The amount of attention and care that families spend on their chickens shows that chickens are a labor of love, much as any family pet. Every hen I visited on the Tour de Cluck had a name, and each owner assured me that their “girls” all have their own personalities. Some of the chicken coops were woodworking pieces of art.
Chicken stories are showing up in all types of mainstream media. Feature articles have appeared recently in The New Yorker (Susan Orlean’s home chickens), the New York Times (why Americans raise chickens; women in Berkeley who raise chickens); and a book review of raising chickens in the city), and in the CA&ES Outlook alumni magazine where I work at UC Davis – the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (backyard chicken farming, page 10).
Chickens aren’t difficult to manage, but like raising any animal, the prospective chicken owner should know what he or she is taking on, and should be a responsible animal owner. While it may be fun to muse over the fancy breeds, or to salivate over the thought of fresh omelets each day, it’s important to learn about housing, nutrition, health, local ordinances (which may limit the number of hens and/or the ability to keep roosters), and other pertinent topics.
Where to get information?
- Bookstore shelves are awash with chicken-raising books. Check your local bookstore or online book source. There are even chicken-raising books in the “idiot’s” and “dummies” series (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Chickens; Raising Chickens for Dummies; and Building Chicken Coops for Dummies).
- Sunset magazine has a useful list of books on raising chickens
- Sunset magazine also has a free download on how to raise chickens
- Backyard Poultry is a popular bimonthly magazine with special topics each month (breeds, health, nutrition, etc.).
- Your local Cooperative Extension or 4-H office should be able to match you up with chicken-raising resources. Here are two University of California sites with information on raising chickens: UC Davis Poultry Page, and ANR publications.
Whatever your reason for raising chickens — and the reasons are many — do your homework first and make sure you get the proper supplies and the breeds that will give you years of pleasure . . . and fresh eggs.