Keeping backyard chickens as a family pastime
By SARA BRUSKIN » Photos MOLLIE TOBIAS
Chicken ownership got a bump in popularity during the pandemic and recent egg shortages due to the avian flu outbreak led to renewed interest in the trend. More people are looking to put their family’s food security into their own hands these days, and the whole homesteading lifestyle has exploded, with gardening, canning and animal husbandry becoming more popular than they’ve been in years.
Spring is the season when you can buy baby chicks, so now is a perfect time to get started if you’re looking to jump on the bandwagon. Keeping chickens isn’t all idyllic scenes of gathering eggs in a pretty basket though, so make sure you have realistic expectations for this endeavor going in.
Backyard Chickens in Boulder County
Unless your HOA prohibits them (and many do), you can have chickens. Boulder County allows up to eight backyard chickens—hens only, no roosters—per suburban residential property, but some cities within the county limit that further; Louisville and Lafayette allow six chickens and Longmont only four.
Lafayette, Longmont and Nederland require a permit or license to own backyard chickens and depending on your city’s municipal codes, you may need to get permission from your neighbors, too. Codes often mandate regular cleaning of your chicken coop to avoid complaints of strong odors, but you’ll want to do that anyway to keep mites, lice and rodents at bay for the health of your flock.
There are many coops available for purchase, from basic designs to extravagant chicken palaces. You can also make your own, but either way, be sure to check the municipal codes in your city regarding chicken coops and chicken runs (enclosed spaces outside the coop where chickens can run around). Some cities have specific building requirements for these structures and rules about where they may be placed on your property.
Coops need to be especially secure in Boulder County so mountain lions, coyotes, foxes and other predators can’t get inside. They’ll also need nesting boxes where the chickens can lay their eggs, a roosting perch for them to sleep on, and places for a feeder and waterer. Most cities require at least 4 square feet of space for each chicken in a coop, but many chicken owners recommend 10 square feet per chicken for a happier and healthier flock.
Owning Chickens Equals Free Eggs
Hear that? That’s the sound of thousands of homesteaders laughing.
Raising your own chickens won’t save you any money on eggs, especially if you’re the type of person who shamelessly spoils the animals in your life (and we’re going to assume you are because… Boulder). The initial costs of setting up a coop, buying equipment and buying the chickens themselves add up, and then you’ll have the continuous expenses of coop bedding, chicken feed, occasional vet visits, etc. Your own expenditure of time and effort should also be considered part of your cost.
The longer you continue with chicken stewardship, the more your initial investment will pay off, but your cost per dozen eggs will never come close to the prices at large grocery store chains. Most endeavors are more cost-efficient at large scale, and many stores get their eggs from huge factory farms that cut corners on chicken welfare. With a tiny flock that you treat well, your cost versus output will be very different. It may be more comparable if you’ve been getting your eggs from the farmers market, but it still won’t be cheaper.
You should also keep in mind that chickens lay fewer eggs as they age, and they can live to be around 10 years old. You’ll have retirees in your flock for their last few years of life, so it can’t all be about the eggs. Only get chickens if you think you’ll enjoy it, you want to give them a good life and you have the time to take that responsibility on.
Keeping Your Flock Safe During Avian Influenza Outbreaks
-Wash your hands before handling any chickens.
-Wear a dedicated pair of shoes to tend your chickens, that you don’t wear anywhere else, or use shoe covers.
-Do not keep a bird feeder for wild birds anywhere near your chicken areas.
-Avoid contact with other birds. If you must visit another flock, be sure to disinfect your shoes, clothes and hands afterward.
-Limit visitors to your flock, especially if they own their own birds.
-Secure your coop and chicken runs, so they can’t be accessed by wild birds or rodents.
-Watch for symptoms of avian influenza:
- Difficulty breathing, lack of energy or appetite
- Purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb, wattle and hocks
- Reduced egg production, soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Sudden death
If you notice symptoms of avian influenza, call the Animal Health Division at 303-869-9130 to report it.