I’ve read that Sag Harbor Village is considering allowing chickens to be kept in yards that conform to various regulations. If I read correctly, the conforming yards might be allowed 3 chickens if they are confined in specified circumstances. Well, in my opinion, chickens are a delight to keep but those who choose to keep them should be careful to follow any regulations after they are passed.
If there will be only three allowed, one will need to decide the purpose they will serve: pets or dinner. It is difficult to eat one’s pets, but because chickens stop laying at some point (different for each chicken) and then typically continue to live for a good while longer, it is possible, even likely, to have three great pet chickens who eat food but do not lay eggs. This would be fine for me as I do not eat chickens and would be happy to have three living in my yard.
In addition to any regulations to be followed, chickens need to be kept in an enclosed space to keep them safe from hawks, raccoons, opossums and the neighbor’s dog or cat. You also may want to protect your yard and garden. Chickens make what I call “garden sculptures” wherever they can, digging for pebbles and critters to eat. These sculptures are not attractive. The pen should be fenced with strong fencing sunk into the ground at least 8” so they cannot escape under it. The fenced enclosure should be roofed with fencing.
And chickens need a house that can be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It is a good idea to elevate the house in such a way that will not let rats and mice into the house (check plans in books recommended at the end of this article). Also, if the house is elevated, it is easier to collect the eggs and clean the house…yes, the house needs to be cleaned. The addition of bedding (I use Timothy grass…they like to nibble on it and it is good for composting) makes cleaning easy. The “enriched” bedding then goes onto the compost pile where, after breaking down, it makes the best addition to your garden or yard.
They need some shade in the hot weather. They need some good food. I buy egg layer pellets at Agway. I tried organic food at one time but it made them sick…Just not the right organic food, I think. They also get lots of scraps from my kitchen, my friend Ellen’s kitchen and the garden. They love anything green from the garden–but remember that the leaves of plants in the nightshade family are not for people or chickens. Also, no raw potatoes or their skins. I also do not give my chickens white bread, maybe some good whole grain bread or cornbread without sugar. In the morning, they get a scratch of whole oats and cracked corn just as a treat.
Chickens are a great addition to one’s life. They are joyous. They make wonderful sounds. They are happy to see you. It is in their nature to produce eggs without a rooster or any meddling from you. But, like the addition of any other being into one’s life, their needs must be considered before they are brought into the home. The more one knows about their care before their arrival, the more successful the relationship will be.
Some good references:
Chickens in Your Backyard A Beginners Guide by Rick and Gail Luttman, Rodale Press
Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow, Storey Publishing
Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, Storey Publishing