Become a Chicken Tender

By Jayme Otto

What’s the hottest big-city trend? Backyard chicken coops filled with hens that provide fresh, organic eggs to urban families. Several cities, including Los Angeles and New York, now permit hen-keeping, which lets people get closer to their food source, says Ashley English, author of Keeping Chickens: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock (Lark Books, 2010). Most municipalities still ban raucous roosters, but male chickens aren’t necessary to produce tasty eggs—even supermarket varieties are unfertilized. In addition to producing eggs, yard birds eat pesky insects and weeds, make less noise than your neighbor’s leaf blower, and excrete droppings smaller than most dog messes.

Before starting a flock, ask your local animal-control office about hen-keeping regulations. English also suggests connecting with other “chicken tenders” online (try backyardchickens.com). Some basic parameters to consider: Hens need a secure place to sleep that’s safe from raccoons, possums, and even cats. They require the same level of care as other pets, says Paul Brennan, executive vice president of the Indiana State Poultry Association, so arrange for their feeding and cleaning when you travel. You’ll also need to learn how to handle extreme weather and disease and to establish proper pecking order to preempt hen fights. Lastly, be sure to tell your neighbors what to expect in terms of noise and cleanliness.