chickens

A City of Chickens

By Sion Lee

One of my good friend’s family houses four chickens in their backyard. Everyone’s reaction to this is of sheer surprise and intrigue. How could someone living in New York City have chickens running around in their backyard? Why would one do such a thing? Believe it or not, there actually are many upsides to having backyard chickens.

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Hanging out with the backyard hens.

In New York City, it is legal to have hens in backyards- just no roosters, because of possible noise complaints from neighbors. A chicken will cost somewhere between $1-$30, depending on the breed and size of the chickens (and also depending on if you want a chick or a full-grown chicken). A coop can cost absolutely nothing if you decide to make one or up to $3000 if you’re looking for something a little more high-end. It is important to understand that hens only produce eggs for a certain fraction of their lives, so if you are in it only for the eggs, you might want to reconsider.

To be clear: the hens’ eggs probably will not be economically profitable. A hen will usually lay one egg per day. It may not be plausible to sell the eggs simply because the average urban hen owner won’t have that many to sell in the first place. However, backyard chickens have a clear benefit when it comes to eggs: they are locally produced, which means the carbon footprint is greatly reduced. Think about it. Your typical, store-bought carton of eggs are transported from the farm to the store by a truck for miles and miles. Also, the plastic/Styrofoam container the eggs are in are materials that cannot be easily recycled. Manufacturing the containers result in carbon dioxide emissions, as they are made in large factories. Backyard chickens, however, only require you to transport from your backyard to your kitchen. How easy is that?

Another benefit is that chickens eat just about everything. Cauliflower stems? Carrot skins? Cooked pasta? They will eat it all. In addition, your hens will eat those pesky insects that are ruining your vegetable garden and act as a natural pest control. An added upside is that they consume mosquitos- so if you are like me and are considered to be a scrumptious delicacy by these blood suckers, this might be good news. Chickens do need to eat some chicken feed, but they can be inexpensive if you are feeding them a balanced diet of food scraps. (In fact, my friend only spends around fifteen dollars a month on chicken feed.) Everything the chickens don’t eat, then, can be composted. What comes out of the chicken can be composted, too. Poultry waste, when handled properly, is a valuable source of nutrients for garden soil. There is information on ways you can use chicken manure to fertilize your garden here.

There are many benefits to having backyard chickens, including garden fertilization.

There are many benefits to having backyard chickens, including garden fertilization.

Of course, there are always risks to every action. Poultry- like any other animal- runs the danger of infecting human consumers. Avian flu, salmonella, and E. coli are all commonly-heard diseases that chickens are prone to. For that reason, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a guideline for keeping backyard poultry. It is vital that you are sanitary and wary when it comes to handling these otherwise fun pets.

It is totally understandable when New York City dwellers say that there simply is not enough time and space to raise backyard hens. Personally, my family does not even have a yard to house these outside pets. Heck, my landlord does not even allow indoor pets, either. That’s okay, though. The next best thing to do would be to buy local. Buying local, like backyard hens, reduce the carbon footprint that is associated with regular store-bought eggs. It’s National Farmers Market Week, so find your local farmer’s market here and find those fresh eggs.

About the Author: Sion (pronounced see-on) is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. She is a native of Queens. Sion’s favorite hobbies include eating, listening to Stevie Wonder, and breaking stereotypes.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Suburban Chickens: Sustainability at Work in My Home

by Mindy Lemoine, Region 3

As a child, I hung out at my grandparents’ farm outside of Ville Platte, LA, where they had chickens, pigs, cows, guinea fowl, a garden, a smokehouse, fruit trees, etc. Now, my house sits on about 1/64th of an acre just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. And just as my grandparents did, every morning I put on my barn coat and walk about 30 steps to feed my two chickens.

Chicken

The chickens, Marshmallow and Speedy, live in a coop tucked discreetly behind my garage. Since the spring, my hens have provided me with one or two eggs daily: sage green from Marshmallow and speckled brown from Speedy.

How did a former country kid, who grew up to be a scientist living in the suburbs, start keeping chickens? As a child, I loved to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. While living outside of Philadelphia, one day my nephew offered me his hens because he was moving and had no place to keep them. I jumped at the opportunity to return to my farm roots and put more of my sustainability views into practice. I was fortunate: thanks to an enlightened elected official who was a fellow chicken lover, my township allowed residents to keep chickens.

The space behind my garage had a nice 6×18-foot fenced-in area that was perfect for keeping my girls safe.

Aside from the fresh eggs, one of the delights of owning suburban chickens is that neighbors and their children stop by to visit my hens.

Because of my work at EPA, I know the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills. My hens know something about that, too, because they get excited about the old rice, carrot peelings, food scraps, toast crusts, etc., that I feed to them.

The food scraps that the chickens don’t eat, and other things like coffee grounds and egg shells, are a great addition to my compost pile. The hens help out with the compost as well: their droppings provide a rich source of nutrients that will eventually help nourish my garden. Compost reduces the amount of fertilizer, weed killer and water that my garden needs – a model of sustainability!

The hens are part of the family, and the next generation has arrived. I have four adorable fuzzy baby chicks peeping under a heat lamp in my basement! But as a mom, the best thing about owning chickens is pictures of my son and his friends with chickens sitting on their heads!

About the author: Mindy Lemoine is a Life Scientist and Pollution Prevention Coordinator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. A native of Opelousas, Louisiana, Mindy grew up rambling in the woods and fields with her siblings and developed an abiding curiosity about what might be living in that ditch. She holds an MS in Geography from Louisiana State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Running Around With Chickens

By Amy Miller

My family bought eight chickens. The good news is they are all hens. The odds of getting a rooster when you go out to buy hens are one in 10 so we were off to a good start. We got the four Buff Orpingtons and four Americaunas because my 9-year-old son loves tractors, animals and especially birds. Too bad he doesn’t love eggs. And too bad I grew up in the 17th floor penthouse before urban chickens were trendy.

No matter. I am a romantic and I live in Maine now.

So my cartoonist husband designed a cartoony coop and his strong and handy brother built it. I used my new power tools and some neighborhood men to build the pen. And voila. Chickens outside our paint-chipped in-town Victorian.

Of course now the facts of fowl care are coming out. Chickens cost more to feed and house than the eggs we would have bought. Between the price of feed, wire, and initial coop investment. You can expect to spend as much as $8 a dozen, depending on your feed and infrastructure. But selling or bartering with eggs can change the equation. They only lay during lighter months, and even though the chickens supposedly don’t need much care, there are the hidden demands.

Like what? Like the chickens dig in the dirt, constantly, so a buried fence is no longer buried after a month. And sometimes chickens peck at each other till they bleed and have to be separated. And oh yes, you better cover the top of the pen because even though chickens don’t really fly, hawks can come down for a meal. And God forbid you let the chickens out to play, you can bet a frisky neighborhood dog will wander by.

And raising your own eggs reduces the cost of fuel for shipping, improves life for the birds, gives you a connection to the source of your food and lets you feel at least partly self-sufficient.

I have no regrets. Because now I have somewhere to throw my apple cores, mushy grapes and overgrown bean plants. I have birds that cluck when they hear me coming. And my son has his very own mini 4-H club.
And soon I will get beautiful white eggs from the Buffs, blue Easter-like eggs from the Americaunas and fluffy omelets tastier than I’ve ever had.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.