5 Things to Know About Owning Chickens in the City



PETER TAYLOR

WHEN I BROUGHT three chicks home last spring, I expected fresh eggs to be the biggest reward. 

But Mildred, Barbara, and Mamie Lee—a Barred Rock, Columbian Wyandotte, and Easter Egger—have also become beloved family pets, following me around, perching on the porch swing, peering in the window and eating mealworms out of my hands. 

My fascination with a backyard flock is not unique. 

At Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, owner David Blackley has seen an increase in the number of chick purchases, and his chicken-keeping classes attract sellout crowds. 

 “More people want to know where their food comes from,” he says, “and raising chickens is a real pleasure.”

Cheeping chicks are hard to resist. Before getting caught up in the cute factor, remember that chickens can live up to 10 years (though the average is three to four) and require constant care. You don’t need a rooster to get eggs—good news because, although roosters are allowed in Charlotte, their loud cock-a-doodle-do could attract the ire of neighbors and violate the local noise ordinance, resulting in a fine. Your chicks will do fine without a man. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re considering keeping chickens at home:

Follow the rules: It’s legal to keep chickens in Charlotte, but the city requires people to have permits. Given that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control issued just 41 permits in 2016, it seems that a lot of chicken coops are flying under the radar.

Per city rules, there is a strict limit of 20 chickens per acre of land. 

Choose your chickens: Chickens come in a range of colors, feather patterns, and sizes. Different breeds even lay different colored eggs. Ameraucanas lay blue eggs; Buff Orpingtons lay brown eggs, and Leghorns lay white eggs.

Despite the differences, Blackley doesn’t believe one breed is better than another. “There isn’t a bad breed,” he says. Chickens are flock animals, and will be happiest with feathered friends. Blackley recommends getting at least three hens.

Feather the nest: Chicks cannot be left outside until all of their feathers come in (at six weeks old). Before then, chicks need to be kept inside in a confined area such as a dog crate or plastic storage tub outfitted with a heat lamp. Blackley explains that this “brooder” is meant to replace the warmth and shelter provided by a mother hen. 

Once chickens are fully feathered and ready to go outside, a secure coop is essential to protect them from coyotes, hawks, and other predators. Their coop should also provide shelter from the elements and nesting boxes where hens can lay eggs.

Provide chicken scratch: Chickens need constant access to fresh food and water. 

Start chicks on a “starter-grower” feed and transition them to calcium-enriched pellets and scratch grains at six months (when they start laying eggs). Delicacies such as mealworms, tomatoes, apple peels, and even warm oatmeal are favorite treats. Free-range chickens will also snack on insects and worms.

“You have to be ready to take on the responsibility,” Blackley says. “It’s not hard, but it is a commitment.”

Eat up! With the proper care, chickens will lay about one egg per day for up to two years. Although egg production slows down as they get older, Blackley, who has 15 chickens, still gets the occasional egg from one of his nine-year-old hens.

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