If you go for a walk in any Seattle neighborhood, you will likely notice a chicken coop or two behind fences, inside yards, or right out in the front yard. Twenty years ago, this would have been an unusual sight indeed, but in this age of learning about food as well as the many resources available, chickens are just part of the Seattle landscape.
One of our team members has been raising chickens for over 14 years. She has found them to be highly social, beautiful, and fun to watch. Initially, she began raising chickens as a school project, however, it quickly became much more fun than she ever anticipated.
Where should you start? The internet is full of websites about poultry, but your local library has many great books about raising chickens, and Seattle Tilth offers classes for aspiring urban farmers. To get some great coop and landscaping ideas, check out the annual Seattle Chicken Coop Tour in July. If you would like to purchase a coop, chicks, pullets, or feed, take a trip to Portage Bay Grange in the University District. Not only will they help you with all the equipment you need, but they will answer any questions. Plus, it is just a fun place to tour.
Spring is the perfect time to set up your coop. You can purchase chicks and care for them inside until they feather out and the weather warms, or you can purchase pullets (6-week olds). It can be difficult to determine whether you have a rooster or a hen until they reach this age. Hatcheries do their best to sort them but aren’t always accurate. Pullets are also closer to egg production. They can go straight into the coop; no need to keep them inside under a heat lamp until they are old enough, saving you from having to purchase additional equipment.
If you plan on raising chickens within the Seattle City Limits, there are a few rules the city will ask you to follow.
No more than 8 domestic fowl may be kept on a city lot (including chickens and ducks).
Roosters are never permitted (and don’t worry, you don’t need a rooster if you want eggs, the rooster is only needed to fertilize the eggs).
Chicken Coops or structures must be at least 10 feet away from any residential structure or an adjacent lot.
Chickens are very social, so it is best to keep several. If your chickens begin pecking at each other or on one specific hen (there is always an alpha bird), it means the coop may be too crowded. Sometimes a new home must be found for the runt, lest the term “pecking order”.
Depending on the breed, the feed quality, and the amount of daylight in a 24-hour period, you can expect to get 3 to 6 eggs per week on average from each hen in your flock during the first year of production. If egg production is your primary reason for keeping chickens, choose prolific layers, like Leghorns. Laying tapers off during the second year and beyond. After about 4 years of age, a hen will lay only occasionally, and only during the peak of summer when days are long, and the weather is warm.
Chickens do take time and care. Coops can become stinky if not cleaned regularly and can attract predators and pests (raccoons are notorious for breaking into coops). Just like any pet, set aside time each week for maintenance. If you are keeping a small coop and just two or three hens, your yard waste receptacle will work great for disposing of soiled bedding. If you have a larger coop, it may be time to set up your own composting area.
Chickens can be let out to run around a fenced yard after they become accustomed to their new coop. They need some time to learn that this is their “home”, the safe place they should come back to as the sun begins to set and the place where food, water, and treats are provided. Close them in at night to keep them safe from predators.
We asked Kim Lukens, a Queen Anne resident about her experience with chickens. She recently helped her son raise chicks for a school science project, and she had this to say: “Raising chickens has been one of the most rewarding projects we have ever worked on together.” Chickens are highly entertaining, highly social, and highly intelligent. Give chickens a try, and send us a photo of your coop!