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What you need to know to raise your own city flock

Is it legal to have chickens in the city?

Check with your local government, either county or city, to make sure of the rules.

Tacoma bans roosters, but allows hens. Coops must be at least 50 feet from your neighbor’s house – unless your neighbor agrees in writing that it’s OK to have it closer, and you file the agreement with the city clerk. Animal control handles complaints about roaming chickens. The Health Department can help if your neighbors’ chickens cause you concerns over sanitation.

In Puyallup, officials advise chicken owners to keep their chickens at least 50 feet away from their neighbors’ property. Also, chicken owners are subject to the city’s noise ordinance.

In Olympia, you’re restricted to three pets – including dogs, cats and chickens. Roosters are not allowed. Feed must be stored in rat-proof containers.

Where can I get baby chicks?

They’re on sale in the spring at local feed and farm supply stores – the same place you can buy chicken feed. Ask which food is best for chicks, and which works for older birds.

You can also buy chicks online and have them shipped to you. You’ll need a brooder to keep them warm. See more on raising chicks at www.backyardchickens.com.

What about the coop?

Designs run the gamut from basic to deluxe. They must provide protection from heat, rain and predators. And hens need a protected place to lay their eggs. Pine shavings work well as bedding.

Jenn Adrien’s hens live in a wooden coop built by her boyfriend. It has a clear plastic lid to let in daylight, and it sits a few feet off the ground. A wooden ramp with chicken-sized steps provides access to their small fenced outdoor run. Kim Desmarais has a larger run for her flock, with a ramp that leads to a window in a large barnlike garden shed. Inside the shed, the hens nest in the drawers of an old dresser.

Check out the book “Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock,” by Judy Pangman for ideas.

If you don’t want to build from scratch, you can order pre-fab coops from sites such as www.omlet.us.

The poop?

Composting is the best way to deal with it, say experts. Don’t let it sit in your coop, or it will start to smell and attract vermin.

Chicken manure mixed with green and woody yard trimmings makes good compost. Andy Bary, Washington State University soil scientist and compost expert, recommends using new compost made from manure on ornamentals or on vegetables that will be cooked. If you want to use it on vegetables that will be eaten raw, make sure the compost is at least a year old.

For how-to composting tips, see www.seattletilth.org.

The run?

Be aware: Chickens love to eat grass. They’ll eat it all, along with your weeds, fruiting plants and shrubs, if you let them. One way around this problem, if you have a large yard, is to create a moveable run that lets chickens peck at the grass in one spot, but then is moved to a new spot before the area is denuded of vegetation. Another is to learn to live with a patch of bare ground.

How many eggs will I get?

Each hen can produce an egg roughly once a day – more during the longer days of summer, less in winter. They produce best in their first or second year of laying, then gradually taper off with age. Ornamental breeds lay fewer eggs than those bred for egg production, such as Orpingtons, Rhode Island reds or Plymouth Rocks.

Should I worry about catching bird flu from my chickens? Should my neighbors worry?

Most types of avian flu are not a threat to people, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. A. Singh Dhillon of the avian health lab at WSU Extension in Puyallup, says Washington has not recorded a case of the dangerous bird flu that killed people in Asia a few years back.

If birds in your flock appear ill or die unexpectedly, you should report it to the state Agriculture Department at 1-800-606-3056.

Debbie Cafazzo, The News Tribune

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