City Chickens
Written by Jeneiene Schaffer   

City Chickens

From the richly fertilized soil of our garden, my family eagerly anticipates robust organic vegetables and the arrival of our hen’s greatest gift: delicious organic eggs. We raise our own chickens so we can experience the taste of “farm-fresh” eggs every day. Eggs that taste like they did in the days when the milkman brought them into the city fresh from the country.

The Tucson City Code allows up to 24 “fowl” on a private residence. Every year or so, we make a trip to the Arizona Feed Store on Tucson’s southside to buy two-dollar chicks. The store is good at selecting out the females. We also buy cheap feed there. A bit of advice when buying chicks: fancy frou-frou fowl bite the dust quickly in our desert heat, even with shade. A good bet: Ameraucanas or Araucanas. Be sure to make a separate enclosure within the coop for the chicks so the bigger hens don’t begin the pecking order too early.

Another City Code: “It shall be unlawful for any person to permit any chickens to run at large within the city.” This doesn’t mean you have to rule out happy cage-free and free-range hens. At night, our ladies run around a roost in a fenced six-by-20 foot enclosure. During the day, they fertilize, chase bugs, dig up grubs, and keep our cat company.

Another tip: beware of raptors. We had a Cooper’s hawk lurking over our chickens one day from a branch of the chinaberry tree that overhangs the coop and garden. Make sure the chickens have plenty of opportunities to duck and find cover.

We try to keep conventional feed to a minimum. Organic feed can be bought from local suppliers like the Tucson Community Supported Agriculture (300 E. University Blvd. Ste. 146, in the courtyard of the Historic Y). A less expensive feed is to give your ladies a chance to forage and slop ’em once or twice a day. By that I mean give them your organic vegetable and fruit scraps after you’ve prepared your meals. I keep a big bowl on the kitchen counter just for this. Got to clean out the fridge but don’t want your groceries and leftovers to go to waste? Give it to your hens.

How organic you want to keep your hens and eggs is based on your own lifestyle. Generally speaking, organic eggs come from organic hens. If they eat your organic scraps and forage on a property that has no pesticides or chemical fertilizers, they will be as close to organic as possible. Our feed is not certified organic, but we use it in small amounts during the height of summer when forage is low.

Raising chickens is great for Permaculture (using renewable natural resources to enrich local ecosystems). As a dry desert yard receives more organic matter, it will grow richer, need less irrigation water, and be more flood resistant. The soil will be able to hold more of the natural rainfall that occurs. Then the soil acts as a reservoir for nutrients and moisture.

Let some lovely ladies into your city life and watch how much you will gain in health, sustainability, and pure enjoyment.

Jeneiene Schaffer
Reprinted with permission from the January 2008 Dunbar Spring Newsletter
- from an original article in the Tucson Green Magazine - Photo: Ian Fritz

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 08 January 2008 )
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