The Chicago Tribune's Home and Garden section takes notice of backyard chickens:
You don't need to be a farmer to have chickens. Keeping chickens in an urban setting is fun and educational, provides companionship and access to fresh eggs, and can even be useful for gardening.
Why do people do it? It is well-established that chickens allowed to free-range and supplement their diets with grasses and bugs produce tastier, nutritionally superior eggs. A Mother Earth News study in 2007 revealed that, compared with commercial eggs, pastured eggs contain two-thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E and seven times more beta carotene.
But besides the better-quality eggs, there are other good reasons to keep chickens.
Jacob Komisar, a teacher in New Haven, Conn., spent more than a decade as a vegetarian. He and his wife started keeping chickens as a way to provide ethically raised, nutrient-dense animal protein (eggs) and to educate their son about the proverbial circle of life.
"We've become entirely too disconnected from our food as a society," Komisar says. "There was a time when every family had a few chickens (for both eggs and meat). It's not a big investment, and when compared to similar quality eggs and meat, it's actually not any more expensive."
Only two of his chickens are currently laying; they produce about 10 to 12 eggs per week. The flock consumes about one $12 bag of feed per month, which brings the cost of the eggs to about 72 cents per dozen (that was not a typo, but it does take into consideration that three-fifths of the feed goes to the non-laying hens).
Is it practical? The five chickens that live in the Komisar yard reside in a 12-foot-square chain-link dog run and sleep in a cedar doghouse to which he added nesting boxes and a roosting pole.
He has received nary a complaint from the neighbors. "The vegan anarchists in an apartment on the other side think it's cool. There's an older lady who lives behind us who said that she grew up on a farm and liked seeing the chickens running around my yard."
Some cities have archaic laws regarding chickens, but in many cities across the country it is perfectly legal to keep them. Check your municipal code before you start.
Where do you buy chickens and supplies? The Internet is a wonderful resource for finding local chicken-keeping supplies. There also are more specialized urban homesteading stores like the Biofuel Oasis (biofueloasis.com) in Berkeley, Calif., and the Urban Farm Store (urbanfarmstore.com) in Portland, Ore., which provide supplies for chicken keeping, offer classes and can offer information on where to buy chicks.
There are many breeds of chickens; get one that is right for you. For instance, some breeds are better scavengers and can thrive on a mostly scavenged diet, while others will fail to thrive without a full grain regimen. Some breeds lay more eggs than others. It will take a little research; don't just buy the cheapest you find.
It's all fun and eggs until … Keeping a backyard flock can be treacherous at times. "My wife heard bizarre noises from the coop at 1 a.m. and made me go out to see what was going on," Komisar says. "I found myself face to face with what I can only imagine was a 350-pound raccoon.
"I ended up just picking up a stick and poking it a lot until it left so I could figure out how it got in. But after many incarnations, my chicken run is now more secure than Fort Knox."