urban coops with silicon valley tour de coop, the next one is set for September 15th 2018.

The number of people keeping chickens in their gardens has risen by 80% in the last five years to around 3.2 million in the US and 700,000 in the UK.

In cities, people are limited in their outdoor space, so it might be surprising to learn that more and more people are willing to sacrifice their small plots of grass and shrubs for a chicken coop.

This seems to be the exact case many cities are seeing, a revolution in how some people see their backyards. So why go through the trouble when there are eggs at the store?

The reasons that people keep chickens are as varied as the people themselves, but here are some of the popular reasons people give them asked why they want to keep chickens in the city.

This is the Smith families four Buff Sussex pure breeds they got from me 18 months ago. They live happily on a small patch of lawn and apart from rooting through the flower beds every now and again they haven’t been a moments trouble for their owners.

buff susses hens in an urban garden

Here they are pottering about the garden unperturbed by the family labrador. The garden is secure and surrounded by a hedge and that is really all you need.

There is plenty of advice on reputable websites and it is all free, you shouldn't need to pay.

Also the neighbours are happy to look after the birds while the smiths are on holiday as they get to keep the eggs for their trouble. 

The eggs taste better:

While there is some debate on this topic, many people who own their own chickens will quickly tell you that the eggs taste much better than those on offer at the supermarket. Below is a selection of eggs from my rare breed hens and yes they are better than store bought.

a selection of eggs

Proud backyard chicken owners describe the fresh eggs from their hens as richer and brighter; that the yolks are dense and lush, and that the white are firm and flavorful; that they make better cakes and pies.

Also, the freshness of the eggs is huge for a lot of people.

Supermarket eggs can be quite old by the time they reach the store, after which they will be kept in a refrigerator for a couple more weeks. Backyard eggs are that day fresh and anything fresher is often much tastier.

There are fewer disruptions in supply. Most modern cross breeds produced for the backyard environment like the Rhode Rock or Sussex Ranger are quite happy producing 300 eggs a year and for most of the year as well. And you do not need to travel to the store, there in your garden. 

They know where the eggs come from and it’s more humane:

Mega commercial farms have been shown to be quite cruel to chickens. Disturbing videos show cramped, caged hens that are stressed and ill, something many people find disheartening.

By keeping backyard chickens, you know that your chickens are happy and healthy, that they are living good lives and eating well, and that they have room to roam and sunshine and bugs to eat. 

They eat your leftovers:

That’s right! Your backyard hens are veritable compost disposals. Your hens will happily eat your peelings, kitchen scraps, or leftover lasagna. They love the change in food offerings and you will love the lack of waste.

While there are a few things you can’t feed chickens (high fat or salt foods, garlic, etc.), for the most part chickens are a great way to keep your food waste low. 

Chickens are fun to watch:

Many people describe watching their chickens as being quite soothing. From their low, purring clucks, to their methodical scratching and pecking of the ground—owners of backyard chickens find watching them to be downright meditative. 

It’s healthier:

For you and the birds. If you seeking to avoid food that has been treated with antibiotics or hormones, having your own chickens as an egg source is a simple way to make sure that your eggs won’t have any unnecessary hormones or antibiotics added to them.

Many secluded backyard flocks go their entire lives without any issues at all especially if you buy healthy vaccinated birds from a reputable supplier. 

It teaches kids about the source of their food:

Many young children don’t grow up near farms and are never exposed to farms or animal. They don’t understand there their food comes from or how it’s produced and that a living being that requires care is involved.

Having backyard chickens will help them better understand the source of their food, as well as provide the important lesson of respecting the animals that provide you with food and never taking it for granted. 

Is it hard work keeping hens in an urban garden?

It is actually quite easy to keep chickens in a small backyard in and urban environment. If you select the breed to match your circumstances then you should have little trouble.

silkie hen

Silkies (like this one above) for example make excellent small space birds and they won’t be getting over your fences to annoy your neighbours either as they can not fly at all. Silkies are also real characters.

As a rule I would buy older hens that have been sexed as you don’t want to end up with a rooster.

So whether you are fed up with big business running roughshod over an animals rights or you just want to be productive at home there are plenty of good reasons to be keeping a few hens in your garden. 

What are the disadvantages for the urban chicken keeper?

So just what are the cons of keeping chickens:

1. The demands on your time. You will need to let them out and lock them up at night. The coop will need to be built and repaired and the eggs collected.

2. Cleaning is essential to keep your flock and next door happy. And you will likely not be able to compost all the waste they produce.

3. Other people can be uncompromising. With the stories in the press it is not a surprise that many think the backyard chicken movement is responsible for bringing in bird flu and the like into the towns. You might like to remind them that every outbreak of bird flu has been at an industrial site and spread by commercial chicken waste.

4. Like any pet they will eventually break your heart and die.

For me the positive outweigh the negative when it comes to my poultry and yes the eggs are definitely better.

feeding my chickens