DIY chicken coops are the latest back-to-the-farm trend to hatch in the Valley.
“Chickens are one of the easiest pets to keep. I rank them right up there with cats,” urban farmer Greg Peterson says. “If you have a backyard that you can secure… you should have chickens.”
More and more Phoenicians agree, Peterson says, judging by demand for the urban chicken farming class he’s developing for this fall. Peterson and his wife, Heidi, keep more than a dozen hens at their Central Phoenix home, the permaculture shrine The Urban Farm (urbanfarm.org). Urban homesteaders are looking beyond backyard gardens to raise their own chickens – most for eggs, though some for meat.
“Chickens are fun pets. They give us eggs every day,” Peterson says. “It’s an easy way to put a system in place that will give you food for half a decade.”
He gives us a chicken farming primer.
Legality: Check with your city and neighborhood services to make sure you can keep chickens (it’s currently illegal in Chandler and Glendale). “It’s only a problem if somebody complains. If you make friends with all your neighbors and promise them eggs… it’s no problem.”
Land: “You need 10,000 square feet of land in order to legally keep chickens.” Plan for four to five square feet per chicken for the coop.
Quarters: Chickens need a predator-secure coop for sleeping, feeding and laying, and an area for exercise. “Do not use chicken wire.” Peterson uses wood, cement, hardware cloth and old political campaign signs to fashion cost-effective coops.
Logistics: Sleeping roosts should be high and laying boxes should be low to prevent fecal contamination of the laying area.
Temperature: A misting system or evaporative cooler is necessary, especially in the summer.
Food: Buy feed from a local shop (Peterson likes The Western Ranchman Store in North Phoenix) or join an organic feed cooperative. Keep cool water in the coop for drinking.
Chicks: Peterson recommends buying sexed (confirmed female) chicks (about $2.50 each) and hand-raising them. “When they first start laying, at about five months, you’ll get about six eggs a week. The older they get, the less often they lay, but the eggs get bigger.”
Eggs: Collect eggs daily. No need to refrigerate. To test an egg’s freshness, put it in a glass of water. If it sinks, it’s good. If it floats, it’s bad.
Name: Peterson urges all urban farmers to name their farms, no matter how small. “The naming of the farm is the social piece that moves the urban farming movement forward.”