Newbie hoping to raise hens in the city - several questions

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

Hi everyone, I live in a city where chickens are not approved for zoning, but I have spoken to neighbors next door, across the street and kitty corner - all are supportive. I want 2 chickens (no roos) for my 3 yo daughter to better appreciate food and also to have fresh free range eggs throughout much of the year. I put in veggie garden, strawberry patch, berry bushes and 5 fruit trees so that for much of the year, we can come home each day and before even going to the house, pick some fruit or veggies. I'd like to add eggs to the overall experience and hopefully to provide free range eggs much of the year. It will also be my 3 yo daughter's chore to give food and refresh the water each day (with supervision). She'd also be responsible for collecting the eggs.

I have not gotten the chickens yet, so trying to get organized before I start. My intent is to keep some chickens unobtrusively, live my life, enjoy the eggs and the experience and no city officials at my door.

My plan:

2 chickens (probably silkies, docile, interesting looking and not heavy layers, since there are just the 2 of us, 1 adult, 1 child)
Rabbit hutch except when deep snow or super cold - want something unobtrusive since I'm in the city - I have a friend who used this hutch for her own chickens and is offering it to me for free
10 X 60 foot area between house and 6 ft. privacy fence to allow free range during most of year so not flaunting it that we have chickens
Dark winter/January - put them in the basement bilco which is almost 5 feet deep (and then put a light and heat mat with straw) - basically a 5x5 cemented in area that used to have steps to exit the basement straight outside (steps were removed, now it's just 5x5 cement "closet" with flip up doors above the area.

We usually get several feet of snow during the winter, usually starting in December through end of February - I could keep them sheltered from wind with the hutch and provide warm water daily except when it's bitterly cold when I'd move them to the bilco.


Is 2 sufficient? I know they do better in multiples but I'm hoping for a small scale family "flocklette" that feeds me and my little one
Is 10X 60 enough - truth be told, I'd rather they have full yard access, but we have a black chain link fence so they'd be visible from the street (nearby neighbors are fine, but 2 doors down are known for complaining, so I want to be very low key)
How much light do chickens need in the winter - if I put them in the covered bilco, should I open the door every day so that sun can shine in (or will the light be enough)
Type of lightbulb - how important is the light - does it need to be red or special?
At what temperature would they need to go into the bilco (temps here during winter is usually low teens, and in January can get as low as 20 below, but that's usually for just a few days) - my guess, they'd prefer the outdoors and sunshine, back into the rabbit hutch in the evening - if needed, I could probably shovel out a pecking area with scratching grain and food
Is there a point where I'd need to bring them into the unheated basement? I have a closed off room (I think it was a bomb shelter) that is about 40-45 degrees in winter that I could put them temporarily, but really prefer to limit them to the bilco where it's easy to shovel out the poo (which will be great garden fertilizer)
During winter is it better to restrict the light so they don't lay - or is it better to try to get eggs year-round
At what age do they stop laying?

So, please don't laugh - I know I sound like a crazy urban homesteader, but I want to create a home environment where we have fruit, veggies and eggs through our own efforts. I want my daughter to gain a deeper appreciation of the food she eats.

Hope this doesn't sound too cliche' and I can get some advice!


Ferndale, WA

Hi Sandra! Welcome to the forum. Not laughing, you sound like you have a well thought out plan. Silkies, are wonderful for what you want to do. Small eggs and I would recommend four of them so you get enough eggs to have a real meal. They are not noisy at all from my experience. The light is very important, that is what triggers the laying mechanism for the girls. Anything above freezing will be fine for the winter. I feel the sunlight, and fresh air is critical...Just my opinion. Two silkies will not furnish enough fresh eggs for two persons. Four or five might depending on how well you enjoy eggs. When It comes to silkies, I would really refer you to Green, she has been raising them for several years now...Good luck and have a blast...Hay

Bridgewater, ME

Hi Sandra and welcome.I have silkies,Mine do not lay in the winter and in the spring and threw to the late fall they go broody a lot so you will not get eggs then,but when they do lay you will get one every other day and sometimes in the spring when they first start laying again you will get one everyday.There is nothing you can do to keep them from going broody and they are very hard to break them of it,they are very determined to be mothers and if you have no rooster then its a waste of everyones time yours and hers They are tougher than you would think,and I do keep a heat lamp in the winter for them as it gets really cold here and windy,The coldest it has got for them in there coop last winter was 15 degrees and they seemed to fair it ok.Its probably me that worries that they get cold and not them.They need to keep there feet warm if its really cold,no frostbite.They do like to outside in the winter,but mine will not walk on the snow,I put down straw for them and then they will come out,I think the more fresh air the more healthy they are.I leave there coop door open and they go in and out as they like and close them up at night with there heat lamp.As far a light in the winter give them as much as the daylight outside if you are going to keep them in the basement and if it stays above freezing they don`t need a heat lamp.I would also recommend four or five for the eggs and they do like to cuddle at night for warmth.They don`t require as much room as the full size hens,sounds like you would have enough room for four or five.My big girls get at least 14 hours of light a day in the winter to keep them laying,I did have heat lamp on a timer for the silkies all winter and they still did not lay,it was one of the red bulbs so I don`t know if that made a difference or not.AND by the way there are no stupid questions on here,questions is how you learn.Feel free to ask away there is always somene with an answer to your question.Hope I helped.

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

Thanks for the encouragement - I found someone who has 4-5 mo. old silkies on craigslist and was going to invite a friend along with me to help sex them. I wanted older ones because I know chicks need more care. The seller thinks she knows which are which, but from what I've read, you're never completely sure until they crow or lay an egg! :) If they crow, they'll need to be rehomed - while not approved for zoning, I'm still hoping to pull this off quietly and within a year or two use my success as an argument in favor of city chickens (city council was split and the mayor nixed the idea for now).

4 sounds viable and the eggs we don't eat - I'll be happy to walk with my little one to the neighbors to offer them fresh eggs - we'll be the chicken ambassadors of the block.

The only thing that is possible cause for concern is that we have a heavily landscaped yard - more flowers than anyone in the neighborhood and people are regularly stopping to admire flowers (from April - October) or lately, my peach trees (I put in a couple of dwarf 3 years ago and have 100+ peaches due shortly and peaches are not your typical New York tree). I get a kick out of people walking by, doing a double take, realizing it's a .....peach tree. I haven't seen another peach tree in this area, although I'm sure others have planted them. This year was 2 apple (for pollination) and a nectarine tree - next year, plum and apricot (hoping I can find onesthat self-pollinate (or possibly grafts) because 5 trees is a lot for 2 people - again, I suspect we'll be going door to door with fruit if all goes well) or doing out own preserving. Maybe I'm naive or optimistic by thinking that if someone sees a beautifully landscaped yard with flowers, trees, raised beds and a couple of chickens in the city - the first thought would be: "how wonderful is THAT!" rather than a complaint to the city.

Maybe I could build a ramp for them to go outside from the bilco during the winter and provide a warm lamp when it's really bad - then at night, shoo them down in the bilco away from wind, etc. Then close the bilco when it's going to snow to keep the area dry. My basement is unheated, but even in deep winter, I can still go down to do laundry barefoot without any discomfort so I know the temperature is somewhat moderate.

I'm sure I'll be back with lots of questions and look forward to more advice - I'll take pictures when I get everything set up.

Ferndale, WA

Great, pic's of you and your little girl, so we can put a name and face together. Pic's of your birds, and landscape would be wonderful...a ramp sounds like a great idea, trust me they will go to the light without you having to worry in the evening...Just a thought, if you wanted layers through the winter and only wanted three chickens, The black austalorp is a very quiet and wonderful bird...Just a thought...Sounds to me you have a beautiful place...I had to laugh as I also have peach trees and all my neighbors thought I was crazy until they saw and tasted the fruit. Peaches are rare around here...Haystack

Bridgewater, ME

My three broodies.One is due the 11th and the other two are due the 15th.

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Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

Yeah!!!! - we're leaving shortly to pick up the ladies. My friend brought over the rabbit hutch (we'll be using as a chicken hutch). It's very low to the ground and I'll add a ramp if necessary.

We are going to start with 2 silkies - since it's only Lindsey and myself. If the city officials come by, I'll just tell them I didn't know they were chickens, but thought they were long legged rabbits. I was up front and honest with the seller and told her I'm in a city where it's prohibited - she understood and said she'd take them back if the "chicken officials" told me I had to get rid of them. I figure, the police have bigger problems than a couple of fun looking chickens, so as long as some busybody doesn't complain, we're fine.

Our new family will be - myself, Lindsey, a neutered male cat and 2 hens - what a family. Somehow, I think this is going to be a fun adventure. 20 years from now, I want my little one to remember that we had a fun time with fruits and veggies in the yard and 2 crazy looking chickens. Those will be more precious than a long-forgotten disposable toy.

Definitely will look at better layers once we get established - in the meantime, 2 silkies, a 3 yo daughter, a cat, and myself. How fun!

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Ferndale, WA

WOW!!! Sandra, You have really managed to impress me. What a great attitude. I hope you and that lovely little daughter have a great time with your new extended family. I can just picture you and her walking the neighborhood with eggs in the basket as ambassadors to those who are fortunate enough to live in your neighborhood...Haystack

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

We're having fun with it - she insisted on eating breakfast outside. So we had breakfast on the back patio with 2 chickens hiding under a rabbit hutch. They're about 16 weeks or so, so not ready to lay - maybe within a month or so.

Question - how important is it to get them in the habit of being put in the hutch each night? I won't be mowing the section of yard they're in in the short term so as not to scare them.

Next question - They're skittish right now, so would it be better to put their laying boxes inside the hutch or nearby where we can get at them. The hutch has a closed back area and 3 X 3 ft. (approx.) wire mesh area where I'm keeping extra water and some veggie scraps. I originally thought it would be good to put them in each night, so that we can "shoo them in the hutch" once they learn the routine.

So far, they're content with pecking underneath the hutch where it feels safer - I'm almost inclined to let them stay out at night, with the assumption that if I can't catch them, nobody else can. They're about 4-5 months, still fairly small, but I can't see them getting attacked by anything - we have a couple of neighborhood cats who wander occasionally (I may seem one of them in the yard once a month), but aside from that, a few bunnies and lots of squirrels, I can't envision many predators in the middle of Albany one a 4 lane city street.

Here's a fairly recent picture of the little Miss - she's truly my treasure - and hopefully a bit of "partner in crime"!

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Richmond, TX

Your accomplice is darling!

It is absolutely critical that your chickens go in at night. Chickens are heavy sleepers and anything can pick them off at night. I taught mine to go in by throwing a handful of corn into the coop when I was ready to lock up for the night. The wire around the coop also needs to be a small mesh, like 1/2" hardware cloth, so that predators cannot reach in and try to pull them out. Even in the city there are skunks and raccoons who fancy chicken dinner.

Ferndale, WA

Porkpal is so right about the predators. Remember the smell of chickens will attract predators you've not seen before because there was no smell to attract them...She is also right about the wire mesh...The quickest way to get your girls into the coop is as stated, Food and also a night light should be on. Once in the coop you can either leave it on or turn it off...

That little partner in crime is beautiful, and cute as a bugs ear... I'm excited for your future experiences...Hay

Bridgewater, ME

She is a sweet heart,and I agree they need to be in at night.Another thing you might not know is that hawks will try to get them,I had one go in the run a couple years ago to get my full grown chickens.They will go after white color as that color stands out.Thats a beautiful silkie,I don`t know if its the way the picture was taken but she looks a lot bigger than mine.

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

Porkpal and Haystack beat me to it, so I'll just chime on with "Yeah, what THEY said". Make sure the outside of the hutch is covered with either hardware cloth or 1/2"x1" welded wire, and that the hutch can't be knocked over. Silkies have no way to escape from anything, so need good safety measures. They should have a ramp to allow them easy access, that may help. They will want to go in at night. I do have to admit that the Last Chicken In is one of my Silky roos, he waits until it's almost full dark. Everyone else is in 1/2 hour earlier.
Cats are probably not much of an issue, mine don't even blink at anything larger that a pigeon, but up to that they're fair game. Dogs probably are pretty well controlled in a neighborhood, but a loose dog is a real threat. I'm worried about raccoons, mostly. I quit after finding 8 animal removal services that seem to focus on raccoons in Albany (I googled). So they're there, and a problem. Silkies would be a perfect snack :((.
I'm especially concerned because of their small caretaker. I don't want to see her experience that kind of loss so very young. It's heartbreaking for an old broad like me.
I look forward to hearing (and especially seeing) more....

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

I think we're well situated - I have them in a HEAVY (took 2 of us and a moving dolly) rabbit hutch - about 3 X 6 feet, raised off the ground. It's about half instead and half outside. The wire is very heavy 1/2 inch wire and both front and back lock - although I need to teach Lindsey how to lock it since she knows how to open it. It's also very protected - my friend kept hers in the winter in very cold weather with just a lightbulb.

Seller suggested that I leave them in the hutch for a week so they KNOW their space - happy to do that. We've been giving them a variety of foods, including crumble, grit, oyster shells as well as cantaloupe, tomatoes and other scraps. I think we're also going to get an EE chicken (seller doesn't know the color, but she's pretty and it would make a good complement to our little flock).

I never thought chickens would be so fun! I think I'll limit it to 3 - that should be enough for the 2 of us and to take treats to the neighbors, especially if we get blue or green from the EE hen.

We ate our first peach today - it was 3-4 days premature, a little sweet, a bit crunchy like an apple - I just can't wait for the load of peaches to come in next week - our dwarf tree has almost a hundred peaches - way too many for the two of us to eat fresh. We'll have to look for recipes that don't involve complicated canning.

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Richmond, TX

What pretty birds! And lucky too. It sounds like their housing is indeed secure.

Bridgewater, ME

Very pretty birds.Here is my rooster Napolian,I love those white ones.

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Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

Beautiful rooster.....hope everyone's birds are surviving the heat.

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

We're having so much fun with the ladies.

Lindsey loves the “ladies”, friends think it’s a riot that I live in Albany with chickens (zoning violation) – the funniest excuse I heard was to tell the city they’re 2-legged poodles.
They spent the first week in the hutch and know it’s home
Daytime, they’re under the hutch or under a tree
Early evening they come to life and we can see them pecking around – and I try to get them in their hutch 7-8 pm
We’ve been experimenting with different foods for them including cracked corn and black oil sunflower seeds. I hope to get to a feed store to get everything all set so hopefully they’ll start laying
They love the peaches from the tree in our yard, we feed them the fruit that has fallen and has been chewed on by squirrels, etc.
Last night about 8:30 pm when I went to put them in the hutch, they had already jumped in, all I needed to do was shut the door and this morning, Lindsey and I said "good morning ladies" as they independently jumped out of the hutch - I didn't even have to shoo them outside like I used to.

Do chickens usually do that? Independently put themselves in at night? I was surprised, it's about a 1 foot jump to the doorway and usually I have used the rabbit hutch poop tray as a ramp as I shood them up. It was a bit later than usual, almost dusk and they had already put themselves in for the night. :)

Sorry for the silly questions, we're just tickled pink with our ladies even though we don't get eggs yet.

Richmond, TX

Yes, chickens learn to go in and out on schedule - thank goodness! You will want a more complete feed when they are old enough to lay as they will need extra calcium for shell production. Most people also offer oyster shell free choice.

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

I hadn't realized how easy the silkies are until yesterday when I brought home an Easter Egg hen (for the colored eggs). Right from the start, she found a hole in the fence and went to the neighbor's yard - I spent a half hour trying to track her down (including chasing her down the sidewalk along a busy 4 lane street with a mini-rake). Through several yards, and between fences, I was finally able to herd her back into my yard. Meanwhile, the silkies are just sitting under a tree calm as can be. So, I'm locking her up for a week so that she realizes the hutch is "home". Seller recommended I clip her wings to prevent flying.... This is going to be an adventure. The eggs better be good.

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

sbarr, research wing clipping before you do it, there are different ways to go about it, depending on the final result you are after. Remember, her only defense is running or flight :)

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

catmad - good points. I'm in the middle of the city, so few predators - and I always put the birds in the hutch at night. She's probably more at risk for getting run over if she gets outside the fence. I'm hoping a week of containment helps her develop a sense of territory. The silkies do great staying close by, but they're so much more mellow. For the wings, I'll probably go back to the seller who has experience with that. After my adventure yesterday chasing her back to my yard, I'm skeptical that I will even be able to catch her.

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

*G* good plan. My Ameracaunas and EE's stay pretty close to the coop, so maybe when she begins to think of the others as her flock, she'll be more inclined to stick around :)

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

I let her out this evening – she’s sticking close, but the funniest thing was watching a little Silkie attacking her. First it was the slightly bigger one, then the second one chased her around the other side of the bush. It was hilarious to see these little docile white fluffballs chasing the EE. I was expecting the opposite as she seems to be bigger and more aggressive. Not today - They were all puffed up and strutting.

The silkies are inseparable – always within a couple of feet of each other, whether it be hanging out under the hutch, under a tree or just pecking around. It’ll be interesting to see how she integrates. I’m hoping that they all settle in and it’s not 2 against 1 like in teenage years. I think I’ve hit my threshold with 3 so hope they all eventually get along.

Do chickens of the same breed stick together? Can a small group of chickens NOT get along?

Here’s to a unified yard – I don’t dare tell my ex that Lindsey gave all 3 ladies his last name. My ex kept warning me that it was a zoning violation... *oh really - hmmmmmmmmm, now what if I'm friendly with my neighbors, keep a beautiful yard? He asked again this weekend, I said that I was keeping them, I have polled the neighbors and hope to get something signed and that if there is an issue, I’ll deal with it.

Mind you, John is the person who bought a house last November, has lived there 9 months, had someone put a political sign in his yard, he yanked it, put it at the sidewalk and returned from shopping to find a cop and some politico complaining about removing a sign from his own property. Only John… but, that’s another story.

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