Watch out kittens and puppies, chickens are quickly becoming the new “pet” of choice. Backyard chicken coops are growing in numbers, and not just on the outskirts of town. While urban farming isn’t a new concept, it has grown in popularity over the last few years. I spoke with Bill Bezuk who started The Eugene Backyard Farmer, about the popularity of backyard chickens. Even he was shocked by the trend, “I have seen a major increase in backyard chicken keeping. Everyone knew that this year was going to be big, but nobody knew it was going to be this big.” The Eugene Backyard Farmer has already sold twice as many chicks this year then all of last year. According to Bezuk, “hatcheries around the country are overwhelmed with demand and are having a tough time getting chicks to all the farm stores.”
It is quickly becoming the norm, as unemployment rates as well as food and fuel costs are on the rise, turning city slickers into backyard farmers. I have friends and family members who have backyard coops. I suspect it is due to the many benefits they provide, such as: knowing where your eggs come from, superior nutritiously and better tasting, similar maintenance to other family pets, free fertilizer and chemical-free pest control, not to mention free fun and educational backyard entertainment for the whole family!
Before you run out and buy a flock, there are rules and regulations that come with urban chickens. Here is the official city code on the subject: Eugene Code 9.5250 Farm Animal Standards (1) (a) states: up to 2 adult rabbits or hens (no roosters) over 6 months of age are allowed in any residential zone. Currently, City Council has suspended enforcement of the two hen limitation within this section of the code. No roosters are ever allowed, and initiate the most complaints against chicken owners, so make sure to purchase sexed pullets (I’ll let you look this one up for yourself) for the best chance to raise only hens. All other nuisance and zoning code sections still apply. Basically as a resident, you are allowed a maximum of 2 hens (although this seems to be flexible), no roosters and they must be kept 20 feet from dwellings.
Full grown chickens produce an egg a day throughout most of their productive years. While I was shocked to learn that a chicken can lay an egg a day, that doesn’t come close to producing enough eggs, when you only have two hens. Especially for a larger family that relies heavily on the eggs produced. That is one reason why the city council has suspended the two hen limitation….for the time being. City nuisance officials only enforce the number when neighbors complain. If you live in Springfield however, this won’t be a problem as Springfield allows residents to keep four hens.
The benefits of having your own chickens are obvious, but urban farming doesn’t come cheap. Just like a garden, there are associated costs and upkeep that come with backyard chicken coops. Not to mention you have to have the yard space to dedicate. However, according to Bezuk, “once your backyard flock is established the upkeep and maintenance is minimal.” When I asked Bezuk about the money side of it, he said “the biggest cost is the start-up, specifically the coop. You can keep your cost down by reusing materials.” If you aren’t up for the task of building your own coop, you can purchase pre-built chicken coops (average price ranges from $300-$400).
Once you have the coop ready, it’s time to get the chickens. Here is where some other minimal costs factor in. Bezuk said “raising baby chicks costs about $80 (that includes 5 chicks, brooder light, bedding, feed, waterer and feeder). Once they are outside, the cost of feeding them is minimal. In addition to kitchen scrapes, they eat a standard layer ration. The layer blend is designed for backyard hens and they eat about a pound of feed per week per bird.” Not bad considering what you get in return. “So a backyard flock of 5 hens will produce over 2 dozen eggs a week with a feed cost of about $2.50 per week,” Bezuk went on to tell me.
With minimal maintenance and low long-term costs, I can easily see why backyard chicken coops are so popular and why they will continue to grow in popularity. Not to mention as Bill Bezuk told me, they generally improve a person’s quality of life on a number of levels. Like I said, look out puppies and kittens….chickens are moving in.
The Eugene Backyard Farmer
501 Washington St
Eugene, OR 97401