Raising Your Own Chickens is Growing in Popularity

The “Chick craze” began when Martha Stewart first starting raising poultry in her backyard, said Bill Bezuk, owner of The Eugene Backyard Farmer in the Whiteaker neighborhood, a store dedicated to urban farming and poultry. According to Bezuk, raising your own poultry started out as a fad and has now grown in popularity and is considered “mainstream.”

The Eugene Backyard Farmer, owned by Bill Bezuk and located on 5th and Washington in the Whiteaker Neighborhood.

People all over the Eugene area are starting to pick up the urban farming lifestyle and embrace the many benefits raising your own poultry have to offer. “Chickens are a blast. They give you outstanding food and their manure turns into excellent compost,” Bezuk said. “Chickens are meant to compliment other aspects of an urban farm.”

Michael Sanchez works in the Whiteaker neighborhood as a landscape architect and frequently visits The Eugene Backyard Farmer to obtain supplies for his own urban farm in the North Santa Clara area of Eugene.

“We have three children, so we primarily did it to have them be more aware of where their food comes from,” said Sanchez. “For people who think they may not like it, it kind of grows on you.”

Michael Sanchez holding one of the chicks at The Eugene Backyard Farmer.

Being a landscape architect, Sanchez has modified his own chicken coop to hold fourteen to fifteen chickens. However, he currently has twelve and is looking into getting more chicks soon.

“We carry chicks all summer long,” said Bezuk, at The Eugene Backyard Farmer. “Big retail chains only carry chicks until around Easter. But we carry them all summer long because it just makes more sense for the urban farmer.”

Chicks under a warming lamp at The Eugene Backyard Farmer.

Although people are jumping on the bandwagon to start adding poultry to their urban farm, they should be aware that the City of Eugene has some regulations on raising your own poultry.

According to Backyardchickens.com, having two laying hens is permissible, and no roosters. They must be kept twenty-five feet away from neighbors’ residences and ten feet back from the interior lot lines. However, Backyardchickens.com, as well as Bill Bezuk, said that these codes are only enforced when there are complaints.

Backyardchickens.com gives helpful tips on how to avoid getting those complaints and keeping your chickens happy.

  1. Keep a clean coop so manure doesn’t build up, chicken feed doesn’t attract rodents, and odor doesn’t disturb the neighbors.
  2. Even docile laying hens can squawk loudly to get out of the coop first thing in the morning or after they’ve just laid an egg, so set the alarm early and let them out before they wake the neighbors.
  3. Talk to your neighbors; bring them fresh eggs and garden produce, share with them your chicken pleasures and pretty soon they’ll be your advocate, too.

Although having your own poultry has the potential to be a bit messy, and perhaps noisy, the benefits of being able to be in touch with your own food source greatly outweighs those factors.

Bezuk and Sanchez both commented on the great entertainment value of chickens as well. “The chickens are the kids pets, and they carry them around and play with them, so we enjoy it,” said Sanchez.

Chickens are a great way to delve into urban farming and help your family become more self-reliant and sustainable. However, people must also realize that there is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with raising and caring for your own chickens.

“Chickens are cute, their fun, but their also farm animals and a city farmer is still a farmer, and you have to deal with farming lessons,” said Bezuk, “Whether it be sickness, predators, or potentially butchering your own chickens.”

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Q & A

With Dr. G. Lynne Luna: Poultry Veterinarian in Eugene, Oregon

Q1: How long have you been practicing veterinary medicine? From which veterinary school did you graduate?  How long have you been practicing in Lane County and have you always been specialized in poultry? If not, what were some of your other veterinary experiences?

 A: I have been practicing for about 13 years. I received my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1998 then went on to the University of Georgia where I specialized in poultry medicine, receiving my Masters in Avian Medicine (MAM) in 1999. My first job was with the State of Mississippi Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory where I was their poultry pathologist. I then became part of Mississippi State University as an Assistant Professor, primarily working with major commercial poultry operations. I then moved on to become director of a newly built Poultry Diagnostic Laboratory for the State of Louisiana.  I worked in the South until 2006 when I decided it was time to move back to Oregon, my home state. I took a job in Eugene with Banfield Pet Hospital where I am happy to see chickens as well as many other pets, and I do poultry house calls when I’m not working in the clinic. I also help on occasion with the Pro-Bone-O clinic, a free clinic for homeless people held the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month in Eugene, and with LCAS Rabies clinics.

Q2: Urban farming seems to be very popular in Lane County. In your opinion, why is this and do you see that a majority of your clients have poultry specifically for use in an urban farm? If not, what are the other reasons people may own poultry?

A: I think many people are concerned about the quality of products they purchase from grocery stores and so are trying to gain some control over this by raising their own poultry for both eggs and meat. It is not to earn extra income as the cost is more than what you could buy product at the store. It is more for peace of mind I think. It is also a fun and relaxing hobby for most people and these birds are more than just egg makers – they have names and become pets, even a part of the family! Of course there are some that are producing eggs and meat for the market. These are generally folks with small farms who have room for a small flock of broilers or egg layers.

Q3: What do you think the advantages and disadvantages are to owning your own poultry?

A: Advantages are that you know exactly what your birds are eating and what they are, or are not, being treated with or exposed to environmentally. They provide a relaxing atmosphere.  They eat bugs out of your garden. They are good company!

Disadvantages are that they have to be tended to – you can’t just leave for the weekend (or longer) without providing proper care for them. They can be noisy, especially to your neighbors and especially if you obtain a rooster. You must keep the environment clean to help keep them healthy and to avoid bad odors and excessive flies and other insects. There is expense in feed and care. If they become ill, you must provide medical care for them. This is more difficult than it seems because you can’t just throw any medications at them that may then be transmitted into eggs or meat that someone will be eating later.

Q4: In Lane County, what are the regulations regarding owning poultry, i.e. how many you can have, what breeds, hens versus roosters, and any habitat regulations?

A: This I don’t know. I believe in the city limits you can have 3 hens.  I am not the city regulator, nor will I turn anyone in who I believe has too many birds, etc!  Maybe I just don’t want to know!

Q5: What would be considering a “good” environment for chickens? Are most of the poultry farms in Lane County free range or are they kept in confinement? If confined, what are the space requirements for the various types of poultry?

A: A good environment is clean, has plenty of space, is not too hot or too cold, has protection from predators and pests, has constant access to fresh clean water and an appropriate amount of food. I like birds to have at least 2 square feet of space for each bird, though they can do fine with less depending on the situation. Most of the poultry farms that I visit are backyard urban farms where there is a small shelter with nest space and some scratch area and a backyard or outer pen area of various size to scratch in during most of the day.

Q6: What is the typical feeding procedure for poultry?  Are they fed multiple times per day or free fed?  How much, would you say, a healthy chicken eats in a week? How much does a typical urban farmer spend on chicken feed a month?

A: The typical for layers is a main diet of layer pellet with calcium, free choice oyster shell, a few handfuls of corn scratch and various assorted vegies. Most are free fed though this isn’t necessarily ideal – too many are overweight leading to reproductive problems

For broilers/fryers, the diet is generally a grower diet. We want them to get good and plump fairly rapidly though you do need to avoid too rapid of growth or you will have many leg and heart problems.

I don’t know what the cost is – that is a better question, I think, for Bill at the Backyard Farmer, or for other feed store owners. It also depends on whether you are feeding regular feed or organic or some other variation

Q7: How many eggs does a healthy hen lay a week?

A: A healthy hen in peak production lays about 6 eggs a week. They lay daily with 2-3 day pauses in between typically.

Q8: What are the general reasons that your clients usually contact you?  

A: The most common reason is they believe a hen may be egg bound or they are concerned because she isn’t laying like she used to or there is a problem with the eggs. Meat bird owners are more concerned about the overall set up of housing and such. They are more likely to take care of individual sick birds on their own. This brings up a big difference in commercial .vs. urban or personal farming – a sick hen or broiler in a commercial flock will be “culled” and examined to determine if it has something that will threaten the rest of the flock. A sick meat bird will be culled to lower cost of production. If several birds are ill, an examination will be done and treatment may ensue. With backyard layers, an individual hen will not typically be culled. She will be treated as an individual, similar to any other pet a person may have. This is a MAJOR difference.

Q9: Do chickens and their chicks need to receive annual vaccinations of any kind or any sort of treatment annually to stay healthy? Also, what is the typical productive lifespan for various types of poultry?

A: Backyard chickens don’t need annual vaccinations unless there is a specific problem on that farm or in the area. An example of this is Avain Pox. Pox is carried by mosquites and gnats so if you have a problem with these at your farm, you may want to vaccinate. The one vaccine I do recommend is for Marek’s disease (MD). This is a viral disease that is very common and can cause tumor like lesions and problems with the nerves. The thing is, however, you have to vaccinate your chicks for this before they come in contact with the virus in the environment. For this reason, I recommend purchasing chicks that have been vaccinated against MD at the hatchery.

The typical productive lifespan for layers is 2-3 years. They can lay longer than this but eggs per day is drastically reduced. For meat birds, the typical lifespan is 6 to 12 weeks depending on the market they are being raised for.  These birds don’t do well when kept for longer because they are so large, genetically, they have lots of leg problems and other heatlh issues.

Q10: I’ve heard from many people that urban farming isn’t just a hobby it’s a lifestyle. What do you think about this idea? Do you see a certain trend of personalities in your clients who have urban farms?

A: I think it does tend to be a lifestyle simply because you can’t just pick and choose when you are going to take care of your birds.  The people I see who are more likely to have urban farms? I think they are more envirnomentally concerned than the average person, other than that, they come from all walks of life – musicains, teachers, health professionals, students, moms, poets, retired, etc.

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Profile

Raising Your Own Chickens and Receiving the Benefits: One Egg at a Time

Jim and Lois Lobben got their first three chickens last year around Easter. Unfortunately, one of them turned out to be a rooster, so he had to be given away due to the City of Eugene ordinances that do not allow roosters due to noise complaints. A second misfortune struck when one of their hens got an egg stuck inside of her and once it was extracted she was no longer able to lay eggs. This left Jim and Lois with only one hen. Fortunately, the Eugene area is booming with chicken farmers and one of Lois’s friends gave her two chicks, so their coop currently has three chickens again.

Lois is the primary caretaker of the chickens, however, she is currently visiting France with friends and so Jim is left as the chicken’s keeper until she returns.

“I think one of the things that appealed to Lois about chickens is having a productive pet,” Jim says. “Not that the companionship of a dog or a cat isn’t productive, but with chickens you get an egg.”

Currently, they only have one hen laying eggs because the other two aren’t old enough yet. Their one hen lays an egg a day, and they’re hoping for the same amount from the other two when they come of age.

Jim fills what was once a young pig feeder up with food and that feeds the three chickens for one week. They get their water changed every two days and their coop cleaned once a week. Jim built the chicken coup himself when they got their first batch of chickens last year.

“One of the things that I’ve done since I’ve retired is construction type work around the house,” says Jim. “So one of the attractions of having the chickens was to build a chicken coop.”

The chickens offer more than just eggs; they are also a source of entertainment. Jim expressed that the chickens can be good pets and his grandchildren often enjoy playing with them around the backyard when they’re let out of the coop.

“The chickens are pretty amusing to mess around with sometimes,” Marshall Clark, one of Jim’s grandsons says. “As long as I don’t have to take care of them, I don’t mind them.”

Jim says that he definitely isn’t interested in extending their flock beyond the three they already have, but he enjoys the ones they have now. Several of their neighbors in the area also have chickens.

“There are a lot of people raising chickens now,” says Jim. “I think it’s part of having a productive pet, and it’s becoming a fad now, too.”

Fad or not, the Eugene area is growing with urban farmers and raising chickens in your backyard is becoming not only a hobby, but also a lifestyle. Jim and Lois are one of the many in the Eugene area who are reaping the benefits of raising your own poultry. Fresh eggs and wonderful pets seem to be the theme that is echoing around the City of Eugene about having your own chickens.

“I think they’re a relatively easy pet to take care of,” Jim says. “Some of the breeds are very friendly and some can be quite beautiful also.”

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A Photo Essay

Jim Lobben and The Backyard Chickens

Jim Lobben standing in his backyard next to the chicken coop he built last year.

Inside the Chicken Coop where the hens lay their eggs.

“Vadar” (black), and “Black Beard” (brown) are the two chickens that are not old enough to lay eggs yet.

Lobben’s three chickens. “Vadar” (black), “Black Beard” (brown), and “Helga” (white).

“Helga” is their hen that currently lays an egg a day.

Jim dropping in a handful of feed to the coop to get them excited.

Jim pulls “Vadar” out of the coop and into his arms.

Jim hand feeds “Vadar,” who is their friendliest chicken.

Jim tries hand feeding “Black Beard” as well, but he isn’t as enthused about the activity.

“Helga,” “Vadar,” and “Black Beard” enjoying their food in the cage outside their coop.

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