February 2018

Keep your garden and your chickens safe

Chris Turner, who has been keeping chickens for three years, gives Hula, a Barred Rock chicken, her 15 minutes of fame. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Chris Turner, who has been keeping chickens for three years, gives Hula, a Barred Rock hen, her 15 minutes of fame.
© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

When I was young, my two sisters and I piled into the car with my parents and headed out for some Easter shopping. We went to the G.C. Murphy store in Fountain Square where my dad bought baby chicks.

My city-girl mom would not have approved of this, so dad told us girls to sing, laugh and talk in the car on the way home to cover the chirping until we got the chicks into the basement. Soon after, they were relocated to a relative’s farm.

The temptation to keep your own chickens is even greater today. If you’re curious about cute, fuzzy chicks roaming free range in your yard and dream of fresh eggs for breakfast, here are a few things to keep in mind, especially for gardeners

“People think, oh good, the chickens will eat bugs and weeds, but they’ll also eat your hostas and vegetable crops,” said Chris Turner, 45, a gardener who lives in Indianapolis’ Old Northside. Turner, owner of uTopos, a gardening company, has been keeping chickens for three years.

He recommends a chicken coop, not only to protect your landscape, but to keep the birds safe. Even in urban settings, predators, such as raccoons, hawks, dogs and cats, will kill chickens or eat their eggs. He has lost one chicken to a predator.

His five hens are in a 20- by 20-foot coop, completely enclosed with chicken wire. There’s an access door for cleaning, collecting eggs and replenishing water. Manure is added to the compost pile. And, his dog has been trained not to bother the chicks.

If you want your chickens to be free range, you’ll have to install a 5-foot tall fence around vegetables, he said. It’s best to have the garden enclosed at the top, too, because chickens can fly short distances.

For more information about making chickens a part of your life and garden, visit Agrarian, an urban chick specialty shop at 49th Street and College Avenue, or Naptown Chicks. Purdue University’s Getting Started with the Home Poultry Flock also provides good guideance.

Hens start laying at about 6 months, and no, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs. Turner’s five girls provide about four eggs a day. Chickens produce for about five years and then stop. Some people keep the non-laying birds until they die a natural death, some send them to a farm and others sell them for food processing.

Chickens aren’t high maintenance, Turner said, but they are an expensive way to get eggs, by the time you figure the cost of the coop, food, water tank and other necessities.

“They do love to eat in the garden,” Turner said. In fall, especially, when he’s cleaning up the garden, his girls are out there with him, pecking and scratching away at the dirt and plant debris. “They are just so happy.”

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