Chicken Talk with Jennifer Murtoff

On Thursday, July 22nd Jennifer Murtoff of Home to Roost gave a talk about raising chickens in an urban environment.  Murtoff brought 2 chickens in a travel pen.  Both were hens.  Roosters are illegal in Chicago; they crow all the time, not just in the morning.  You don’t have to have a rooster for hens to lay eggs.

Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Plymouth Rock, and Barred Rock are varieties that are hearty laying hens and withstand the cold.

Murtoff then went through the anatomy of a chicken and showed us the comb, wattles, ears, earlobes, keel, crop (where food is temporarily stored before going to the stomach) and the cloaca.  Eggs come out of the same hole (cloaca) as poop, but are protected by uterine tissue, so they are sanitary.

There are laws that address humane treatment of animals including chickens.  You can’t kill them yourself.  You must take them to one of six licensed slaughter facilities in the city.  You can get chicks at the feed store at Harlem & I55 or through the mail.

Chicken feeding

Young Root-Riot gardener Lauren feeds one of Jennifer Murtoff’s hens.

Chicks need feed starter (a special mixture) because their digestive systems are not fully developed.  They need a brooder box to keep them warm.  Murtoff recommended having a light bulb in a box for warmth and straw or a towel on bottom of box.  A thermometer will help keep the right temperature.

When chicks are ready to go outside they need a coop.  Murtoff recommends having a run, coop with a slanted roof with ventilation.  Seventy five percent of the cost of having chickens is the feed.  A 25 lb. bag of feed costs $10.95 and should last about 2 weeks for 2 hens.  Chickens can be fed table scraps but be careful as too many greens and potato peelings can cause an impacted crop.

Hens start laying eggs at about 20 weeks.  They produce one egg per hen per day, with a break in winter.  Peak egg production is up until about 2-3 years of age, and chickens can live to be as old as 10.  An owner must consider air predators (hawks) as well as ground predators.  An owner should protect feed from other animals.  Keep it in a sealed container.

An owner doesn’t know birds are sick until they are very sick (they try not to show it) so get to know what’s normal for your birds.  There are 3 avian vets in Chicago.  If chicken eat a nail or a tack or some other shiny object like glass, it can get stuck in the gizzard and they may die.  They are probably as much work as a dog.  Clean the coop every one or two weeks.  Also consider vet costs and how to handle end of life, end of laying cycle issues.  What will you do with your bird?

Chickens don’t need a lot of space, 7 sq ft per bird.  Wing clipping is optional, as hens don’t tend to fly off.  Take eggs out of the coop everyday.  You don’t want them to eat an egg because once they taste one they’ll do it all the time.  The best time to get chicks is in the spring so they are fully matured by winter.

For more info on raising chickens in an urban environment Jennifer Murtoff’s blog is: Home to Roost Urban Chicken Consulting.

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