Zoe and Chicken

Chickens in the City

A friend of ours who had a large property in Constantia had about 60 layers and was looking to downsize her chicken population. We took four of them for our own and they were quickly named Sam, Yoda, Quicksilver and Kiara. (Don’t ask!)

We had built them a movable coop about 1.5 × 1.5m which had a lid that you could lift off to get inside. This was later upgraded to a permanent larger coop. We wanted a movable one which fitted over half of a veggie bed so that their droppings would be mixed into the soil before we planted veggies in that section.

This worked well for a while until we realized that they needed more space as they could not range free all day due to the dogs looking for a chicken dinner. Our Jack Russell had taken to licking them through the fence while salivating at the mouth! A day after they were first placed in their new home, we got our first egg. The way we carried on, it was as if this was the first egg ever laid! In my total naivety I thought chickens just popped out eggs all day, but soon found out that healthy chickens lay every 25 hours. That meant one a day on average.

For the last year they have rarely missed a beat unless they have been broody or if it’s really cold. Now that we are in winter we tend to get two a day, so the girls are on a hit-one, miss-one cycle.

After a while, Quicksilver became intensely broody and would not leave her nest. She stashed all the eggs under her and refused to let us get at them. We tricked her by getting four fertilized eggs from a friend and let her sit for 21 days. She proudly hatched one little chick which was named Mindstorm. (Again, don’t ask about the name!)

Quicksilver was returned with her chick to my friend’s farm and Amber came to join the family. We soon learnt where the phrase “hen-pecked” came from as we watched them establish the pecking order of the coop. This lasted for about 2 weeks and was quite traumatizing for me.

Each day the girls are let out to free range in the garden while the dogs are locked inside. They quickly cleaned up our snail problem which was a huge bonus. They generally enjoy a sand bath in the flower beds, scratch for worms and then head for the compost heap where they chatter to one another in their delightful way.

After an hour or two all I need to do is call them at the coop and they come running. I began to treat them to some crumbled bread which was the bribery they needed to come back in.

Truly these girls have been such a delight to us and I would encourage anyone to keep some urban chickens. Roosters are not an option for the urban homestead unless you are prepared to catch your rooster each evening and place him in a dark room so that he does not wake the neighbours. The girls do cackle and talk and announce their egg, but in general the noise is not invasive. But as with all types of animal, be sure you can do the best for them as they serve you.

Here are some tips and ideas for
your urban flock:

Housing

Your girls will need a safe secure place to board. If you have cats you need to make sure that their coop has no place where a cat can get in. Dogs can be trained to live quite well alongside them, but not if they are hunting dogs.

They will also need a pole to roost on at night. We have two tires filled with straw for them to lay in. We clean their coop and replace their straw weekly which gets added to the compost pile. The manure is a great accelerator for the composting process.

Food

Pet supply companies sell bulk chicken mix but our girls also enjoy the following:

Fresh greens

Crushed egg shells (important for their
digestion)

Warm oatmeal porridge

Once a week one scrambled egg

A cup full of snails collected from neighbours’ gardens (weird, huh?)

*Weeds from the veggie patch

*Worms from my compost heap

*Fresh water every day is imperative. We have a water feeder that fills as they drink which saves lots of schlep.

Free time

They need time to roam and do what chickens are designed to do – scratch and sand bath. It is best to have them on a sand surface in a coop than concrete, but do make sure they have time out in the garden.

Warmth

In winter make sure they are dry and warm. Cape winters are wild and wet, so we created a black builder’s plastic cover for them to keep them warm and dry.

In exchange for caring for your girls properly, you will get the best free range eggs ever. Once you have seen what a fresh egg looks like you will realise how stale the eggs are from the shop. We often get double yolks too, which is such a surprise for my children, every time! `

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