Raising chickens in an urban environment is easier than you think – here we share a first hand account and some expert advice on gathering fresh eggs straight from the backyard.
Story by Ken Wysocky
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
So you think raising chickens is just for country folks? Tell that to people like Jill Hepburn of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and they just might politely say you’ve been, well, cooped up too long.
Jill is one of a growing number of urban residents who are making the lowly chicken the unofficial mascot of a burgeoning grassroots locally grown food movement.
For Jill, the decision to raise chickens was a logical extension of her interest in sustainability. Already an avid vegetable gardener, she became intrigued when she started to hear about urban chicken raisers around the country—particularly in nearby Madison, Wisconsin. After quite a squawk over the issue, officials there now allow residents to raise chickens.
Jill chose Gold Star chickens because they don’t mind confinement, are fairly quiet and tolerate cold weather. Her husband, Mal, built a small coop inside a tiny barn that stands on their urban lot. The coop has a fenced-in outdoor run. Jill also bought a feeder, a waterer and organic chicken feed.
“It gets a little expensive, but not ridiculously so,” she notes. “I just think of it as buying expensive eggs.”
Jill says raising chickens is fairly low-maintenance. You just have to make sure they have sufficient water and food, and collect the eggs every day. Because of the urban setting, Jill doesn’t free-range her chickens as much as she’d like, so she supplements their chicken feed diet with table scraps and earthworms.
The worst thing about raising chicken is cleaning out the coop, which Jill says she does once a week, with a heavier-duty effort once a month. She composts the waste.
“Cleaning up waste is never a fun thing, but it’s not terrible, either,” she points out. “A lot of it depends on the coop design and how many chickens you have. When you consider a design, look for easy access to the floor of the coop.”
Jill bought her chicks in April, and by August each was laying an egg a day, like clockwork. She says the response from neighbors and friends has been nothing but positive.
“I expected I’d get a lot of ‘Why did you do that sort of thing?’ reaction, but everyone thinks raising chickens is neat and kind of fun,” Jill says. “We’re all so urbanized today, so having a farm animal in the city is a good talking point. It gets us focused on what we eat.”
Overall, Jill highly recommends the experience of raising chicken in an urban setting.
“Raising chickens is much easier than I ever thought it would be,” she observes. “And we absolutely love the chickens. Best of all, they’ve provided our 11-year-old son, Jamie, with a valuable lesson—to see that not all food comes from a grocery store, and that it takes a little work to raise food. His friends come over and see where eggs come from, too. It’s a lesson that extends much farther than just our family.”
Click here for more tips to raising urban chickens in your backyard.