Raising urban chickens isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This is not turning out to be the idyllic food source that I had hoped for.  My flock is small (3 hens) and when Henny Penny up and died of unknown causes back in April, my flock was reduced to two hens.

Henrietta and Chicken Little live in a small enclosed coop and run. Here they're eating alfalfa hay and scratch, which I give them to supplement their laying pellets.

Chicken Little, a black sex-linked hen, laid eggs all through the winter while Henrietta, a black Australorp, took a break. Then Henrietta resumed laying about the time Chicken Little stopped to molt. One laying hen wasn’t supplying us with all the eggs we wanted, so I took steps to enlarge our flock.

I visited Centennial Farm at the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, and they sold me one of their 9-month-old laying hens.

But the new barred rock hen from Centennial Farm didn’t get along with my existing two hens. Um, actually, it was the other way around. Chicken Little, who is half Rhode Island red and aggressive, took an instant dislike to the new girl and pecked her neck bloody.

This is our new girl, a beautiful barred rock hen.

I couldn’t stand to see the sweet new hen get beat up, so I built her a separate enclosure. It isn’t roofed and is make of rabbit fence instead of hardware cloth, so it is exposed to the elements and the night critters. Not ideal.

 

The advantage is that the chickens can see each other. They don’t like being alone. I’m hoping that in time they will adjust to each other so I can keep them all in the secure enclosure.

Meanwhile, I put the older hens into the new enclosure for a few hours at a time so they can work out their dominance issues. When I do that, the new hen sits up on a perch, out of the reach of aggressive Chicken Little.

Here are all three hens in the new enclosure, with the new barred rock on the perch, Chicken Little at the bottom right, and Henrietta nearly out of sight back by the pet carrier.

The chickens like the larger enclosure so much that I may eventually make a door so that they can all three use it in the daytime. I could then close the door between the un-roofed enclosure and the secure one after they “go to bed” in the coop. But they still don’t get along well enough for me to leave them all in the same enclosure all day and all night. Let’s just say that this is a work in progress.

Meanwhile, Henrietta is molting and not laying. Chicken Little is over two years old and is laying only 4-5 eggs a week. And the new girl, who is still nameless, is so stressed out by the move that she stopped laying two days after we got her. VBS. Keeping urban chickens ain’t easy.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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4 Responses to

  1. Brenda K says:

    Thanks for posting that! I’ve been pushing Chi to add a couple urban chix to our menagerie of Panache Pets, and he’s been resisting sometimes, welcoming other times (hung up on bird flu!). Now I’m wondering if that would end up like the Panache Garden, i.e., a great idea, an ENDLESS amount of time consuming, back-breaking work, more-costly-than-expected upkeep, and less-than-hoped-for yield…..

    • Hahaha, Brenda, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Yes, the chickens are work; yes, building the coop cost more than we expected; and yes, yield is sometimes disappointing. And don’t forget about all the chicken poop that one must deal with. The work isn’t backbreaking, nor is it onerous (I don’t mind chicken poop). And I dearly love having chickens in my backyard. The bother is well worth it to me.

  2. It’s not just urban chicken keeping…it’s chicken keeping in general! Did you read the trials of our poor rooster last year? Sheesh. Not to mention we’re up to THREE separate enclosures due to personality conflicts 😉 Chickens can be nasty to each other. Adding new hens is almost always problematic, especially adding just one to an established flock. They can be quite nasty while they establish their new ‘pecking’ order. Hopefully with supervised visits for a while things will improve. I might try offering a particularly tasty treat to the hens, but only when the old girls are with the new hen. Hopefully they will start to associate her presence with something pleasant that they want, although I agree, reasoning with a chicken can be challenging! Good luck!

    • Clare, that’s hilarious. Three enclosures! I’m happy to report that my girls are now getting along nicely and they “play well together.” I started putting the two older hens in with Miss Hillary in the new enclosure, where she had established territory. From there it was fairly easy to introduce her into the existing enclosure during the daytime, still separating them at night. After a couple of weeks of this routine, they have become used to each other and are all in the safe enclosed coop.

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