Chickens In The City
We first met urban farmer Steven Janowiecki in May when he gave us a tour of his elaborate rain barrel watering system in his garden. His masterful set up stores up to 300 gallons of rain water. It takes one flick of the switch to open the watering valves on the PVC pipes that snake through the garden beds.
He adopted five chicks from an area farmer and built a coop and run to house his birds.
In addition to having a regular supply of eggs, he’s looking forward to using the chicken waste on his garden.
“Absolutely! That’s the second best thing about having chickens.”
Permit To Harbor A Chicken Flock
The city of Bloomington requires approval before one can keep chickens in the city limits. Janowiecki didn’t mind jumping through the hoops. “The standards are really responsible and healthy and safe for the chickens. It’s totally reasonable things.”
- Get your adjacent neighbors to sign waivers to say it’s okay for you to have chickens. If any of your neighbors are against it, then you’re sunk.
- The coop must have a warm and protected enclosure for nighttime. It must have a roof to protect from hawk attacks. And the enclosure must provide a certain amount of space per chicken.
- The coop must be shielded from view. (Janowiecki built a four-foot high fence around his backyard to meet this requirement.)
Making A Chicken House A Home
If you live in a rural space, there are fewer hoops to jump through if you want to house a flock of chickens. But when you see a set-up like the one Salem Willard has concocted for his birds, you realize that creating a space for chickens can be as elaborate as you want it to be.
Willard is an edible landscape designer, and he spoke about his permaculture project in the Hoosier National Forest a few episodes back.
When I visited him in early 2011, he was constructing a chicken moat to surround his garden. There’s no water involved in this moat. It’s a pathway between four and five feet wide lined with fences on both sides. The chickens roam around the encased moat, scratching the ground, eating worms, and creating a rich compost.
The chicken moat also serves to protect the nearly 6,000 square foot garden from pests and weeds and, well, the chickens themselves because Willard is the only one who has access to the garden and all those lovely crops through a latched doorway.
Ideally, he would like to have 40-50 chickens and ducks on his farm. He’s especially excited to raise Khaki Campbell ducks, which lay up to 300 eggs every year – almost one a day!
Chickens Have Needs, Too
First things first, chickens need to scratch. If you just leave them there on their own, they’re just going to scratch the earth bare and then there goes your healthy soil. He recommends throwing in sources of dry carbon, like straw and leaves.
They also love to scratch and gnaw at egg shells, which also happen to be an excellent source of calcium. “I know it sounds weird, but they really love them!”
Another great source of calcium is mulberry fruit. Plant the trees around the edges of the moat and the fruit will fall into the moat for the chickens to eat.
They also need grit to help them digest in their gizzard. Oyster shells and small rocks do the trick.
And just like us, chickens need protection and company.
Crops Serving Multiple Purposes
Willard follows the permaculture concept of relative location, in that resources should live in a place nearest to where they will be used.
He thinks about this when choosing which crops to plant nearest to the moat and even which plants climb up the fences. Chickens especially love annual crops like buckwheat, rye, barley, and sunflowers. Once those plants produce seeds, chop them off and throw them into the moat for the chickens to enjoy.
But those crops involve yearly planting, which is more work than he wants to do! Instead, he promotes perennials.
“There are a lot of shrubs that chickens love the fruit or nuts produced by those shrubs,” like the pea shrub. It drops an abundant number of pea-sized pods that chickens absolutely eat up. An additional perk is that it’s a nitrogen fixer, so a pea shrub would be good for your garden as well.
“I like to think of it as lazy person’s gardening because the less work you have to do to keep everybody happy, the happier you’ll be.”
The Perfect Roast Chicken
A crispy, crunchy skin is part of what makes a roast chicken so tasty.
Chef Daniel Orr achieves that by rubbing the outside of the raw chicken with a lemon. “This is something I learned down in the islands when I was living in the Caribbean in Anguilla,” he says. “Anyplace it’s hot, when they’re cooking birds, they always put lemon on it.” He speculates that the acidity helps kill germs on the bird.
When you’re done with that, stuff the lemons inside and infuse the whole bird with that citrus flavor.
The Perfect Roasted Chicken
- 1 farm fresh local chicken
- 1/2 lemon
- bay leaves
- 1 whole bunch garlic, sliced in half
- chopped garlic
- olive oil
- Kosher salt
- crushed pepper
- water, white wine, or chicken stock
- Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Rinse chicken inside and out.
- Rub it with half a lemon then stuff the used lemon inside.
- Stuff the bird with various herbs and seasonings, including rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, and mint.
- Slice the bunch of garlic in half. Put half at the entrance of the chicken toward the back. (This way the garlic will roast.) Save the other half to put in the pan.
- Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil. Then massage it with kosher salt, crushed pepper, and chopped garlic.
- Add cold olive oil to a hot pan.
- Place the chicken breast-side down in the pan to sear it. Flip the bird and sear the other side.
- Then add ¼ of an inch of water, water and white wine, or chicken stock to the pan.
- Cook the chicken in the pan in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325 degrees and cook for an additional 30 minutes.