you need a rooster for eggs?
~Are chickens loud?
about predators or pests?
~What about diseases like Avian Flu?
~Don't chickens smell?
do chickens eat?
I use the chicken manure as fertilizer in the garden?
many eggs can we expect?
~What's this about an "Urban Chicken" movement?
~Aren't chickens mean?
Don't you need a rooster for eggs?
A: No, you don't.
Hens lay eggs without a rooster. The eggs you buy at the store are unfertilized
and no rooster is around those hens. You only need a rooster to hatch
chicks. Roosters are illegal in South Portland.
Q: Are chickens
A: Roosters are loud, and
they aren't allowed. Hens, on the other hand, are pretty quiet: on average,
normally quieter than most dogs, parrots, or macaws. They generally make
a soft chuckle or cluck. Occasionally, when they are showing off an
egg they've just laid, or when disturbed, their clucking is slightly
louder. They're asleep in their henhouse by dark.
Q: What about
predators or pests?
A: Since South Portland's ordinance stipulates that the hens must be in a completely
enclosed, predator-proof enclosure, and locked in a solid henhouse at
night, the hens will not attract predators any more than a rabbit in
a hutch. As far as rodents go: It is food that attracts rodents, not
the chickens. 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, so as not to have a large amount of food
left over. If you feed your birds scraps/ protein, make sure it is eaten
and not left in the bedding. Cats, dogs, hawks, raccoons and other predators:
The key to safe chickens is a sturdy, impenetrable coop. Raccoons in
particular are such clever, determined critters. Make
sure the structure is secure (enclosed top, fencing buried below
ground under the sides, secure latches on doors or other entryways),
keep all birds locked in at night, letting them out into the run only
during the day. Cats normally have a healthy respect for adult hens;
dogs will chase them if they are left to roam. If you let your birds
out into a fenced yard, you are required to keep them under supervision
at all times.
Q: What about
diseases like Avian Flu?
A: Avian Flu of the type
that is contagious to humans has not been found in North America. Any
type of avian influenza is spread by contact with the contaminated feces
of other birds, primarily migratory waterfowl. So the key issues are
sanitation and contact with wild birds. Unlike rural farm birds, which
"free range" and might, for example, drink from a pond shared
with Canada Geese, "backyard chickens" in South Portland will
be kept in an enclosed pen with little contact with the migratory birds.
In addition, should avian flu ever reach here, it would more likely
spread in situations where birds are maintained in unsanitary conditions,
such as the large commercial "factory farms" where chickens
are crammed together in filthy cages.... not where chickens are kept
as pets in well-maintained coops cleaned as regularly as any suburban
Salmonella is the other primary
concern associated with chicken and eggs. Again, this is an issue of
cleanliness and chickens kept as pets are unlikely to cause any problems.
In fact, Consumer Reports magazine reports that 71% of all supermarket
chicken and eggs are contaminated with salmonella: eating your own backyard
eggs, where you have control over the sanitation, significantly reduces
your chance of exposure. In terms of exposure from pets, chickens are
no more likely to carry it than parakeets, and pet reptiles are far
more likely culprits. Good hand-washing practices are always important
after handling animals.
Pet chickens, unlike cats
and dogs which are prime vectors for rabies and tick-borne diseases,
actually keep your yard healthier by eating ticks and other insects.
Dr. Donald Hoenig, the Maine
State Veterinarian in charge of animal health issues for the State,
endorses backyard chickens, and feels they can peacefully coexist in
dense neighborhoods. He also confirms that the public health risk is
minimal when the chickens are properly cared for, the same as the health
risks associated with keeping any other animal as a pet. You can read
his comments here,
Dr. Richard J. Brzozowski,
Extension Educator at the University of Maine Coopertive Extension responsible
for statewide programming in poultry science, also endorses allowing
pet hens in South Portland. You can read his letter here.
Q: What about
A: Choose breeds that are
known for their cold-hardiness, such as one of the many Heritage Breed
chickens bred in New England and Canada in the 1800s. Here's a good
chart. Less hardy breeds are susceptible to frostbite, especially
of the combs. Many people insulate their coops (be sure to put an inner
wall up so the hens won't eat the insulation.) More coop-design tips
are here. The main problem is keeping the water
from freezing, which may be accomplished with a heated dog-bowl, a bird-bath
or poultry-waterer de-icer, or a heat lamp or ordinary light bulb over
A: The amount of chicken
manure produced by six hens is roughly equivalent to the dog droppings
produced by a medium-large dog. And, unlike dog or cat poop, chicken
manure can be easily composted into fabulous garden fertilizer. That
said, smell will depend on the caretaker. Just like any other pet or
animal, hens need care--cleaning out the dirty bedding in the coop,
keeping it dry and having a clean/dry area of sand or dirt for the birds
to take dust baths in. These practices will all help to keep your birds
happy, healthy and odor free. See the "Care"
page for more information.
Q: What do
A: They will eat just about
anything! There are commercial poultry foods (regular and organic) available
at local feed stores, or you can make your own mix. People feed chickens
corn, oats, wheat, rye, soy, fresh greens from the garden (weeds as
well), table scraps (they love spaghetti!), worms and other bugs. They
will "mow" your grass if allowed in the yard, and the more
greens they eat, the yellower the yolks will be, and the higher the
Omega-3s in the eggs!
Q: Can I
use the chicken manure as fertilizer in the garden?
A: Chicken manure is high
in nitrogen, so it is considered "hot". It will need to be
composted before putting it directly onto your garden. once it has broken
down, it then becomes perfect food for the garden.
Q: How many
eggs can we expect?
A: A typical hen will start
to lay eggs at about 5 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 in
the warmer months. The birds may then go through a "molt"
in the late fall/ winter months and stop laying. Then they will start
again in the early spring. You can encourage egg laying through the
colder months by keeping a light on a timer in the henhouse to add "daylight"
in the early morning (ideally for a total of 14 hours). As the hens
get older, they will start to lay fewer and fewer eggs. although they
will be bigger eggs. While commercial egg farmers "retire"
(!) hens at just a few years old, backyard chickens can continue to
lay for many, many more years.
this about an "Urban Chicken" movement?
A: In the last 8 or so years,
more and more communities have been relaxing their zoning laws to allow
chickens to be kept as pets in urban and suburban areas. As part of
the growing awareness in this country of living “green" more
and more people are interested in growing at least some of their own
food in kitchen gardens, and in raising a few hens for eggs. The "movement"
probably began in the Pacific Northwest, and has spread across the country
as people realize that owning a few hens, kept as suburban pets in pretty
garden coops, is a good idea. Some people want organic eggs and garden
compost, others are concerned about food security, others want to "eat
local" to save resources, and others wish to enjoy the lovely,
fun pets hens can be. There have been lots of news articles written
about this growing trend, increasing in primarily upscale neighborhoods.
Here is a collection of news
stories for more information.
A: Just like any animal,
it's all in the upbringing. If you took a bunch of parrots, cockatiels,
kittens or puppies and stuck them in a pen with minimal human contact
beyond food and water, they probably wouldn't be very good pets. Just
like these animals, chickens that are hand-raised from chicks can be
wonderful pets. They come when they are called, enjoy being held and
are beautiful and even affectionate pets. Check out the links area for
websites like "My Pet Chicken" and "City Chickens"
for more information.