Spark

February 17th, 2015
Urban Homesteader: Chickens

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The Urban Homesteader is a regular feature about values and practices that hark back to days when people (country and city folks alike) were more resource–wise, less wasteful and more self-sufficient. We’ll explore why MK represents a sweet spot for those who desire to live an urban homesteader lifestyle. We’ll learn about a variety of environmentally aware practices like vegetable gardening, edible landscaping, composting, rain water harvesting, soap making, beekeeping, food preserving and forms of energy conserving that are becoming hallmarks of the 21st century ‘back to the city’ movement.  

The Urban Homesteader is guest edited by Andrew Brake, Anne Collins and David Stuckert, owners of Agrarian located in MK at 661 East 49th Street. 


Historically, homesteaders led a life of necessity and scarcity with no alternative to making, growing, raising and doing everything for themselves. Today’s Urban Homesteaders have chosen to pursue some of the traditional homesteading activities for a more self sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.

In Meridian~Kessler there are hundreds of families that are comfortably blending their Urban Homesteading activities with a rewarding urban lifestyle.

Typically, they first decided to grow some of their own food in their backyards and then progressed to trying their hands at skills like making their own soap and cleaning products to small scale poultry farming, beekeeping and even raising goats for their milk and, ultimately, cheese. Most supplement their own activities with support for companies and communities that share their passion for ethical, sustainable lifestyle choices.

We will begin in this issue with raising Backyard Chickens as it is one of the most visible and popular Urban Homesteading activities. The motivations for raising chickens are varied. The most common reasons mentioned are the desire to control the purity and quality of their food and to create a firsthand connection with their food sources. Plus, chickens are fun!

 


Thinking about having a small flock of your own inevitably leads to questions.

Do you need a rooster in order to get eggs?

No, a hen will lay eggs without a rooster. They just won’t be fertile eggs. All eggs have the same nutritional value. Most of the eggs you can buy are unfertilized.

Are chickens dirty animals? Do they smell?

As long as the homesteader takes care of cleaning out the coop regularly, chickens are not especially dirty or smelly animals.

Will keeping chickens attract rodents?

It is food that attracts rodents, not the birds. If you have wild bird feeders in your back yard, you run the same risk. Keep all feed in metal garbage cans with secure lids. Feed birds in small doses to avoid sitting food. If you feed your birds kitchen scraps, make sure it is eaten and not left in the bedding.

Do hens make a lot of noise?

Unlike roosters, hens make very little noise. Think of roosters as noisy as a barking dog and hens as noisy as cats.

Is it legal to keep chickens in Indianapolis?

Yes. There is nothing in the city ordinances banning chickens. There are noise ordinances and roosters could lead to violations in that regard.

How many eggs will a hen lay in a week? When do they start to lay eggs?

A typical hen will start to lay eggs at about 6 months of age. The eggs will start out small then get increasingly larger. During the first year of laying, the hen (if she is a good egg producer) will lay one egg almost every day. Some birds will then go through a “molt” in the late fall/ winter months and stop laying. They will start again in the early spring. You can encourage egg laying through the colder months by keeping on a light inside the chicken coop. As the birds get older, they will start to lay fewer and fewer eggs.

How long do chickens live?

Chickens can live as long as 10 years and some even longer.

How much space does a chicken need?

For 3 hens, a 2’x4’ Coop plus a “run” (a place for them to scratch around) that is roughly 4’x8’ is more than adequate. Most commercial birds are placed in cages (6-8 to a cage) where they cannot even turn around. Perch space in the roost is recommended at 8 inches per chicken.

Can I use the chicken manure in my garden?

Chicken manure is high in nitrogen so it is considered “hot.” It will need to be composted before going directly onto your garden soil. Once it has broken down it becomes perfect food for the garden.

What do chickens eat?

They will eat just about anything. They’re omnivores.  They need a nutritionally complete “layer” feed from a local feed store as well as any kitchen scraps.

What about keeping chickens in winter?

Chickens are surprisingly warm-blooded and produce a lot of heat. As long as their coop is draft-free, they should be okay to about 40 degrees below zero. Some breeds are more winter-hardy and better suited for colder winters. Artificial heat can be provided but is not required for most birds. Birds can get frostbite. Birds with large combs tend to be more susceptible.

What do I do about freezing water?

A small heated dog dish or other heated waterers will keep the water from freezing.

Are chickens safe from cats and dogs?

Some cats and dogs might find chickens worthy as a meal but typically your pets won’t bother your chickens. Raccoons, opossums, fox and even some rats would be a bigger concern. Make sure your coop is secured at night to protect your birds from any predators.

Where can I buy chickens?

You can find them locally by searching Craigslist’s Farm and Garden section. Generally, these birds will be full-grown and already laying eggs. Typically, they sell for $5-$10. You can also buy chicks, a day or two old, from several online sites and local Urban Homesteading stores.

What kind of coop will I need?

Coops come in all different sizes and shapes. The size is determined by how many chickens you have and the shape is only limited by your imagination. 

 

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