Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Raising Chickens at Home

"Love and eggs are best when they are fresh."
Russian Proverb

The idea of raising chickens has always appealed to me. What could be more idyllic than gathering fresh eggs hatched by happy chickens wandering around your garden?

So, when I learned many homeowners were raising poultry these days, I turned to Melissa McCanna of Kingston, Washington to find out why. Her family has raised chickens for three years. It all started when the oldest son Aaron (now 14 years old) brought home two chicks he'd hatched for a science project.

"He thought they were hens, but they turned out to be roosters," recalls Melissa. "So, we got a handful of hens to keep the roosters from fighting. Then, a framer working on the house, brought over six more hens to balance out the rooster-to-hen ratio."

One thing led to another. Now 17 chickens -- with names like Pepper, Granola, Hot Tamale and King Kong -- are wandering around the McCanna gardens. Nutmeg (above) is an Old English Game Bantam. Quite an elegant lady, don't you think?

The fresh eggs are a big plus for raising chickens. And the eggs are both a health issue and a philosophical one for the family, which also includes husband James, 12-year-old Sean and 10-year-old Maria.

"Knowing our eggs came from happy, healthy chickens is important to us," explains Melissa. "It's great to have fresh eggs that we know don't have hormones or chemicals added to them."

The variety of eggs is wonderful too. Nutmeg and the other bantams lay small tan eggs. The Rhode Island Reds hatch brown eggs of various shades and sizes. But these three Ameraucana Pullets chicks (Ginger, Eggy and Greg) will some day produce blue eggs.

"We're also thinking about getting a few Cuckoo Marans," adds Melissa. "They hatch dark chocolate brown eggs. But regardless of the colors, all the eggs taste great."

After three years of living with chickens, the McCanna household considers them part of the family now. If you're thinking of raising poultry yourself, here are tips from Melissa:
  • "Get a good chicken coop to keep your chickens safe," she advises. "Eglu coops are neat, but rather expensive. It's easy to build your own." Here are tips for building a chicken house from Grit Magazine editor Hank Will.
  • "Check city and county codes to make certain you're allowed to raise chickens," says Melissa. "Some cities permit hens but not roosters. Also make certain your neighbors won't mind living next to roosters, which can be quite loud at times."
  • "If you can, invest in at least one rooster to guard hens against predators," she suggests. "Our chocolate lab Java also helps keep the chickens out of the forest."
Want to learn more about raising backyard poultry? Don't miss these resources:
  • CommunityChickens.com: A joint service from Grit Magazine and Mother Earth News, this helpful site is packed with everything you need to know about raising chickens.
  • UrbanChickens.org: More advice on backyard poultry, with a special focus on urban chickens.


  1. I seriously want to raise backyard chickens. A childhood friend of mine got some this year and I've been talking to her a lot about it. 2 things are holding me back - the responsibility of raising animals (we don't have any pets, as we travel to family often on weekends, etc) and the space it would take up from our small backyard. And the fact that I have an awesome source of local eggs about 2 miles from us and I love supporting them. Great post!

  2. Alyssa: Those are all excellent points to consider. The travel is the biggest concern, as they are making small coops for urban spaces now. But if you have a great local source for eggs, then you're all set anyway. Thanks for stopping by... Teresa

  3. Depending upon the predator, the rooster may also be easy prey, too, so for that reason, people new to chicken raising shouldn't think the rooster is the solution! I raise geese -- much and more apt to hurt something meaning to do them harm -- but, I still need to be cautious!

  4. Hi Islandgardener: Good feedback. I know some foxes got into the chickens down the way from us. So it certainly seems like a good idea to look at ways to protect your chickens from predators. Thanks for stopping by. Teresa

  5. Nice post. We are enjoying our baby chicks so far.

  6. Hi Kim and Victoria: Thanks for stopping by. I've enjoyed reading about your new chicks Tootsie, Jelly Bean and Ginger too. Just another example of chickens coming to the 'burbs. Teresa

  7. What an excellent post. I can tell you're a freelance writer because you wrote this like a real story. Does my editor heart good!

    Just found you on blotanical, but I'm going to be a follower now.

  8. The Impatient Gardener: Thanks for your nice comments. Always glad to make an editor's heart feel good. (Or anyone else for that matter...) Seriously, I have enjoyed your blog as well, and hope you'll come again.


  9. Hi...I came by from Victoria's blog. I am in North Central Idaho.
    I miss having chickens. We plan to have some again when hubby retires in a few years.

  10. Hi Connie: Nice to meet you. From the looks of your blog, it looks like spring has arrived to your lovely garden in North Central Idaho. Enjoy this wonderful season. Hope you'll come again.