See an ad for “BROOKLYN CHICKS/ eggs eggs eggs” in a classified section, and you might assume it’s a call for NYU fertility subjects. Or maybe that was only back before big-city backyard farmers started landing top-name book deals. These days, you might well see the ad for what it is: an offer for a locally-laid breakfast. Urban chicken-keepers are hatching from their shells all over Brooklyn. What’s the draw? Some surprisingly likable pets and, of course, those incredible, edible eggs. Here’s a look at how one Brooklyn chicken-keeper does it.
Simone Mogul has seven fat, healthy hens roaming around her backyard coop—the Poulet Palace, she calls it—in Prospect Park South. She bought the birds as day-old chicks from two online chicken resources, My Pet Chicken and Meyer Hatchery. Her bunch is a mix of Buff Orpingtons, Australorps and Barred Rocks—large, friendly, hearty breeds. If you’re going to keep chickens, have at least three or four, Simone says—the birds like living in groups.
As this spring’s issue of Edible Brooklyn tells it, Brooklyn’s hen owners reap many rewards, both edible and otherwise, and Simone is no different. Hens aren’t just food-producers, but full-fledged pets. As for the eggs, the word ‘fresh’ doesn’t do them justice next to your every-day supermarket dozen. According to the article, the FDA allows 30 days for eggs to travel from producer to the store, and another 30 days for them to get to your refrigerator. These two-month-old eggs are a far cry—in terms of flavor, nutrition and appearance—from what you can eat practically straight from your hen’s… well, straight from your hen.
Living in their space around her backyard garden, Simone’s hens roam as they will, unless the garden’s in-bloom—then they use a wire tunnel to walk back and forth between their coop and a small space nearby. Coop designs are as diverse as house styles, but a chicken’s home should accomplish a few things: keep the chickens safe from predators, keep the chickens dry, be easily cleanable and hold adequate food and water.
At $1200, the kit-built coop was Simone’s biggest one-time hit. But smaller coops (for three) start at around $350. Basic maintenance costs are probably less than for her two dogs, Simone says. A 50 lb. bag of feed for $20 will last a whole month. And the seven chicks themselves were a minimal expense, at about $2 each. Recently, Simone’s started selling eggs to a few weekly regulars, which helps defray costs a bit (each bird lays an average of one egg per day).
But the real cost of keeping her egg-layers has been the labor: At least once a day, Simone checks on her chickens, removes and inspects their eggs and cleans the coop. Still, “keeping chickens is fun,” she says. “Now I can let my two dogs, cat and chickens all out together in the backyard… And you get great eggs.”