CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Chickens in the Backyard

About six years ago, the tiny city I live in Western Colorado approved chickens within the Community Residential Zoning district.  They allowed 6 hens per dwelling unit or up to 12 per lot if more than one dwelling unit.  So my family decided we would get some chickens the following spring.  

Some of the benefits of having chickens in the garden include providing green fertilizer, insect control, compost materials, eggs and food, and psychological benefits of calming and helping with special needs such as anxiety and depression. 1  Maybe that answers why I sit on the back step and visit with the chickens after work J

Here is my daughter with our Cochins-Picture by SLC
My family did our research and wanted chickens that were good layers but docile and didn’t fly.  I remember having various breeds growing up and remembering having to clip a wing so they didn’t fly into trees or off our property.  So I ended up with 6 Blue Cochin hens.  Make sure you get your chicks from a reputable company.

We started them out in the garage with a heat lamp until they were old enough to move outside.  We introduced our Borador dog, that’s a Border Collie Labrador mix, to them every day so she knew they belonged.  So it came time to let them out of the coop to roam the yard.  Well, Izzy the Borador thought that she needed to herd them back into the coop.  So with a little training, she realized we just do that at night.
Izzy the Chicken Herder
By this time, we were planting our vegetable garden.  Since we have a moderated sized town lot, our garden borders our yard.  So I planted my cold crops or cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.  My husband and I left for work with the girls wandering around our fenced in yard.  That evening I came home to find nubs where plants had been.  My girls apparently really enjoyed the veggies.  Chickens, like humans, are omnivores, so they need a well-balanced diet.  My scraps from dinner go to the girls.  They are my replacement compost pile.

So up went some chicken fencing so they can get close to the garden but not into the garden.  The chickens seemed to do a good job eating different insects although they are a little wimpy about new things like when I threw a tomato hornworm at them.  They first ran away, and then finally realized it was food.  The one thing I noticed the first year after the City passed the ordinance was the amount of flies seem to greatly increase.  So we hung a few fly traps near the coop and clean the coop weekly.  Not sure if the food web caught up to the increasing fly population or if other people took steps like us to decrease them.  But they now seem to be under control.  Lime is also another way to control the flies within the coop and helps with others things like disease and ammonia.

Having cochins has been great in the sense that they are so docile that there is very little pecking from establishing a pecking order.  However, my sister has several different breeds of chickens and one ended up wanting to be queen of the chickens and picked on everyone else.  My sister also lives in a city that allowed chickens but unfortunately had an uninformed code enforcement officer and city employee.  Apparently someone complained about the egg laying noises and the officer came to take the chickens.  Well, my very large personal fitness trainer brother-in-law said “no you are not taking my wife's chickens”.  The gal at the city said “well you have a rooster”.  “No”, he said “I don’t”.  Her response was: “well, how do you get eggs?”  Lesson here is YES, hens lay without the presence of a rooster.   So, to not deal with the city, the chickens were moved to Dad’s house.  But the mean hen continued to pick on the other two hens and my dad threatened to throw her in a pot.  My sister said no, let me figure something out.  Well, she found chicken goggles that made it hard for her chicken to focus on the other hens.  And it worked so no stew pot for her.  I then had a Master Gardener with the same pecking order issue with her chickens and I told her about the googles.  And they worked for her. 
Here is a picture of Big Bertha with her goggles on.
There are certainly challenges to having chickens.  When we go away, we have someone open and close the coop, give them treats beyond what is in the basic feeder and fresh water 1-2 times a day.  Egg layers need a lot of water available to them.  Of course now and then they get in the garden and do some damage.  And they eggs are not cheaper but wow do they taste good.  We do let them get into the garden in late fall for cleanup.  They enjoy eating the leftover vegetation and any insects left in the garden.
My sister's Chicken, Picture by Linda Gular

Do your homework before you get chickens.  Select the right breed for your purposes and situation or support a local egg farmer.   Practice good research based techniques.  Chickens can pass on some illnesses like Salmonella so wash and read this link.

By Susan L. Carter, Horticulture Agent and Chicken Momma
CSUE Tri River Area

1 information from Rutgers, M. Brimat, Green Chicken Lady, 2016

Oh, by the way, peach season is wrapping up so go buy some Colorado Peaches today!


  1. Daughter Alison, with Larimer County, also has chickens. Connect with her to swap fun chicken stories. Pinterest has a lot chicken ideas and adorable photos of coops. I certainly enjoyed your blog! Nicely done! Jan Stoven

  2. I'm daughter Alison, and I love your post, Susan! We've had a number of conversations about chickens. I just integrated three new ones into my flock this summer and the pecking order was alive and well. Things have settled down now and yes, we have a dominant bird. But my chickens are wonderful pets and so much fun to have in our backyard!

  3. Thank you for the interesting article. Hopefully more towns and cities will consider allowing chickens. Question: What are the housing requirements for the hens in the dead of winter/snow?

    1. Wind is the big thing that can have an effect on your chickens. You want wind protection but you need a balance of air movement. I put a good layer of straw on the ground the keep them out of the mud and off cold ground. On really cold days, those zero degree days or so, they enjoy hot oatmeal. Heat lamps are not always necessary but will keep them laying. There are different theories on this. And make sure if you do use a heat lamp that it has the appropriate clearance to avoid fire. Here are some wintering tips.

  4. Hi Susan H.,

    My chickens are sturdy and adapt to the cold weather easily. But it does depend on the breed. As long as you can provide them shelter and a safe dry place to go at night, they are usually out and about during the day, even in freezing weather. Remember, chickens are basically walking down coats and their feathers keep them very warm. The most important thing will be to provide them fresh water, so having a water heater is crucial.

  5. Yes, breed does have something to do with it.