A black star chickenThe big salmonella egg scare a few weeks back led me to think it was high time to start exercising a few of my unused rights. To its credit, our city allows its citizens to raise up to 15 chickens per household (with a one rooster limit). This was a bit surprising when I'd first learned about it a few years ago. Lately, it feels like an opportunity I've been letting go.

Albuquerque isn't a podunk town in the sticks, and my property wouldn't pass as agriculturally-relevant in a pair of worn boots and a John Deere cap. We have half a million people living in neighborhoods packed as dense as any modern subdivision. What's more, I have friends living in the the northern Midwest in a town of 5,000 who have had to lobby their town council to allow backyard chickens - and lost! With this in mind, my wife and I considered the pros and cons and decided to give it a shot.

According to thousands of would-be urban farmers (on the internet), we've entered some type of golden age of backyard chicken rearing. Acquiring the means to production of eggs (and a healthy helping of chicken meat) is a fairly attainable goal. In a RECESS situation, these skills may become essential. However, long before we find ourselves in a RECESS situation we might want to consider that this approach to agriculture - or micro-agriculture - might help to right the ship.

The upfront cost and responsibility may be a deterrent. It's certainly easier to grab a dozen eggs at the market than it is to build a coop and start raising chickens- but is it less risky? I'm also inclined to challenge the notion that producing my own eggs has to be more difficult than throwing down my $3.50 per week for a carton of Iowa's finest.

Rather than to go it alone, I've started what equates to a loosely formed co-op of friends at my place of employment. A handful of us are coming together to rehab an old coop on one member's property (walking distance to the office), brood the chicks, and share the work of tending to the flock. Our hope is that we'll get the maximum amount of return with the minimum amount of investment of time/equipment.

Camel eating a drillIt's the poultry equivalent of a community garden. With any luck, we'll each spend 30 min or less per week tending to a flock of chickens large enough to give us all the eggs we'll need. Perhaps most importantly, we're building a community to grow and share resources, reduce our dependence on outside production, and learn essential skills. 

This co-op is an experiment, and I'll post updates as progress or failure ensues. In the meantime, enjoy this picture of Merlin the camel helping me stabilize a beam.

If you are interested in starting your own chicken co-op, you are welcome to download and use our chicken co-op agreement form. An editable .DOC version can be found here.

I'll detail equipment, techniques, and costs as the experiment continues. If you're worried about the legal risks in raising backyard chickens, check local chicken law before you get started.