Urban chicken farming is pretty trendy these days, and I’m glad for it. It’s fun to raise your own food, and it’s one step beyond gardening toward breaking away from the industrialized food system. I’m lucky to live in a city where there’s almost no resistance to urban poultry; we have no limits on quantity or required distances from neighbor’s property (though roosters are not allowed in city limits). I was quoted extensively on the topic in the article Raise Backyard Chickens without Ruffling Neighbors’ Feathers on Houzz.com.
We built our coop three winters ago; the “blueprint” was a drawing I sketched on the back of a bank statement, and it was built with a combination of materials resourcefulness, my husband’s good carpentry knowledge, and some best guesses.
Since our chickens would be living in such close proximity to the house, we wanted animals that were fun to look at. “Chicken TV,” we called it. But we weren’t willing to give any free rides either, so they had to be good layers. And finally, since we were going to have some “fancy” breeds with poor eyesight (Polish hens), they all had to be very docile. We ended up with NINE chickens, 2 Silver-laced Wyandottes, 2 Light Brahmas, 2 Buff Polish, 2 Silkies, and 1 Americauna.
That was too many chickens for a backyard coop. It became quickly apparent that the Wyandottes (large beautiful birds) had too strong personalities for our flock, as they quickly started bullying the others. At a couple of months old, they were easy to rehome. The remaining 7 have lived (mostly) harmoniously together for the past 3 years. We assumed raccoons and illness would claim a few more, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Chickens have a short window of active egg-laying. After two years, egg production starts to decrease, from 4-5 eggs/week to 1 or 2, or none for weeks at a time. So that’s where we’re at. We’ve got a lot of free-loaders who aren’t earning their organic layer pellets. It’s time to raise some new chicks and integrate younger blood into our flock, but that means decreasing the number of the old gals.
And here’s the challenge for us. They’re somewhere between farm animals and pets. I mean, they have names.
And since we chose “cute” chickens, it’s that much harder to cull the flock. Despite my best intentions to stay unattached, I’m…attached.
If we’re going to make chicken-raising a sustainable food source, then we need to buck up and be willing to use the chickens for a different type of food when egg laying slows, and not feel guilty about it. Because they’re not pets. Based on this logic, we need to keep those that are still laying well, and cull those that have slowed down.
Urban chicken farmers out there, I need to hear from you. How do YOU cull your flock? Do you butcher yourself? Do you euthanize and dispose? Do you use a local butcher? Or do you accept that these birds are now pets and keep feeding them until their natural life comes to an end? I would LOVE your feedback.