a visit with the city chickens

I had a recent visit with my friends in Cincinnati who just started raising chickens — it was enlightening! My friends live in a fairly urban area, so while they have a yard, it’s a small one. But they still managed to build two spacious, double-decker coops and scratching yards for a total of nine chickens. All the chickens are hens, so there’s no crowing to disturb the neighbors. The noise the chickens made was pretty minor; no louder than any other bird singing.

The birds were exceedingly cute, I thought (as you can see by my face in the photo) and obviously well cared for by their owners — they all have names, too, like Blondie and Roadrunner, who you see above. But as my friend Chris said, “People shouldn’t think of the chickens as pets. They provide food. They are very defenseless. You will lose one now and again to something that wants to eat them. It’s best to remember that they are livestock.” He knows what he’s talking about — one of the chickens managed to get out of the first enclosure that was built, and was quickly dispatched by a dog. Another had such a close call that they dubbed her “Stir-Fry,” as they worried that would be where she ended up. My friends have since beefed up “security” (six-foot-high chicken wire fences, better latches).

As for my dream of having fresh eggs all the time, as more of the hens reach maturity, my friends are getting a few more eggs every day. We tried some, and they were delicious. Now — how to build a Mastiff-proof hen enclosure? –Mary T.

Click for a short interview with my friend Chris about his city chickens.

Shelterrific: Where did you get the chickens?
Chris: For the adults, we went to a local farm that does educational programs for kids. They have different hens and roosters together. They end up with more hens than they need and will sell them; you just go into the run and catch the ones you want. If you take it home and it ends up being a rooster, you bring it back. (The chickens are still young, so sometimes you pick the wrong sex.) It’s $5 per chicken, and they are about old enough to lay or be eaten. The chickens are “mutts” so you don’t know exactly what you’re getting.

For the chicks, we went to a local hatchery. They are $3 each. (By the way, you may hear the term “pullet” — it’s a chicken under a year old.) Ohio State law sets a minimum purchase at six. We bought three Barred Plymouth Rocks (the black and white chickens) and three Araucanas. The one you’re holding in the photo is an Araucana. You don’t pick them; you order them and then go get them or you can have them shipped. The Araucanas will eventually lay a greenish-blue egg and I think the Barred Rocks will lay a brown egg.

S: What do you feed them? Is it expensive?
C: I just bought about two months’ worth of feed for all nine last week. It was about $50 bucks. That included regular feed, cracked corn, and millet. They get some table scraps, too (vegetables and fruit). So food isn’t very expensive.

S: Have you had any issues?
C: The chicks’ area seemed to smell a little. The adults are under a wall of ivy, where a lot of leaves fall, and it creates a mulch. So I put a lot of straw down in the chicks’ area and it seems better now.

From our partners

I would never leave dogs and chickens unattended in the same area; prey + predator = problems

Perhaps you could get one of those REALLY big chainlink dog runs, for the chickens, the kind that are big enough to walk inside, and put the chicken coop in there; if you only had a few hens it would probably be enough space

Mary T

Alison…my comment about the Mastiffs was a joke. : ) If we ever did this, we have two completely separated sections of yard so they’d never have to be in the same area.


Where in Cincinnati are you? We live in Norwood, where neighbors call the Health Department if a shrub can be mistaken for a noxious weed. Love the idea of this, at the least.

Mary T

Hi, Nathan — I lived in Norwood for awhile, too! My friends are actually in Northside. Norwood is its own city, not technically part of the City of Cincinnati, while Northside is part of Cincinnati, so the rules may indeed be different. However, it may be guided by state laws. Go here for more info: http://home.centurytel.net/thecitychicken/chickenlaws.html

Well, I didn’t think that you were really planning on having them share a yard as friends…

but my suggestion about the big dog run was actually serious, I lost a hen (from my open “roof” fenced chicken run) to a young teenage raccoon thug a few weeks ago, and a “varmint” proof enclosure would be pretty helpful

Mary, is that you with the chicken? What a cute picture!

Mary T

Yes, Lisa, that’s me! We try not to post photos on here of ourselves — don’t want to encourage the paparazzi! ; )

alison, that’s a good point! My friends said that among the predators they have to be wary of are hawks. Especially where I live, up on top of a hill, that would be something to think about.

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