City Chicks

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 in General.

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By Heather Quintana

When you walk down the alleys behind the streets in the Raleigh Court neighborhood of Roanoke City these days, you might occasionally hear the distinct sound of chickens clucking. “City Chicks” or “Urban Chickens” are becoming more and more popular here in Roanoke as the trend takes hold in cities across the United States.

Maybe it’s because of the economy, or people are realizing their need to have a connection with the very food that keeps them alive and healthy, or maybe it’s just that eating the freshest cleanest food tastes better and makes us feel better.

For me, it started in Italy in 1994. I thought something was wrong with the eggs there – the yolks were almost orange! And the eggs tasted like no egg I’d ever had before. Little did I know that’s how eggs are supposed to be. The factory-farmed eggs we find in the supermarkets are from severely overcrowded chickens that are fed an unnatural diet of GMO soy and corn pellets so they produce pale, tasteless eggs lacking in many of the nutrients found in the eggs of backyard chickens allowed to roam free and scratch and peck for bugs and vegetation.

Years later, after moving to Roanoke, I ended my quest for those amazing eggs I had in Italy when I bought a dozen eggs from Weathertop Farm in Check, VA. They were so good, I would set my alarm and race down to the “Community Market” every Saturday morning to get my eggs before they sold out. After a few disappointing weeks of missing out on fresh eggs, the time had come for our family to raise our own chickens.

We started with 6 baby hatchlings in a large cardboard box with wood shavings and a heat lamp. The baby chicks are so soft and fuzzy and make the cutest little peeps. After a few weeks, they were “feathered out” and ready to move into the coop. By 16 weeks, they started laying their first eggs!

Our chickens make great pets, they are fun to watch, and are simple to care for. They make me laugh every time they waddle-run to greet me. Sometimes they walk up to the back door and “knock” on the window.
They eat weeds, grubs and garden pests, convert fruit and vegetable scraps into fertilizer, and provide lessons for my boys about responsibility, empathy, life cycles, self-sufficiency, nature, and where food comes from. Plus, our chickens provide us with plenty of the best-tasting, freshest eggs around.

Each day, my 8 year old checks their food and water and my 4-year-old collects the eggs. Our chickens “freerange” in our fenced-in backyard during the day, and head back into their coop each night. Once a week, I do a quick clean of the coop (takes about 10 minutes) and about once every 4 – 6 months I do a thorough cleaning (takes about 30 – 40 minutes.)

If you live in Roanoke City, you can have up to 10 hens in your backyard, as long as the coop is at least 50 feet from any dwelling. (If your lot is larger than 20,000 sq ft, you can have even more hens!) No roosters allowed. And no, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs! (Chickens “ovulate” almost daily. So, if you had a rooster doing his job, the eggs could hatch into chicks – otherwise they are just eggs for the eatin’.)


You can easily purchase everything you need to get started for about $50 (not including the coop).

Baby Chicks are sold twice a year locally at The Tractor Supply Company (in April and August),
and also at Holdren’s Country Store in Vinton. Be sure to pick “pullets” (those are the hens.)

You can even mail-order baby chicks!   My favorite source is
they sell dozens of breeds and describe them with pictures, so you know what type of chickens
you are getting – plus they have a 3 chick minimum (unlike other hatcheries which sell in batches of 25 chicks.)

Equipment you’ll need to get started:

  • Waterer
  • Feeder
  • Heat lamp
  • Wood shavings
  • Large box/brooder

Your chickens need a constant supply of fresh clean water, regardless of their age.

Up to 6 weeks old:            Feed your baby chicks a “starter” feed (20% – 22% protein)

6 – 16 weeks old:              Feed your chickens “grower” feed (14% – 16% protein)

After 16 weeks old:           Feed your chickens “layer” feed (15% – 18% protein)

Organic Feed:  Countryside Organics, in Waynesboro, VA, has the best deal around
on organic feed. Shipping fees makes the cost of organic feed unreasonable, but they
deliver to the Roanoke area the third Tuesday of every month. Coordinate with another
chicken-owner to share pick-up responsibility each month.

Conventional Feed:  You can also feed them conventional chicken feed which you can purchase
from any feed store or the Tractor Supply Company for about half the cost of organic.

Coops, designs and plans:
If you are handy, you can build a coop on your own with re-used/re-purposed/recycled materials for
as little as $50, or you can purchase a pre-made coop for $350 – $2,000!  You can also find chicken coop plans online for around $30.
Do a little research on the web and you’ll find tons of great ideas.

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