So You Want to be an Urban Farmer: Adventures in Chicken Raising

I have what may be considered the tiniest yard in Somerville. It is roughly 7ft wide, by 40ft long, and it runs along the side of my house. Mowing takes less than five minutes. As a matter of fact, it takes longer to untangle the extension cord and drag the mower out of the basement (because, of course, there is no room for a garage or shed.) and then put it all back than it does to actually mow the yard. I don't even call it the yard. I affectionately call it  "the patch". When we bought the house, I had quiet ambition for growing some tomato plants and maybe a little herb garden in the tiny bed off our deck. Being that the yard was so tiny, those goals were easily accomplished. 

 

"Did you know Somerville lets you have chickens?" my husbands said to me one day after we'd purchased our home in Winter Hill. He had this idea in his head from the beginning of our house search. Before we found our home in Somerville, we had placed an offer on a house in Framingham. At that time we were living in Teele Sq, and Framingham was nowhere near my first choice, but I tried to buy into the romantic dream of watching hens peck around this yard. Once that house was dramatically crossed off the list thanks to mold and major electrical issues, I assumed the dream of hens went with it. 

I had heard about the city's urban agriculture movement, but seeing as how we had a patch and not a yard, a coop was out of the question. I was clearly very wrong. Before you can ask "want some fresh eggs for breakfast?" the chicks and coop were ordered on.. get this.. mypetchicken.com. We logged on and found that there are a lot of breeds to choose from. Since we live in New England, and having chickens in the house for the very long and cold winters didn't sound like a whole lot of fun, we chose breeds from the "especially cold hardy" list. To great disappointment, the Easter Egger breed was not available (who DOESN'T want blue and green eggs?!) and so after a little research about temperament and egg production we ended up with four chicks on the way. Two Golden Bluffs and two Partridge Cochins. The arrived in mid October at the Union Square in one very small and peeping box. The reaction of the ladies at the post office was pretty amazing. Opening the box? NUGGET CUTENESS OVERLOAD! (Yes, we called the chicks "the nuggets")

peep, peep, peep! If the box moved significantly, the peeps intensified. 

peep, peep, peep! If the box moved significantly, the peeps intensified. 


Petrified baby chicks. Traveling across the country on your first day in the world is no doubt terrifying. The yellows are Golden Bluffs and the black are the Partridge Cochins. 

Petrified baby chicks. Traveling across the country on your first day in the world is no doubt terrifying. The yellows are Golden Bluffs and the black are the Partridge Cochins. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, we were tasked with naming the nuggets. There area million appropriate names for chickens, and we waited to see how they acted so they ended up with appropriate monikers. One chick, a Bluff that seemed to have the bossiest attitude, was named Dorothy and her twin became Rose as they tended to stick together. One of the Cochins seemed exceptionally awkward. Never walked around unless you really pushed her into it.. she became Blanche. And last, but not least.. Sophia. Our golden girls. 

Since they arrived in October, that meant they had a couple months of indoor living until they were old enough to live outside and not freeze to death. Their coop arrived shortly after they did. While we researched building a coop from scratch, It was starting to get REALLY cold outside. We ordered a pre-fab coop and I decided to give the hens-to-be a paint job befitting of the historic vibrant houses of Somerville. 

Our fancy-pants coop. 

Our fancy-pants coop. 

Having the chicks inside was something we loved. They resided in a 20gal, and then shortly after, a 40gal fish tank in our dining room. They would peep excitedly when they saw us, and spent a great deal of time being handled and cuddled. 

Blanche and I on the couch.

Blanche and I on the couch.

Dorothy perches.

Dorothy perches.

Then Halloween rolled around.. 

This is what "incredible concern" looks like on chicks. 

This is what "incredible concern" looks like on chicks. 

The girls grew so fast. Within days of arriving if you looked closely at their wings you could see their feathers starting to come through. Soon after their wing feathers, if you looked under their fluff, you could see what appeared to be tubes growing through their skin. It was a little freaky and soon they started to look nothing like chicks OR chickens.. but awkward little peeping creatures.. I still thought they were adorable. 

Rosie. Sunning and hanging out. 

Rosie. Sunning and hanging out. 

Eventually December and Christmas rolled around which meant that the girls were old enough to move outside. I felt a bit like an anxious mama sending my babes out into the world, which in this case, was a freezing cold coop in our yard. They were enormous and really didn't fit in the 40 gallon tank they were calling home. They LOVED it. the freedom to scratch around and explore their little coop made them really happy. To help them fatten up and survive the cold, we made them oatmeal in the mornings and warmed their water. 

 

Since they moved outside they've completely blossomed. We started getting eggs about 6 months after. Watching them peck around in the yard is always a treat. They have big personalities and watching them chase each other when one finds an appetizing bug is always very cute. Not to mention, they still retain their affection for people since we used to cuddle them as chicks. The Cochins are the most friendly and sometimes will hop into my lap to be petted and scratched. 

Caring for them is easy. They get fresh food, water, and scraps of veggies and other leftovers from the kitchen every day. Once a week their coop is cleaned which includes scooping the shavings out of their coop and changing the hay in their nesting box. In return for this simple care, they murder and eat the hell out of all the pests that plague my garden beds AND THEN they turn those pests and kitchen scraps into eggs that we get to eat. If you've never tasted a truly fresh egg, make it a priority. They are yellower and creamier than the eggs you find in the store. Not only do we eat them, but our neighbors and friends are also egg beneficiaries. It's not easy to keep up with eating 2-4 eggs a day. 

 

If you ever considered getting hens.. DO IT. 

 

One last photo.. 

During Nemo the Blizzard.

During Nemo the Blizzard.