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Originally published Saturday, May 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Chickens in the city: a tightknit brood

The moment Georgie, Olivine and Sarerin see Ingela Wanerstrand in her bedroom window in the morning, they rush to the door of their coop...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Raising chickens

Resources:

www.seattletilth.org/resources/articles/citychickensfaqs

home.centurytel.net/thecitychicken

www.madcitychickens.com

• Helpful books include: "Chickens in Your Backyard: A Beginner's Guide" by Rick Luttmann and Gail Luttmann; "A Guide to Raising Chickens: Care/Feeding/Facilities" by Gail Damerow; and "Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock," by Judy Pangman.

• Seattle Tilth also offers classes on chickens and coops — see www.seattletilth.org.

Tips:

• Timing: Feed stores typically carry chicks in the spring or you can order them online.

• Chickens are social, so it's best to get more than one.

• Seattle also allows roosters (though neighbors may not!), but chickens will lay eggs without roosters.

• Make your coop raccoon-proof. These determined critters can dig underneath the coop, can unlatch some doors and also can reach through chicken wire with 1-inch holes.

The moment Georgie, Olivine and Sarerin see Ingela Wanerstrand in her bedroom window in the morning, they rush to the door of their coop and cluck, anxious for their daily serving of fresh salad greens.

Since the New Year, the chickens have been laying about an egg a day each. They have taken over pest control in the yard, snapping up slugs and worms and bickering over dandelion greens.

Wanerstrand loves coming home at the end of the day, letting the chickens out and spending time with her "girls."

"I'm totally in love with my chickens," she said.

Like more and more folks, Wanerstrand originally wanted chickens for the environmentally friendly purpose of raising food in the city, decreasing the amount of fuel required for eggs by raising chickens instead of buying eggs trucked to a grocery store.

The eggs are the bonus now.

"The thing about people who raise chickens is they love talking about them," said Angelina Shell, program coordinator for Seattle Tilth's city chickens program. "It's like people who talk about their cats; they do that about their chickens, too. They're definitely entertaining creatures."

Seattle has allowed chickens and roosters for years, and some chicken programs around the country have been modeled on Seattle's program, Shell said. The city does not require a permit to have chickens, so it's unknown exactly how many people have them, but Shell estimated at least 1,000 coops.

"Someone told me chickens are sexy right now," Shell said. "It's definitely growing. Our chicken classes always fill up quickly. This is the most interest I've seen in a long time."

Raising miniature goats in the city is also becoming popular, Shell said, though far fewer families raise goats than chickens. Most goat-owners keep them for milk and pets, she said. Seattle Tilth recently offered its first goat-raising class. The next chicken class (on building chicken coops) is May 31 and a chicken-raising class is in June (see www.seattletilth.org).

The city of Seattle allows residents to raise domestic fowl (typically three per household, which can include chickens, turkeys, quail, peacocks and so on), miniature goats (three per household; must be registered with the city) and even potbelly pigs (one per household; must be registered). Bigger lots may have more.

It's the season

Spring is the time to buy chicks, available at most feed stores, or you can order them online. They typically take five to nine months to produce eggs, depending on type.

Hayes Feed & Country Store in Burien has a waiting list for chicks, according to owner Susanne Hayes, something she hasn't seen before due to the recent popularity of "city farmers raising chickens."

"They're mostly city people buying chickens for their eggs because they like to know what they're eating," she said. "They'll come in and spend hundreds of dollars for bedding and feed. They love their chickens like pets, like a cat or dog."

She said city residents come in to buy feed and materials for their goats and sheep, too, but chickens are by far the most popular.

Chicken care and community

Chickens are relatively straightforward to care for, and their main requirements are food, water and shelter that includes a place to walk around and a place to lay eggs, Shell said. They lay eggs for the first couple of years of their lives.

Coops can be as complex or as simple as you want, though owners must guard against predators including raccoons, dogs, foxes and hawks. Coops require minimal maintenance, with some owners cleaning as little as once or twice a year.

Chickens also create community, Shell said. Neighborhood kids love to feed and watch them, and with some hens laying an egg a day, there's plenty to share.

Wanerstrand set up a bench in front of her coop for neighbors to watch "Chicken TV." She has her own chair inside the coop where she can sit with them while they scratch for bugs. She coos when she holds them and laughs at them when they fight over choice bits from the garden.

Coops 101

Wanerstrand feared the chickens might be smelly or difficult, but they are neither. A landscape designer, Wanerstrand built a sustainable coop (including a green roof planted with ground cover and rain barrels) designed so it is easy to maintain. She cleans the coop once a month and composts manure with wood chips for mulch. Other basic duties include keeping their water fresh and their feeder full.

The real obstacle has been keeping them safe from predators. She lost her first batch of chicks to an unknown predator that yanked off chicken wire and snatched her three chickens from their coop.

Her flock is now guarded by a beefed-up security system involving mesh hardware cloth, wood screws, spring-loaded hooks and buried chicken wire.

Today, her berries are flourishing from the chicken mulch, her perennials are slug-free and she's constantly giving away eggs.

"It's just way easier than I thought it would be."

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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