By Rachel Bess
We are lucky that most cities in Arizona are on the progressive end of chicken keeping. A wave of people recognize that keeping a few backyard hens is a great addition to the household, and are certainly more quiet (and less smelly) than other domestic animals. If you are interested in raising chickens, here are a few tips to get you going in the right direction.
First and foremost, find out if chickens are allowed in your area. A few cities in Arizona don’t allow them yet, and many home owner associations prohibit them as well. Roosters are almost never permitted, and you don’t need them for the hens to lay eggs. If you get the green light to own chickens, you’ll just be buying females.
Your next step is to decide if you want to start with baby chicks or hens that are already laying. There are advantages to each choice; it depends on your goal. With hens that are laying, you will get eggs sooner; however, it can be hard to know a bird’s true age or health history once they are full-grown; it would be good to research so you don’t accidentally purchase old maids that are not producing. With chicks, you will have a greater variety of breeds to choose from and the ability to qualify the environment and food they have received. The flip side is that chicks can take five to six months to get to the valuable egg-producing age.
To take care of your new friends, they will need age-appropriate food [starter or layer food, depending if the bird is currently laying eggs], access to water at all times, some sort of bedding [can be dirt, straw or pine shavings], and if you have baby chicks, a heat lamp is needed. Specific and simple how-to’s can also be researched on the Internet at websites like mypetchicken.com or by taking a quick backyard chicken raising class. If you’re interested in organic birds and eggs, many feed stores, like Pratt’s Pets & Feed in El Mirage, now carry certified organic feed.
Chickens provide pest control [they even eat scorpions], manure for your compost pile and the freshest and tastiest breakfast.
Chickens need to be protected against temperature extremes. Most breeds are cold-hardy, with the adults easily handling temperatures into the teens; however, they are not as able to handle the heat, especially in the triple digits.
This is easy to manage by providing consistent shade and cool water to drink. Since chickens can’t sweat, it can be hard for them to cool off, even with a breeze. Keep them cool by placing large saucers of two-inch-deep water in the shade for them to wade in.
Some words of caution – they love vegetables. Keep them away from the garden until the end of the season, then send them in to clean up the scraggly plants, and turn the soil. I’d also suggest keeping them away from your patio, as you might step out one morning and step IN a pile of chicken mess.
Raising chickens is far less complicated and time-consuming than often perceived. If you remember these tips, keeping a small backyard flock will be smooth sailing. Your neighbors will be grateful of your feathery pets when you occasionally stop by to share some of your abundance of fresh eggs. If backyard chickens are something you’ve been contemplating, go for it!
Rachel Bess currently teaches the Raising Backyard Chickens class for the Valley Permaculture Alliance and has written a pocket-sized guidebook on the subject called “Fowl Play.” www.phoenixpermaculture.org
We are currently living in eastern NC and considering raising chickens. However, there is a large possibility we may be moving around the Tuscon, AZ area within the next six months – which I am SUPER excited about by the way! Anyway, is there a certain breed of chicken that does better in the hot, dry air of AZ than others, or is it really just a preference? Another concern I have is how they will adjust from the warm/hot and very humid climate here to the hotter and drier climate of AZ. Any advice?
Although we don’t know much about raising chickens in the desert, we can point you to some people who do! Check out the Micro Livestock forum at http://www.phoenixpermaculture.org/group/keepingchickens and the forums at http://www.backyardchickens.com/f/
This is good information for chicken owners. I also raise chickens and my husbands has a chicken blog at http://kernschickenfarm.com. It is for newbie chicken owners to get started.
I live on 2 acres, much of which is not used. I garden in one of the large fenced in yards…veggies. I have another large fenced in yard that I am wanting to raise chickens, for eggs and meat. I cannot find a good guide anywhere to help me choose a specific breed of chicken for eggs or a breed of chicken for meat (I am assuming 2 separate breeds) for the Arizona heat (I am in Goodyear). My neighbors just got 10 ‘reds’ chicks yesterday. I am anxious to get started, but where do I do for guidance?