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|Chicken Savvy |
Allow chickens to roam outside the coop within a fenced area. They will be healthier and the coop will stay cleaner. Be sure the fence is at least 4 feet high (and possibly electrified and deep in the ground) to keep away likely predators such as dogs and raccoons. The coop itself should be easy to clean with good drainage, ventilation (but no drafts), lights (natural and artificial) and protection from wind, sun, cold, rodents, wild birds and predators. Give chickens nests, perches and bedding on the floor.
Make sure the coop is big enough, about 2 to 4 square feet per bird if it’s an open coop. As far as looks are concerned, anything goes, just as long as it’s clean and secure, and the chickens can live in it without hurting themselves. It’s a good family construction project.
For food, the easiest solution is to buy premixed feed for each specific breed of chicken. Mix this feed from scratch (a mix of grains) and increase the feed ration during cold-weather months. If chickens are molting, they needs more protein. If eggshells are very thin, the chicken needs calcium supplements. Avoid feeding them raw potato peels, spoiled food or strongly flavored foods like onions or fish.
It’s mid-July, and a long line has formed in the community Grateful Tomato Garden on 600 East and 800 South in Salt Lake’s Central City neighborhood. People from surrounding neighborhoods await their Wasatch Community Gardens Tour de Coop guidebook, a treasure map to urban chicken coops in select back yards around the valley. It’s a stiflingly hot, bright morning, and the WCG volunteers didn’t expect a turnout this strong and ran short of guidebooks, holding up a growing line of impatient chicken-coop tourists while they fetched more copies.
On the tour, coop owner Kris Justesen gives a concise explanation as to why she chooses to raise chickens in her east Salt Lake City back yard. “I started buying eggs at Wild Oats at $3 or more a dozen. I realized they’re one of the best sources of protein there is, and I wanted to start eating more of them, but I didn’t want the cheaper eggs with all the pesticides in them that taste so totally different. It was just that simple.”
Like many others, Justesen gives great importance to knowing where her food comes from. It’s a rekindled passion for a connection with food, a refusal to assume that all the stuff in the grocery store—sold relatively inexpensively and imported from far-off lands—will provide the same nutrition and spiritual nourishment as the corn, tomato or egg you’ve helped create. It’s inciting eco-conscious people around the country to grow large and impressive urban gardens. For the less intrepid, it means getting seasonal food from local producers and farmers’ markets—a geographic and possibly social connector with the food and the guy who grew it.
It’s the birth of the “localvore,” a creature whose diet consists of food with limited “food mileage” (how far the crop traveled from producer to plate) and with restrictions on eating food out of its natural growing season. A memoir-cum-instruction-guide of the localvore challenge called The 100-Mile Diet (2007) by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon is just one source of inspiration.
Salt Lake City is no exception. Some residents have created the Eat Local Challenge that started August 18, a one-, two- or four-week period of obtaining food grown within a 250- or 100-mile radius. Luckily, this isn’t January, because buying grapes from Chile or mealy tomatoes from who-knows-where certainly would be cheating. >>