I consider myself to be a person of well-rounded capabilities and interests. So when my folks mentioned that they wanted to raise chickens, I immediately pounced on the idea.
This isn’t my family’s first foray into egg and poultry farming. When I was younger (the exact time period escapes me, since my innate abilities to block out unpleasantries has clouded my memory), my parents owned chickens. We all schlepped down to a farm in the South Bay to pick up some fruit trees and some chicks. I don’t recall the details of the chick acquisition, but I do remember when the chickens invaded our backyard. Prior to the arrival of the talon-wielding, perpetually-shitting, predators of all that is clean, I loved our backyard. I would kick soccer balls and throw tennis balls into a net on one side of the yard. I played basketball as James Naismith originally envisioned–chucking a basketball into a crate doubling as a hoop. I even had an old skateboard, discovered at the Toys R Us for the creative (aka the dump), which I used to mindlessly roll around in circles on the paved square of the yard.
After invasion, however, I never set foot into that yard. The thought of these nasty creatures, crapping all over the place, feverishly dipping their heads forward while armed with their pointy beaks, and shedding their feathers inevitably coated with even more crap—well, let’s just say that this kid didn’t want anything to do with these fowl incubators for avian flu. My parents, however, had much higher aspirations for the birds. Every day, they would go out into the yard and scour the grounds for treasures left behind by the birds—not the shit, but rather the eggs.
The birds of my childhood were not great egg-layers. I recall my folks being disappointed with the number of eggs. The eggs we did obtain were oddly-colored (or so I thought at that age). Green tinted, with outrageously orangey yolks, I never ate those eggs. I thought they were nasty. I much preferred the eggs purchased en masse at the store—you know, the eggs produced by chickens stuffed with antibiotics and corn products, who have never seen the sun, have had their beaks clipped, and spend their short lives popping out eggs in a horrendously confined space? Yeah, I liked those eggs. They were white; they were uniform; they were predictable. My parents, however, loved the eggs produced by our chickens. They boasted of the amazing flavors of the fresh eggs. I made wretched faces in response, boldly proclaiming that I would never touch those salmonella-filled harbingers of death.
Then, one day. The chickens were gone. Perhaps they disappeared the same day we had roasted chicken for dinner. I didn’t eat that night.
Fast forward to today, where I am now on a quest to help build the most fantastic chicken coop for my folks. A chicken coop that will make other chickens cluck in jealousy. There is quite a bit of information on the ‘Net for people interested in building their own backyard chicken coops. In fact, local newsman Dan Ashley had this report on the rise of Urban Chickens. Featured in that report were Paul Canavese and Ann Naffziger, an Alameda couple who raise their own backyard chickens (that yield approx. 1900 eggs a year). I did a little Web-stalking and found their web site as well.
Based on my research, I will need to first build (or buy) a chicken coop, and then purchase chicks. As for building a chicken coop, there are quite a few considerations. I’ve seen blueprints, instructions, and/or basic pictures of sample coops built by others on the popular site, Backyard Chickens. From what I understand, there are some basic rules to follow in cooping:
- Protection: Your birds need to be protected from the elements and potential predators. The weather around here is incredibly mild, so we’ll just need something that will keep the birds dry when it rains, and to keep out any unwanted predators (are there raccoons in the Bay?).
- Ventilation: A chicken with fresh air is a happy chicken. And happy chickens produce a crapload of eggs, rather than just crap.
- Light: For optimum egg-laying, chickens also need sunlight. The windows of the coop should thus be facing the south, to ensure maximum chicken tanning. Kind of like Snooki on Jersey Shore. Can I get a fist pump for fake and bake chickens?
- Proper Placement of Food & Water: Chickens apparently like to scratch at everything, including their food. So a good coop has food and water placed just high enough that the chicken can eat/drink, yet are unable to get their grimy claws in.
- Proper Height of Coop: You also want the coop to be off the ground to keep puddles from forming when it rains. Can you imagine what happens if rainwater mixes with chicken shit and ferments over the winter months? Yikes.
- Size: Chickens are like people. They need their space from other chickens. I lived in a 9 ft X 12 ft cell in law school (with cinder block walls–not dissimilar to prison). Chickens, being significantly smaller than me, only need about 5 sq ft per bird in the coop, and another 8-10 sq ft outside the coop.
- Nests: The coop also needs to contain nests for the birds to lay their eggs in. Basic straw will do.
- Ingenuity: Finally, the coop needs to be easily cleaned. Birds crap a lot. And I mean a lot. You’ll need to build a coop that can easily be hosed down, e.g. with a removable floor. Get some rubber gloves. Because cleaning the shit will be as nasty as it sounds.
That’s it for coop-building. Perhaps tomorrow, I will research the types of chickens to obtain. How disturbing would it be if we got the chicks and named them Tyson, Purdue, and Foster Farms? Awesome.
Oh, and if NPH or Tina Fey want some fresh eggs, contact me in about 3 months. I can ship you some eggs, wrapped in a beautiful script.
Discover me, Tina Fey & NPH!!!