Monday, April 13, 2009

Raising Chicken and Ducks

I took an excellent workshop at Garden for the Environment last Saturday. I learned about raising chickens and ducks. Here are my notes from the workshop. Keep in mind that they are notes and I am no expert.

Bottom line:
You can have a maximum of four birds in San Francisco. The number depends on how many other animals that you have in addition to the birds. They have to be kept 20 feet from any door or window with human inhabitants. Birds on roofs are okay and you can even have a dairy cow in San Francisco.

First thing to do
if you are thinking about keeping birds is to check your rights in the city code. Most city codes can be found online:

City of San Francisco
Article 1, Sec. 37. Keeping and Feeding of Small Animals, Poultry and Game Birds.

City of Oakland
Section 6.04.320 Keeping of Fowl

City of Berkeley
Section 10.12.040 Rabbits, domestic fowl, etc. -- Enclosure requirements.

Second thing to do is read a book. The presenters at Garden for the Environment's workshop, Paul Glowaski and Cooper Funk, recommend these books:
Guide to Raising Chickens
Keep Chickens!
Storey's Guide to Raising Poultry: Breeds, Care, Health

Third thing you need to consider is your responsibility as a pet own.

1. If you don't enjoy having your chickens or ducks, you can't just let them loose in Garden Gate Park.
2. Talk with your neighbors before buying your chicks because birds might make a little noise (not as much as dogs) and sometimes (rarely) fly the fence.
3. Look at the time that you have to care for your birds. Just like dogs, they need to be cared for every day and can't be left uncared for while you are out-of-town. They need daily feed and water.
4. Their coop needs weekly cleaning.
5. Consider how you want to keep your birds: free in yard (prepare for yard destruction) or a bird run.

Fourth thing to consider is the end point.
1. Chickens can live up to 30 years but they stop producing a lot of eggs after just two or three years. If you are only allowed four chickens at a time, do you want to keep non-egg producing chickens? What will you do when one is injured?
2. Once a bird is dead, you ship it via fedex to UCDavis where they do an autopsy paid for by the US government because of California's risk of the bird flu. For us backyard farmers, it's a place to dispose of dead birds.

Differences between chickens and ducks:
1. Chickens scratch, ducks don't (they have webbed feet)
2. Duck eggs are bigger.
3. Duck eggs are excellent for baking.
4. Ducks are more gentle than chickens.
5. Ducks need only a tub of water (not a pond).
6. Ducks love to eat snails.
7. Chickens have an aggressive pecking order, ducks are less aggressive.
8. Ducks can forage for 15% to 100% of their food.
9. Ducks need a smaller amount of feed (1/4 lb. per duck).
10. Ducks can be trained to eat weeds (oxalis) and snails.
11. Ducks sleep on hay; Chickens sleep on wood shavings.

Similarities between chickens and ducks:
1. Produce the same amount of eggs about 4,000 eggs per lifetime.
2. Eggs taste similar.
3. Need to lock-up chickens and ducks at night or raccoons will eat them.
4. Chickens and ducks can coexist.
5. Both eat the same feed except ducks need niacin supplement.

Free in the yard birds:
Chickens like to eat succulents and anything red like strawberries. You will have to sacrifice a part of your yard for them.

Birds have three life Stages:
chicks: birth - 2 months
teen: 2 months - 4.5 months
hen: 4.5 months - 5 years

Choosing Ducks or Chickens
1.Paul and Cooper recommend a dual purpose heritage breed. Dual purpose means that they are good egg producer but also have some meat on their bones; and therefore are good to eat when they die. They are also heavier so they don't fly the fence as easily.
2. You don't need a rooster when you have hens.
3. Keep at least three hens because it takes the pressure off one individual hen.
4. Hens lay 2 eggs every 3 days or 3 eggs every 4 days. That adds up to 270 eggs a year.
5. Chickens will become more friendly if raised with ducks.
6. Chicken and ducks can be raised together.
7. Spring is a good time to get chicks because they'll be in full production in summer which aligns with their biological clock.

How to tell if an egg is bad?
1. Eggs last 4 weeks in refrigerator and 2 weeks unrefrigerated.
2. Place an egg in a cup of water.
3. If it lays flat on its side at the bottom of the glass, it is fresh.
4. If it stands up at the bottom of the glass it is nearing the end of its freshness.
5. If it floats, it is bad.

Other animals can attack your birds so lock them up at night:
raccoons, dogs, skunks, possums, hawks, and owls

1. Mites (lice) can be prevented by having a clean environment. Make a hard plastic, metal, or concrete nest box so it is easy to clean. Clean it weekly and bleach it once a month to keep it clean. You'll if your bird has mites because they run around the eyes. Fleas are not an issue. There is no cross contamination with bird lice to kids or house.
2. Eggs can get stuck in a birds vent. You have to reach up and pull it out.
3. Cannibalism happens if birds are bored or don't have good nutrition.
4. Chickens sometimes eat their own eggs. Once this happens it is unstoppable. To prevent egg eating, clean up any broken eggs immediately. And, don't feed your birds egg shells.

Feeding Birds
1. Raise your own chicks because it will minimize the stress on them when you need to handle them throughout their life.
2. Give your chicks a drink of water when you receive them in the mail. New chicks eat the egg white in their shells so they can last three days without food or water. That's why they are mailed.
3. Feed your chicks "chick starter" feed. Mix in rolled oats to chick starter at 8 weeks. Start mixing in "layer feed" at 18 weeks and switch completely at around 20 weeks. The difference is that there is calcium is in the layer feed. When the birds lay their first eggs start with 100% layer feed plus grit (sand) and oyster shells. You can serve everything buffet style because chickens only eat what they need.

Brooder Homes
1. A brooder is a home for chicks. Chicks need 1/2 square feet for each chick. As the chicks grow, give them more and more space. A full-grown hen needs 2-3 square feet.
2. A brooder can be a large cardboard box.
3. Chicks need a heat lamp with a red light bulb. The heat lamp should be high enough so that it isn't too hot and low enough so the chicks aren't cold. If they are all huddled under it; it is too cold.
4. Water and feeders should be up off the ground and lined up to the middle of the birds backs.
5. At 8 to 10 weeks when the chicks have their feathers, they can go outside.

Coop Homes
1. Coops are outside homes for birds. They include roost bars, nest boxes, safe enclosure, and ease of cleaning.
2. Coops should be 10 square feet per bird if the birds don't have a bird run or free access to the outside world. If they can go in and out of the coop, then three or four square feet is good.
3. A bird run is a secure large cage around the coop for the birds to hang out in. A bird run should be eight by eight feet. Bird runs are a good option for people with gardens that they don't want destroyed. You always have the option of letting them out for an hour or so under supervision. You can make a bird run frame out of two by four wood and then galvanized welded wire with one inch to two inch holes. The coop is inside the bird run. Keep water in the coop and in the bird run area. The structure needs to be fully enclosed which means the floor to the bird run should be wire as well because raccoons will dig.
4. Build 1 nest box for each bird. A nest box is where the hens lay their eggs. Put dry wood shavings in here for the birds to sit on. Ducks like straw. If you lived on a farm and had a lot of birds, one nest box per four birds is fine. Each nest box should be 10 inches wide by 12-14 inches in length and height. They are about the same size as an egg crate. The nest box needs to be a dark color.
5. Hens sleep on wood planks (roost bars) off the ground. The roost bars are 2 by 2 pieces of wood off the ground. There needs to two feet of room under roost bars that can easily be cleaned out daily. Chicken like 10 inches of roost bar per chicken. Ducks sleep on hay on the ground.
6. Water and feeders should be up off the ground and lined up to the middle of the birds backs.
7. Collect eggs daily.
8. Put Coop in the sun with some shade.
9. Build coop off the ground.
10. Put the feed outside the coop.

Feeding your Birds from the Kitchen
1. Food to avoid giving to your birds: potatoes, chocolate, avocados, onion and other foods like onions. Ironically, avoid feeding your ducks fish.
2. Let your birds forage your compost pile but keep your compost pile separate from your bird run.
3. Feed your birds two pounds of kitchen scraps a week.
4. Scratch is a treat food for birds. Only feed them a couple handfuls a day.
5. If you have a bird run, let your birds out in the late afternoon to eat bugs.

Other reading:
SF Bay Guardian Article with Paul Glowaski
Homeless Garden Project


Sustainable Eats said...

This is great - we are getting chickens next month and I wanted to avoid chicks since we have so much going on. Maybe I'll get them anyway now. Yikes!

So cool you can have a dairy cow in SF! We can have one goat but no cow or roosters in Seattle. I love this chicken fever...

Kristina said...

What wonderful information! Thanks so much for sharing all this in such an organized fashion!

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