It is all thanks to my wife, Rachel, that I came to love backyard chickens. She pulled me off the “I don’t know” fence and into the world of fresh eggs and fowl friends. If you are stuck on the fence and unsure if keeping chickens is for you, here’s why I find chickens a joy.
Let’s start with the eggs. From spring through the fall, our four hens provide from two to four eggs a day. They are not cheap eggs, given all we do in the care and feeding realm, but they do taste good. I’ve not a sophisticated enough palate to describe the taste; but we give away a good many, and everyone raves about them being much more flavorful than store-bought eggs. Nobody will like you less if you give them fresh eggs.
To lay those eggs, chickens need food, water, and shelter. Food is easy. Visit one of the feed stores in the area and talk to staff. Find a diet you and your birds are happy with and stick to it. Chickens love fruit and vegetable scraps as well. For water, we have a heated water bowl to keep it from freezing in the winter.
As for shelter, it’s all about protection from the elements and predators. The coop should provide about two square feet per bird. That may not seem like much, but our birds do only two things in the coop: sleep and lay. If it’s warm, they tend to sleep on roosts. If it’s cold, they sleep in the nesting boxes. Some people don’t like their birds sleeping in the nesting boxes, as they poop and pee while sleeping. Your hens can be trained to sleep on roosts if desired.
The rest of the time, no matter the weather, they are in the run. Our run is built in a space beneath our living room. It’s about five-feet from floor to ceiling, and roughly 15-feet by 20-feet with a dirt floor, all enclosed with 14-gauge wire mesh fencing to keep predators out. The bottom of the fencing is buried. Rocks are stacked along the perimeter inside and out.
Beyond the benefit of the eggs, chickens are beautiful. Flossie is a dark Brahma with something of a mottled neck, her black and white markings reminiscent of a lace doily. Edna is a black Australorp with an iridescent sheen. Vera is a black Leghorn with a majestic strut and a statuesque silhouette. Betty, a Plymouth Barred Rock, has black and white bars forming what seems a herringbone pattern.
As social animals, they tend to follow us in the yard. If we are in the garden, they are in the garden. If we are out front, they are out front. Left to their instincts, they like to range, but they won’t run off. Once acclimated, come sundown, they will be back in the coop of their own volition. The worry is off-leash dogs, which is why we limit their time outside the run.
Each bird has her own personality and ours all get along. Edna is the most social, always first to greet us when we enter the coop. Her first move is to squat low to the ground and spread her shoulder blades, waiting to be petted. When we fill the food dish, she steps into it and tips the feed into the dirt. Whether it’s because they have plenty of space or something else, we see no “hen pecking.”
There is a lot more to chickens than I’ve covered here, which is why you’ll want to visit websites such as BackYardChickens.com and TheHappyChickenCoop.com, where you can ask questions and get knowledgeable answers. If you are still unsure, I have yet to meet an owner of chickens who was at all reluctant to talk about their birds and why they love them so.
Note: in Spokane proper, there are limits on the number of Small Domestic Animals (SDA) you can keep, which include fowl (chickens, geese, ducks, and pigeons for starters), small pigs, goats, and most sheep. If it’s less than 36-inches at the shoulder and under 150 pounds, it’s SDA. Spokane city code states “One animal or fowl, other than small livestock, per one thousand square feet of lot area” (Section 17C.310.115). If you have SDAs other than chickens, you’ll need “animal keeping certification” from WSU. Roosters are allowed only in Residential Agriculture (RA) zones. Small livestock are another thing entirely, so check local regulations.