A baby photo of "Stevie Nicks" my Salmon Faverolle. Photos Leslie Halleck

In The Garden: Want Backyard Chickens?

I’m a big proponent of urban farming and have done my share of going to bat for the backyard chicken movement in Dallas. I love my chickens; the eggs and fertilizer they provide me are superior and they are master composters. Keeping chickens in the city can be a fruitful and rewarding experience—it is an important component of a productive backyard garden and a healthy local food system.

Yet, I feel compelled to offer a few words of caution for those considering the practice. Keeping livestock should never be taken on without thoughtful consideration about how you will properly care for these animals, or how you’ll dispatch them when the time comes. Yes, I said dispatch.

Stevie all grown up. No surprise, she's got the biggest voice in the coop.
Stevie all grown up. No surprise, she’s got the biggest voice in the coop.

An important point to consider is that the city of Dallas has one ordinance when it comes to chickens: No roosters in the city.  When you purchase birds, be sure to purchase sexed pullets. If you’re buying baby chicks, be sure to buy sexed baby chicks. If you buy “straight run” chicks, you’ll end up with approximately half males, half females. If you incubate your own eggs, you’ll end up with approximately half males, half females. So you’d better have a plan for what is going to happen to those roosters once they mature.  It’s not easy to find homes for roosters so don’t assume you’ll be able to find one. Group message boards are filled with messages about re-homing roosters; yet you won’t find many responses. Even if you can find homes outside of the city limits, one property can only accommodate so many roosters—you may find someone to take them, but they could well end up in their stock pot anyway.

So inform yourself before you purchase your birds and be prepared to take responsibility for what happens if you end up with a rooster. If you want a reliable source for sexed chicks, but don’t want to have to order 25, as is standard from many breeders, My Pet Chicken is a favorite go-to of mine. North Haven Gardens and Trinity Haymarket both offer local sales of pullets and both businesses provide education and supplies.

Also, chickens don’t live forever, they don’t lay eggs forever, and they can get injured or sick. It’s your responsibility to have a plan for how you will care for birds no longer producing eggs, or birds that need to be put down due to illness or predator injury. One of the points I make most strongly in any class I’ve taught on keeping backyard chickens is that you’ll need to learn how to do chicken triage in case of a hawk attack as well as how to use a stiff broom handle or sharp hatchet when duty calls.  If you’re not comfortable with that aspect of keeping livestock, be prepared to foot a hefty vet bill to have someone else do the deed. Do your homework, talk to seasoned chicken keepers and go to lots of classes before you dive in. Do so and you’ll have a well-rounded rewarding experience.

Being a good city chicken neighbor means managing your flock closely, responsibly and working within the city ordinances. Each city will have it’s own distinct rules about keeping chickens so always do your research first.