Our household is mixed - one vegetarian (ovo-lacto) and one is not. A few years ago we encountered a booth at the Portland Garden Show, promoting backyard chickens. One thing led to another, and we started with a small flock of 4 pullets. It's not difficult, and they are a constant source of discussion, attention, and fascination. And eggs.
Our hens are quite pretty to look at. Sort of monster parakeets. They are much hardier than tropical birds. They love to walk around, pecking at everything. On nice days, I ake my laptop outside and do 'homework' while watching the chickens wander and peck at stuff. It's like having giant, feathered, goldfish.
Unlike commercial chickens, they don't peck at each other, in fact they hang out together and cackle contendedly. Each hen has her own personality. I give them all of the weeds that I pull, and they eat them ravishingly. Pulling weeds has become, not so much a chore, but a harvest for the hens. Also, they get bugs, slugs, and worms from the garden. We feed them kitchen scraps as well. Their main diet is chicken feed from a local feed store, but they enjoy these other treats. They are a wonderful source of organic plant food, via composting the chicken poop in our compost bin. The eggs are "eggier" than store eggs - firmer white, more golden yolk, more 'eggy' flavor.
Backyard chickens are an American Tradition, and until the start of the suburban age, people had them in their yards in town and on the farm. I remember, my grandparents and great aunts had chickens in their yards, in town. Many recent immigrant families still like to keep them. In my area, it's families from Vietnam, Mexico, and Russia.
Currently, many cities allow backyard chickens, with some major restrictions. Usually, no roosters allowed. The hen house needs to be kept clean & sanitary. They must usually be fenced in, to prevent wandering and destruction of neighbors' yards. In some cases, they must be housed at least 20 or 50 feet away from any house, or in some cities, the property line. Some towns limit # of hens to 2, or 3, or 4.
There are lots of online resources. Here
is Organic Gardening's Willi Galloway, in her blog, with some chicken advice and resources. She often discusses her chickens on the Seattle Tilth radio show. Here is a link to BackYardChickens.com
with more information. Here
is a listing of some city ordinances regarding chickens. More resources here, UrbanChickens.net
. Basically, for any town, you need to find out your local municipal code, since there is no standard and there is even variability in different neighborhoods.
Backyard chickens can be raised in a caring, humane manner. They become part of nature's cycle in the garden. They are fun to keep as pets. High-laying breeds usually lay 4 to 6 eggs per hen, per week, better tasting than store-bought eggs. They are not perfectly politically correct for the ardent vegetarian (there is the issue of what happens to baby male chicks, especially in areas that ban roosters), but if someone is eating eggs or in a household that is not purely vegetarian, they are more environmentally friendly, humane, and sanitary, than the factory farm. They are no more work than a couple of cats. While laying eggs, they can be a bit noisy, but they usually do that in their egg laying house and the noise is usually only 15 minutes or so per day. The rest of the time, they make pigeon-like noises. All that it takes to avoid odor is clean the floor of their chicken house once weekly.
In my workplace, several people have 'come out of the henhouse' as enthusiastic backyard chicken owners. The hens are a favorite topic of conversation, often annoying and fascinating non-chicken owners.