Chickens are so common in cities now that one British company even sells designer coops. “It’s becoming quite the chi-chi thing,” says Alicia Rheal, founder of Mad City Chickens, a Wisconsin group that lobbied the city of Madison to become more hen-friendly. Chickens may be no harder to care for than dogs or cats, but that doesn’t make them easy. Here’s some advice:

  1. Secure your coops. Raccoons, coyotes, possums, and birds of prey now thrive in urban parks and green belts, and you’d be surprised how easily raccoons can open doors. Best idea is to critter-proof the entire backyard. To protect from hawks and owls, chickens should have a sheltered daytime area. A raised coop gives the hens shade and more earth to peck.
  2. Feed your chickens. Chickens eat constantly. They’ll keep your back yard nearly bug free, but they’ll also scarf your beloved begonias and almost everything else unless you supplement their diet with store-bought feed.
  3. Check local regulations. It’s a rare city that prohibits chickens, though many have limits. Roosters are another matter. Often raised for cockfighting, they’re loud, aggressive, and, in many cities, illegal.
  4. Share the eggs. If your neighbors are wary, a gift of fresh-laid eggs may change their minds. The difference in taste between fresh and store-bought eggs is like the gap between tomatoes off the vine and ones from a supermarket in January.

Photograph by Tom Sicurella

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