Joanne Free Range Chicken and EggsWe Adopted an Urban Chicken

The opportunity came about when a friend emailed to say that her parents were winding down household maintenance and have been relocating their animals, namely rabbits and a hen. The hen was still available and we agreed to take her in. She came with some feed, a large steel cage and lots of friendly advice. I’d often talked about having some hens in the city and this was good timing. A chance to experience, learn and act on gradually producing our own food.

The Floor Plan for the Back Yard

We agreed on a date and time to relocate Joanne (the egg laying hen). The night before, I set up a pen with chicken wire and used tree branches (left over from pruning) with axe tapered ends for posts. Total cost was around $60 for 50 feet of chicken wire, feed and a rake. That was easy.

We have a fairly large lot comparatively in the community, but the back yard, which is fenced, is only about 600 square feet. This space accommodates composting, pear trees and a garden of tomatoes, sweet peppers, black berries, herbs and two rain barrels…and now, Joanne.

Everything had to fit leaving space to move around the yard, enjoy meals alfresco and morning espresso. It’s all working out. The back yard space is like a little haven in the city with lots of birds, butterflies and bumble bees. Sometimes this space is my office.

Back Yard Floor Plan

The Hen’s Pen Maintenance

Within the Hen’s Pen, the dirt pile adjacent to the compost pile serves a few purposes. Joanne loves to dig it up throughout the day. In the evening I just rake it back into a pile and she’ll have fun with it again tomorrow.

The other purpose for the dirt pile is “light” composting. When cleaning out the cage main bedding of straw and paper, that goes right into the main compost, but the raking of the pen and any bits lettuce and watermelon rinds go into the dirt pile. The organics from the raking is a small amount, so it won’t cause any odor. The main compost in the corner always has a cover of grass clippings from mowing the lawn which is a very effective odor suppressant.

The hen pen is cleaned about every two days or as soon as a few blow flies start buzzing around. Hey, it’s an urban back yard, not a farm, so keep it tidy and respect your neighbors.

Joanne's First Free Range Egg

Day three, her first egg! That’s the seal of approval.

Chicken behavior 101 – When she’s happy, she’ll lay an egg a day. At dusk, by nature she goes into the cage (tarp covered). The door is closed and latched, safe from any predators.

Feed is relatively inexpensive and called “laymash”, made for egg laying hens. Of course no antibiotics or growth hormones…that’s what it’s all about. Noise has been very minimal. When she does speak, far less piercing then most any dog’s bark. We’ll likely have some kind of mini custom coop built for her with reclaimed wood. Chickens are fine outdoors all year round only requiring shelter from the elements, clean bedding, water and feed.

By the way, most city folk think you have to have a rooster for hens to produce eggs. Not so. No cock-a-doodle-doo at sunrise. Your neighbors will like that.

Pock, pock, pock!

Have a Plan B

What my neighbors think matters. Particularly in an urban setting where density is a factor. So there was always a plan B. I told my neighbor about our new guest and introduced Joanne. Since my neighbor grew up where having chickens was common, they actually seemed delighted. All is good.

You don’t need a lot of experience and hens are relatively low maintenance.

Nutritional Quality of Free Range Eggs

The nutritional quality of a free range egg will knock your socks off.

Here are some interesting notables comparing eggs (USDA nutrient data for commercial eggs) of caged hens to eggs from hens that peck in a pasture.

Eggs from hens raised on a pasture may contain:

  • 4 to 6 times more vitamin D than mass produced eggs from your local supermarket
  • 1⁄3 less cholesterol
  • 1⁄4 less saturated fat
  • 2⁄3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene

Source: Mother Earth News

In the first few days, it’s been a great experience. Joanne is happy and shows her appreciation by bearing the gift of a nutritious egg. I know what she eats, I know how’s she’s treated. That matters.

Doing the Math

An egg a day doesn’t sound like much, but a single happy hen is equal to about 30 dozen eggs a year. We’ll still buy free range eggs from our local farmer. At $5 dollars a dozen, it’s a far better “nutritional value” then supermarket eggs and those 30 thirty dozen eggs from Joanne have a value of about $150 dollars. That ought to cover the feed.

Costing isn’t such a big deal at the moment. Learning is.

Scrambled Eggs – Learn about the Egg Industry


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