We started keeping hens in the Spring of 2011. We have two Aracaunas, two Silver Laced Wyandottes and one Australorp. We picked up baby chicks from Belmont Feed and Seed in Chicago and rode home with the box on our bikes. Keeping chickens for eggs in Chicago is legal; however, raising them for meat is not.
The first step in chicken-keeping is to set up a brooder box for the young chicks. This requires a cardboard box, heat lamp, bedding (like pine shavings, sawdust, shredded newspaper) and a water and feed tray. When you first bring home your chicks, you’ll have to show them where the water is by placing their beaks in the water bowl. Once they realize you are not trying to kill them, they go for the water on their own.
After several weeks, the chicks will be ready to move outside. You’ll need to build a coop and a run. The coop is simply a dry, safe place for the birds to roost at night, lay their eggs, and keep their food and water. The run is the outdoor area where they can stretch their legs and scratch for bugs. A good rule of thumb is 4 square feet per bird for the coop and 6 square feet per bird for the run. The coop requires a roosting bar and a nesting box, and the run must be enclosed in wire mesh to keep out predators. All the books we read advised using 1/2″ hardware cloth, but we used chicken wire anyway. So far, no raccoon or fox invasions have occurred.
We got our first eggs approximately 6 months after the chicks came to live with us, and electricity came to the coop that first winter, when we learned that hens need at least 12 hrs of light per day to stimulate egg production. At their most productive time of the year (spring) each hen lays nearly an egg a day. Since there are only two of us, we enjoy sharing our “egg-stras” with friends and neighbors.
Random Chicken Trivia:
from Bambi Edlund’s illustration for the Spring 2012 Edible Chicago magazine
- It is estimated that there are four chickens to every human on the planet.
- The egg carton was invented in 1911 by newspaper editor Joseph Coyle in Smithers, B.C.
- The older the hen, the larger the eggs she lays.
- An egg standing on its end can bear up to 200 lbs.
- A fresh egg sinks in a bowl of water, an old egg floats.
- If you can’t remember which eggs you cooked spin them. If the egg spins quickly, it is hard boiled, if it spins slowly and wobbles, it’s raw.
- DNA evidence suggests chickens are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
- Chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs. Chickens with red earlobes lay brown eggs.