Charm City Cook: Backyard Chickens
So, you have a friend in the country with chickens. Or, you read an article online about people in Brooklyn raising chickens on a rooftop. Or maybe you opened up the new Williams-Sonoma Agrarian catalog and thought…I want chickens! Then you start to wonder if they’re even allowed where you live. Well, if you live in Baltimore City, here’s some advice from someone who’s recently jumped into city chicken keeping.
You must obtain a permit from Animal Control – 410-396-4698
You must register your flock with the Maryland Department of Agriculture – 800-492-5590
The coop must be movable and cannot be within 25 feet of any residence
10 hens allowed per household – no roosters
When I got my chickens two years ago, I did it completely backwards. Here is the order o’ biz if you live in Baltimore City: 1) build your coop 2) have it inspected…then 3) get your chickens. This is not completely clear when you call the city, but I’m told the coop needs to be approved sans chickens. I already had chickens in my coop when it was inspected. I was nervous about it since I’m such a rule follower! But it seemed fine…no big drama. The Animal Control officer could not have been nicer.
Once you have built your coop, figured out a routine and have your permit, you’re good. Chickens are excellent low-maintenance pets that give you something amazing in return for your love and care – those delicious eggs. They are not, however, leave-for-a-long-weekend animals. They need to be checked on daily – fresh food and water are both key. You’ll need to clean out the coop no less than once a week – otherwise, you might have a smelly coop and NO ONE likes a smelly coop. And, every single night, you must make sure they are securely locked inside the henhouse – this is really important.
This past summer, I thought I’d expand the flock and got three new baby chicks. I ordered them online this time (that way, they were 95% guaranteed to be hens). Sadly, they ended up getting killed by a predator at about six weeks old – we think it was a raccoon or fox. Here’s where I wrote about it. Their coop (separate, smaller, temporary) was not quite secure enough and it was just so sad. I cried. (A lot.) But, it happens all the time in more rural areas, so I knew that it was possible in my little backyard, too. The next flock I get will most likely not get names. That’s just trouble for someone as sentimental as me. When my three girls stop laying in a few years, I will give them to my friend out in the country. As much as I want to walk the walk of this whole sustainable, local life, I don’t think I could cook my hens. Maybe without names next time, that might not be as much of an issue. We’ll see, I suppose…I love my girls. They are chatty, friendly and very smart. Nope, that last one was a lie – they are pretty dumb. But I love them anyway. They follow me everywhere in the backyard and get along well with my yellow lab, Henry. I’ve also taken the girls to the school where I work to visit the kids – kinda like show & tell. Now when I see them on campus, they shout, “Hey, Chicken Lady!”
Also, if you decide to go down this road, consider getting a backyard composter – your chickens will poop a LOT and that stuff makes the best fertilizer ever!
For more on the highs and lows of raising chicken in the city, read Chicken Little: Adventures in Urban Farming, today on the Baltimore Fishbowl.