Go ahead – count your chickens

When the FDA recalled hundreds of millions of eggs last month after a salmonella outbreak, many of us took a second look at our omelets. And while getting to know your local chicken farmer is a good way to avoid getting sick — not to mention making sure your breakfast was humanely and ethically produced — raising your own chickens isn’t as hard as it sounds.

We hit up Thomas Kriese, moderator of UrbanChickens.net, for some tips on getting started.

The space

Although you don’t need a farm, you will need room for a coop and a run. “You’ll want to be giving them about 40 to 50 square feet in the run, and you’ll want a solid coop that can be closed to keep predators out,” says Kriese. And yes, humans aren’t the only animals who are into nuggets: While Kriese’s own Great Dane and cats didn’t bother the birds, your neighborhood raccoon may have other plans.

The diet
Chicken feed, supplements, and plenty of fresh water will keep your birds healthy. But Kriese warns that they would also like to snack in your garden: “Chickens will eat lots of things, including your prized plants. People think they’re great because they eat insects and weeds, but they’ll also eat a great head of lettuce.”

The commitment
While it takes research and quite a bit of setup, once you get started, chickens are easy to take care of. “If you have ever successfully taken care of a cat, chickens are much, much easier,” says Kriese. “It takes about five minutes a day. They’re instinctively self-sufficient.”

Choose your chickens wisely
Like pets, it’s important to buy your chickens from a responsible breeder. And as for the actual breed, it depends on what you’re looking for in a bird; Kriese chose Plymouth Rock chicks because they are “friendly, inquisitive and smart.”

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