Urban Chickens in Phoenix & Rachel Bess

The life of the urban chicken begins in a cardboard box.
The life of the urban chicken begins in a cardboard box.

We recently had a death in the family.

Little Brownie was born with splayed legs. It (we never figured out if it was a boy or girl) lived for four days after it cracked its way out of its blue shell. We fashioned a splint for it out of a pair of band-aids. In spite of all the effort, however, the poor little thing didn't make it.

I'm talking about a baby chicken. And I'm not the only one in town getting in on the conversation.

Local artist and chicken expert Rachel Bess has been talking about chickens for years. Bess educates Valley urban chicken enthusiasts with frequent classes through the Phoenix Permaculture Guild. She's teaching a class this Wednesday night (click here for the details).

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My family officially hopped on this urban chicken trend when we ordered a dozen fertilized chicken eggs from this website about a month ago. We have grand plans for these chickens: Big brother is building the coop, Mom is keeping them in her backyard, and, eventually, I get to take home too many eggs every week.

Plus, people say they make great pets, are good for pest control, and are happy to till your soil.

And they're cute.

We chose a "barnyard mix" of eggs. In other words, we really have no idea what kind of chickens we're getting ourselves into. And just 21 days after putting them in the incubator, four eggs hatched with three yellow chicks and one dark brown.

As I mentioned, the dark brown chick didn't make it. But the other three (named Bellina, Blondie, and Goldie -- all names courtesy of my 8-year-old niece) seem to be going strong. And we've learned all kinds of things about the early life of a chicken. Here are a few highlights:

-- A chicken poops out of the same hole that it lays its eggs (it's called a cloaca ... I swear, I learned this is grammar school).
-- Splayed legs is a common ailment and results from being too cramped in the shell or from too many temperature fluctuations during incubation.
-- Baby chicks have to be kept in 95 degree environment for their first week.
-- When a chick pokes the first hole in its shell, it has "pipped."
-- You can hear a chick peep even before it has pipped.

Fascinating, eh?

We're certainly not experts with the whole urban chicken thing. But, since Rachel Bess is, we bought her handbook titled Fowl Play at Tempe Feed & Track for guidance.

Because, evidently, we need all the guidance we can get.

R.I.P. Brownie.


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