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Raising Chickens in the City: Eggs as Close as Your Back Yard

By Anna Matetic 

Mimi Holmes, a member of the Wedge co-op, became intrigued by the idea of raising her own chickens after attending the Northland Bioneers Conference in 2008. "A healthy, happy chicken," said Holmes, "you're going to just feel better about eating the eggs you get from them." For Holmes, the learning process included attending classes and reading books about keeping a coop. 

In the Twin Cities, there is a fee involved with the initial application and with the annual renewals. In applying for a permit, Holmes recommends to apply for more hens than you think you are going to have. "If you want to expand [your coop]," she explained, "[then] you don't have to re-apply for a permit." Also plan for expansion when you design your coop. Holmes' coop was built to accommodate only five hens and thus cannot expand without building an entirely new coop and run. Space for hens is important. "When they are too close together," she said, "They can start pecking each other." 

In general, chickens lay six eggs a week. However, this cycle is connected to daylight. "They typically quit laying eggs in the winter," said Holmes, "unless you give them supplemental light." Holmes alleviates this problem by using a light connected to a timer. The light comes on at 3:00 a.m., goes off at 8:00 a.m., and makes the "daylight" longer. 

In addition to light, Minnesota winters make it crucial to keep the chickens somewhat warm. A well-insulated coop will help, as does the chicken's own body heat, for cold temperatures. But when the mercury heads south of freezing, assistance is needed. Holmes uses a thermostat in her coop, which automatically turns on if the temperatures go below freezing. Chickens are also prone to frostbite on their combs. "When it's really cold," she said, "some people put Vaseline on it [to prevent this]." 

Before designing your backyard coop, Holmes also suggests visiting other coops. "The Twin Cities sponsors a chicken coop tour," she said, "and usually about 12-20 coop owners participate." This event usually happens in the early fall each year. "It's a great way to talk to people about different chicken breeds," she said, "and see different setups." 

"I'd say joining the Twin Cities Chicken listserv is a great thing," she added. This resource connects new chicken owners with more experienced members of the community. "Having a community of support with people who are a little more experienced is really important," said Holmes. 

Instead of taking on the task solo, Holmes enlisted some neighbors to form a "coop co-op." With a co-op, you spread the cost and the work. But you need to be clear with each other on expectations and what neighbors hope to receive. Vacations are not a problem since the others cover and take care of the chickens while someone is away. 

Since Holmes and her neighbors were new to taking care of chickens, they elected to get five older chickens that had already reached the age where they could lay eggs. Getting a chicken close to the age when they lay eggs also ensures you know what you are getting. "You know they're all girl chickens," Holmes explained, "and they're called a pullet when they lay eggs." This determination is more difficult to make with chicks. 

Holmes gets more than eggs from her coop. She gets community, entertainment and education. Her neighbors have become a closer community that has expanded itself beyond just working with the chickens. "I have just come to know these neighbors so much better due to this," said Holmes, "and we really help each other out." She helps one neighbor with grocery shopping and another neighbor taught Holmes how to make kombucha. 

Holmes' group keeps five chickens from four different breeds: Leghorn, Phoenix, Buff Orpingtons and Polish. "It's fun to see where all those words that are in our language come from," she said. "[The chickens do] form a pecking order." There will be the main chicken and a lieutenant. One chicken is always on the lowest rung. "Typically in a group of hens," she explained, "the one with the lowest rank doesn't lay eggs." Holmes' group is atypical since all five chickens produce eggs. Since the chickens were purchased together, they already knew each other. "They get a long pretty darn well," said Holmes. 

When the weather turns warm, she brings the chickens into her yard, and receives a lot of interest from passers-by. "I just feel like I've become a chicken missionary," she said. "I'm always happy to talk to them about chickens." 

Anna Matetic is a Rochester-based freelance writer.  


Raising Urban Chickens: Understanding the Basics 

By Jennifer Harmening

Urban chicken laws vary from city to city in Minnesota. Recent laws have made it easier for residents to raise backyard chickens in the Twin Cities, and many neighbors are taking advantage of the opportunity for fresh eggs and a closer connection to their food supply. If you are interested in following this trend with your very own flock, it's important to understand the legal basics in your community. 

Remember, however, that local regulations are constantly evolving. Use the resources here to stay abreast of new developments and find additional details about raising urban chickens in your area. St. Paul and Minneapolis aren't the only cities allowing backyard chickens these days. Wherever you call home, call your local animal control agency for information about your own community's chicken regulations. Reprinted with permission from Do It Green! Minnesota,


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