by Lauren Masellas, Sanford Animal Control Officer
Over the past few years, the great chicken fervor has continued to gain momentum across America. Our area has certainly not escaped this trend to the point that City Code Enforcement enacted a “Poultry Ordinance” which I suspect very few are aware of.
So let’s start there! Should you not be able to resist those adorable chicks that show up at every farm and garden store in the world each spring, there are some things you must know if you live in the City of Sanford/Springvale. Most importantly, you must apply to the City Code Enforcement Department for a permit- FIRST! You may also be required to get a building permit for the coop. Very generally, the permit allows you to have up to 6 hens and ZERO roosters. So don’t fall for the cheaper price offered by “straight run” chick packages. You will end up with just as many roosters as hens and with most breeds it is almost impossible to tell the difference until it’s too late. And no one is going to want your excess roosters! You must also have an appropriate, completely secure coop and securely fenced outside area. You are not allowed to let your chickens “free range” or roam. The ordinance is many pages long and I will not try to cover all of it here so get yourself a copy BEFORE you start building or buying!
That said, chickens are a lot more work, and expense than most people realize. I know, they seem so self-sufficient in the movies! Let’s start with space requirements since that seems to be what gets most people in trouble. Your average laying hen, like the ever popular Rhode Island Red needs a minimum 1 ½ square foot of nest box and at least 10 inches of roosting space with a minimum of 3 ½ square feet of floor space. So figure a 21-25 square foot floor plan for your permitted 6 hens! Obviously, the larger the breed of bird, the more space they need…or get bantams if space is tighter. They also need outdoor space. Again on average, a hen needs a minimum of 8 square feet per bird, 10 is better. So that’s another…60 square feet for those lovely 6 hens. This area also needs to be completely enclosed to prevent predation and escape. Don’t forget chickens can fly! They may be small, but unless you enjoy crawling around in chicken poop- be sure to make it tall enough for you to get in comfortably to clean it. Chickens are messy! And everything about them attracts rodents and predators. Keeping the coop and runs clean will not only prevent illness and disease in your flock, it will also prevent critters from getting your hard earned eggs and even hens.
Next order of business is the basics behind a proper shelter. Obviously, you want it varmint proof and easy to access for cleaning and egg collection. It needs to be weather proof too but ventilation is probably the number one factor for keeping your hens healthy. Ventailation brings in oxygen and allows carbon dioxide, moisture and ammonia gasses to escape. This is usually accomplished by venting the roof line. There are plenty of options and suggestions on the infinite number of backyard poultry websites, blogs and pages. Save yourself a lot of grief and aggravation by doing your research! The second often not considered factor is heat. Chickens and heat do not get along. The birds have no sweat glands and are easily overcome by heat and humidity. In fact anything over 100 degrees can be lethal to them. This is not the outside temperature mind you, this is the combined heat/humidity inside the coop. So put the thermostat there and keep a close eye on it if temps outside creep up over 75 degrees. Add a fan that they can’t get at (because they will!) when temperatures start climbing.
It would take more pages than I have to go into the myriad of nutritional requirements of chickens. Safe to say for most backyard flocks, a quality commercial layer pellet that contains a coccidiostat with scratch feed and access to grit should be adequate. Here’s a tip for both food and water! Suspend the feeders/waterers so that the lip of the feed rim is about the same height as the birds back. This will greatly cut down on wasted feed and dirty water issues.
And finally, the reality is…it will cost you more to raise your own eggs than to buy them. Done right, home raised eggs, in my humble opinion, are far superior to store bought eggs. All animals are a labor of love and require a significant financial and time commitment however. So if it’s savings you’re looking for…keep looking.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service has a bulletin all about chicken nutrition at https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2222e/. For more general info on a wide variety of chicken-raising topics, visit backyardchickens.com.