By Lisa Sadler
Backyard chickens bring homegrown food right into Steamboat Springs’ yards. Raising fowl is an endeavor with deliciously good results on many levels.
I always wanted chickens in my yard. There is something strangely romantic about having clucking hens nibbling around the grass, scratching, eating, fertilizing and ultimately, providing nutritionally dense, school-bus-orange yolks in their beautiful, colorful eggs.
Inside Steamboat’s city limits, we’re allowed five hens – no roosters.
My initial quest for backyard chickens started when I was going through chemo in 2003 and tried to soothe my fears and woes by compulsively shopping eBay at wee hours of the morning, purchasing way more vintage feeders than a yard of chickens could ever use. It was years later before I realized my dream to become a small backyard farmer.
Chickens first arrived at the little downtown “urban” farm, where my fiancé, Antonio, and I live, in the summer of 2011. The flock of five hens consisted of older birds, some still giving an egg a day, others giving one egg every other day. They moved into a little pen in our greenhouse structure and right off the bat we learned about the “shrinkability” of skunks. A wee one squeezed in through a 3” slot in the fencing, and the chickens, at 2 a.m., began screaming, bringing us out of our beds to the rescue. Luckily no one was harmed but one chicken did acquire her name that night – Stinky.
The next day, the pen was buttoned up from floor to ceiling with chicken wire. Skunks, along with dogs, foxes, raccoons and bears, are a threat to your chickens. Some critters will burrow under the fencing, so digging about a foot down to bury more fencing is highly recommended. You’ll acquire a sweet affinity for your birds and you’ll rest comfortably if you know they’re closed in safely from dusk to dawn.
There are many ways, from simple to elaborate, to keep chickens happy and safe in your yard. You can buy or build a mobile hen house with an attached “run” on wheels that can be moved about your yard. These are referred to as “chicken tractors.” The advantage is that the birds will have access to all flat areas of your yard, acting as a continual form of fertilizer.
Chicken housing does not need to be very big, but does need to have a perch where the chickens can roost overnight. Several nesting boxes are also needed so they can lay their eggs during the day. The nesting boxes only need to be as big as the hen herself and you can use your imagination as to what she can nest in – straw, grass clippings, wood shavings. Placing your nesting boxes directly under the roost and painting the top with a high gloss paint makes for easy removal of the poop that accumulates overnight.
If the run is not enclosed with a roof, you might want to clip some of the long under-feathers on one of their wings to keep them from flying over the fence. This is called “wing clipping” and many videos on YouTube can walk you through the process.
A local source for chicks is Elk River Pet and Ranch where, in the spring, you can purchase a handful that will begin laying eggs at around six months old. The store will help you get set up for raising your chicks, but you’ll need to have a designated space with a heat lamp and room to safely run around.
Chickens need fresh water daily and scraps from your kitchen are greatly appreciated, however they will forage for much of what they need in your yard. We also supplement with an organic feed, which is free of genetically engineered corn and soy.
Chose a variety of breeds so you get a variety of colors in the eggs they produce. And have fun with names. I know of a family that let their preschooler name their chickens after his favorite things – Rock Climbing and Bathtub.