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August 28, 2013

Considering chickens?

A hard-boiled assessment of maintaining a backyard coop

“Eat local” is the foodie mantra, and nothing is more local than an egg from your own backyard.

That enticement has led many city dwellers and suburbanites to consider putting up a coop and keeping chickens. The online community BackYardChickens.com, for example, has more than 200,000 members, about half of whom have joined in the last two years.

But what’s the cost in time and money — and what will the neighbors think?

Sandy Schmidt of Silver Spring, Md., compares the time required for basic chicken care to that for a more familiar pet: “It’s about like having a cat,” she says. “Make sure they have food and water every day, scoop out the coop — like a litter box — and let them out of the coop.”

One big difference, though, is that your neighbors may never even see your cat, while many people worry about the smell and noise of chickens.

Rob Ludlow of BackyardChickens.com thinks these concerns aren’t usually relevant to the small size of the average backyard flock. After all, he says, “What if everyone thought owning a dog in your backyard would smell and sound like a dog kennel?”

Still, neither dogs nor chickens are silent, so consideration is important. Roosters make most of the noise and aren’t legal in most places, so be aware that if you decide to start with chicks, the sexes can’t always be distinguished at birth. You can avoid this problem by getting adult hens, or make sure you get a breed where the sex differences are obvious.

“There are about four or five breeds out of 200 or 300 that can be sexed at birth, just by looking at the color,” says Tyler Phillips of Rent A Coop in Potomac, Md.

Even hens, however, can turn out to be more talkative than expected, as Lisa Sandbank of Santa Monica, Calif., found out.

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