Thursday, November 11, 2010

Response to Sofia: Why 4 chickens, Why movable coops?

Backyard Chicken supporter Sofia wrote to ask why four chickens and why movable coops? As for the number of hens, CLUCK recommends 6 and staff, 4. For an analysis of why we support a slightly higher number, see the blog post Fine-Tuning the City Code for Pet Hens. As for the movable coops (also known as chicken tractors), we see three distinct advantages that render movable coops a better choice for the owners, the neighbors, and the chickens.

The owner argument may be particularly salient in this hurricane conscious part of the country. We have been concerned that fixed coops could be viewed as accessory structures that need to meet hurricane wind codes -- a requirement that could make coop construction costs prohibitive, especially for just four birds. Sheds, for instance require a building permit. Small movable coops are consistent with a small number of birds (coop design will help keep flocks from expanding) and avoiding permitting paperwork is a benefit for owners and city staff alike.

The neighbors will benefit because coop location can be adjusted. There's more to it than simply one time minimization of visual intrusion. Neighbors change and move. It makes sense to have a coop that can also adjust to changing conditions and perceptions. One neighbor may be a snowbird or take extended vacations, so the coop could be closer that property for awhile, then relocated. Another neighbor may volunteer to take care of your birds while your away, so you drag, roll, lift, or skid the coop over there where it is more convenient for them. And if you ever decide to get rid of your hens, the coop goes with them to the new owners.

As for the birds, they will benefit in several ways. First they will get to different sections of the yard, minimizing impacts (scratched up areas) and maximizing new bugs, seeds, etc. You can put the coop in your garden plot after harvest to weed, till and fertilize the soil. And when hurricanes do threaten, the coop can be tucked away in a carport or garage.

There are hundreds of mobile coops designs available. Over 170 images are available at The City Chicken. Many are triangular prisms and most have wheels. By looking at so many designs, it is pretty easy to deduce what the key features are. If that seems too complicated, plans are available for sale online. And at least two local entrepreneurs are building and selling chicken tractors: Ira Klineschmidt and Mike Lasche.

1 comment:

Sofi said...

Excellent explanation. It all seems very well thought-through. Over here in earthquake country, we hardly think about making things stand up to high winds. In the rare case that our City gets involved in coop design, they typically categorize it as "fencing" rather than accessory structures and let it be. But then again, our code allowing chickens was written in the early part of last century and never changed.

As for the number of hens. Yes, 4 is better than 0. But six is really much more reasonable, for all the reasons you explained. Now in our 5th year of having chickens we've rarely had more than two or three laying at a time (and we've always had 3-6 hens). They always have an excuse (too young, too old, too broody, it's winter, new pullets, etc.). Is there an exception for chicks? (can you get more chicks to start, and then share them as they get older?)

I'm sure you've done this, but what are your thoughts on end-of-life for the hens, and what to do when Henrietta turns out to be Henry? If you can't slaughter them in the City, is there some place folks can slaughter their chickens?

As I said, you all have done amazing work and it looks like you're putting together a solid, well-thought-out code. Good luck! (or should I say: "Good Cluck!"?)