Grit Blogs > Whitaker Gardens and Micro-Farm

Raising Backyard Chickens

Tobias WhitakerInitially when our family moved into our home nearly 10 years ago, I was under the impression that it was “illegal” for us to own chickens. Our property is located in a unique position within our community. Our home is within village limits. If you take a moment and walk across the street right in front of our home you are in “the country,” in other words you can own livestock on one side of the road but not the other.

Our leghorns exploring their new homeOur leghorns exploring their new home.

At first I was content to comply with the local ordinances but as my family’s level of self-sufficiency began to grow, I started to become irritated at the thought that there were laws in place to restrict my ability to produce food for my family. So I decided to go ahead and get a few hens regardless of the potential consequences.

I drove to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, to pick them up. As I was driving home, I decided to stop by the lumber store to get some supplies for a coop while I had the birds in the van. As I was loading lumber into the vehicle, a local village official parked next to me and we engaged in some small talk. While this was taking place one of the hens let out a cackle and laid an egg in the van. We both stared at one another for a moment, and I went on my way feeling a bit more nervous about my open rebellion.

When I first brought the leghorns home, they were living in a frugal coop made out of chicken wire and recycled wood pallets. I built the whole thing for about $20. In the meantime, I was trying, very unsuccessfully, to build a coop with a run in the yard. As fate would have it, some close friends of ours had four hens and were getting ready to head south for the winter. In exchange for watching their birds for the season, they offered to build us a 4-by-4-foot coop with a 12-by-x4-foot run. How could I say no? 

Our new coop fit snug between the apple trees.  

Our new coop fit snug between the apple trees. 

Right around the time that they were delivering the coop, I received a response from a gentleman whom I had contacted in the mayor’s office in an attempt to get them to “legalize” chickens. He, in fact, informed me that there were a few ordinances in place but that it was completely legal to own chickens. My days of clandestine chicken ownership were now well behind me, if they had ever existed at all.

We have a total of eight hens. Seven of them actually lay eggs. Feed tends to cost well under $20 a month. Part of this has to do with the fact that they eat a number of our leftovers. This January (2015) our birds produced 193 eggs, just over 16 dozen! In our neck of the woods, free-range eggs sell for $4.59 a dozen or about 38 cents an egg. That would mean our chickens produced about $73.34 in eggs in January alone. On occasion we sell a dozen. Our goal is not to make money but to cover feed cost.

I will admit it would take some serious egg selling to cover the cost of the coop we were so graciously provided with by our talented friends. There is also the reality that eventually laying hens slow down on egg production and when space is limited, decisions have to be made, but when you consider the health benefits of farm fresh eggs, the occasional income and the responsibility it helps nurture in young children what is not to like about backyard chickens? 

Chicken manure is also great for the garden once composted

Chicken manure is also great for the garden once composted.