Raising backyard chickens can be fun and easy. They require little care, and can even be beneficial to your yard since they eat problematic insects such as grasshoppers. The eggs they provide are superior to those from grocery stores. Crack your backyard eggs open to find a bright yellow to orange yolk full of nutrients. Eggs from the grocery store are generally from malnourished chickens that have been pumped full of hormones to make them lay as many eggs as possible in a lifespan. The color of store-bought eggs is usually a very pale yellow, portraying the lack of nutrients in their diets. Chickens are omnivores and are meant to scratch around in the dirt for worms, insects, and other organisms. In factory farms chickens generally do not have access to this rich natural diet.
If let loose in a backyard, the chickens favorite place may be an accessible compost pile. If there is no compost pile to speak of, directly tossing them food scraps will work just as well. They need calcium in their diets to help form the eggshell. A good source of calcium is oyster shell which can be bought in 50 pound bags at feed stores. This also provides grit, which the chicken needs. The grit and food go to the gizzard where it is essentially chewed and digested. If chickens are free range they will not need as much grit provided by caretakers because they will get most of it from small rocks and dirt.
Many people have problems with roosters as they are early vocal risers and can be aggressive, but having roosters is not necessary for chickens to lay eggs. A rooster can help protect the flock and will often fight to the death for them, but as long as precautions are taken to put the hens up in a locked coop at night so common opportunistic animals such as opossums and raccoons, and in more rural areas bobcats, cannot reach them, they will be fine. If any of these predators start coming around during the day, start keeping the chickens in their coop until they get the picture. Also make sure that any existing pets will be fine with them if they will all be running around the yard together. Some cats and dogs will tend to chase but others could care less. And the younger the animal of course, the easier they will be to train to keep them from chasing.
Many people are concerned about whether keeping chickens in your backyard is legal. Each city has a different ordinance about how many chickens are allowed per yard, if roosters are accepted, etc. This website has a lot of useful information concerning these issues. http://home.centurytel.net/thecitychicken/chickenlaws.html
Here is what is allowed in our city:
Fort Worth: Can have up to 12 chickens within the city limits on a residentially zoned lot. They have to be in a chicken coop and the coop has to be at least 50 feet away from any house. That includes your own house and any neighbors’ houses.
Here is an example of how different laws can be just a few miles away:
Arlington, TX. You must have a lot that is larger than a half an acre to lawfully keep hens (no roosters) here. Even so, you may only keep four hens. If you have a lot over 1/2 acre, then you must still keep the chickens 50 ft. away from neighboring houses, and you must keep them penned.
Be sure to research before getting chickens. There are many different things to consider when making the choice. Where to keep them? Make the coop or buy one? Are there any predators around that would make keeping them impossible? How many are needed to provide the amount of eggs eaten in your home? Just as with any pet, make sure they will have enough space, and that they can be cared for properly.
Fort Worth Green Living Examiner