Crops that Cluck: Raising Chickens at Home

Ever thought about raising your own eggs but were too chicken to try it? Here are a few homegrown lessons from an urban homesteader in Berkeley, California.

As more and more Berkeley residents bring hens home to roost, a question forms in embryo: What’s the scoop on backyard chicken coops?

Photo credit: Tana Wood

You might be mesmerized by the bright orange yolks of farmers market eggs, but nothing’s fresher (or more local) than eggs from your own backyard. Tana Wood, who keeps a coop in North Oakland, says her five hens together lay three or four a day. Berkeleyans can scoop up coops from places like Ranch Hag Hens, or you could build your own. (Make sure they’re secure and predator-proof: as Tana learned the hard way, raccoons pose a real risk to chicks.)

Hens are happiest – and their eggs the tastiest – if they’re getting their greens and grubs. Tana feeds her flock pellets from Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, but she makes sure to supplement with weeds from the garden and kale from the compost, and she likes to let them scrounge for worms. To score extra fare for your fowl, stop by farmer’s markets and ask for any discarded produce. One customer comes by Lucero and relays her birds’ request for any smooshed strawberries; the chickens don’t mind if they’re not of chocolate-dipping quality (just be sure they’re not moldy).

Eggs aside, chickens provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer to complement your compost. Once they stop laying, some owners will send their fowl to slaughter; to which others, considering their chickens as members of the family, might cry foul. The folks in this video belong to the former camp, but have plenty to say about raising little chicks.

Have you tried raising chickens? Or if perhaps this post has got you feeling peckish: what are your favorite egg recipes?

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