How to Keep Chickens Healthy and Happy in An Urban Backyard
Increasingly, urban dwellers are choosing to raise chickens and embrace their inner farmer. There’s good reason for this — hens are the smallest of the domestic farm animals and the easiest to keep in a backyard. They are friendly birds that lay eggs and contribute nutrients to the compost pile. That said, chickens only thrive if they are provided with the right environment and care.
Home Sweet Home: Setting Up the Coop
Your chickens should live in a coop, but before you set up shop, keep this in mind: Chickens need more space than you may think. Set aside four square feet of floor space per hen, minimum. Less than that and hens will have behavioral issues, such as feather picking and bullying. Even if you have a small backyard, it’s not a great idea to keep just one hen. Chickens are flock animals and need to be with others of their kind. Start with a minimum of three chicks. By the way, a rooster is not necessary for the hens to lay eggs or to get along with each other. It’s okay to keep it to just girls in that urban flock.
The coop should have height, too; a low box won’t cut it. Hens don’t sleep in nests, but on roosts. Since chickens have best friends, they like to cozy up next to each other (and stay away from the hens that they don’t like). At bedtime your chickens will jostle for a favorite spot next to their buddies. Ideally, the coop should accommodate several roosts at different heights. A wooden ladder, leaning against the wall — make sure to attach it so it doesn’t fall — makes an excellent roost. Plan on a minimum of six linear inches per hen. The lowest roost should be at least eighteen inches off of the floor of the coop. This is because chickens poop (a lot!) when they sleep. Chicken manure is 75 percent liquid, which evaporates and dampens the air in the coop. As the manure decomposes, it gives off ammonia fumes. You don’t want your flock breathing any of that in as they sleep, because too much exposure can lead to respiratory diseases. The further from the manure the girls are, the more healthy the environment.