Sure, the standard Rhode Island Red bought at a farm supply store will deliver a satisfying 300 eggs a year. But fetching eggs for the morning scramble from your Ziggy Stardust-esque blue Silkie certainly adds a little glam to your routine. And just imagine being entertained by your golden Polish with her haute headdress as she struts and poses, performing her daily défilé in your garden.
Chickens live 5 to 10 years, quickly growing from adorable puffs of fluff into egg-laying dynamos in about 16 weeks. A good egg-layer will turn out between 150 and 250 eggs annually before petering out around age 3. In Portland, keeping up to three hens in your yard is allowed. Roosters, which are not required for egg production, only fertilization, are prohibited because of their loud crowing and occasionally aggressive temperaments. Contact the Multnomah County Health Department (503-988-3464) for more details on rules and regulations.
Buying a pullet (a full-grown hen under age 1) near laying age is certainly an easy option. But raising baby chicks can trigger floods of parental pride when your little one lays her first egg. Obtaining young chickens is recommended if mixing breeds; otherwise you’ll quickly learn the origins of the phrase “pecking order.” Local farm and feed stores offer baby chicks for sale each spring, but usually only limited varieties are available. Finding more dazzling breeds to raise will take a little more effort. Pistils Nursery (3811 N Mississippi Ave) also sells chicks in the spring and will order in specific breeds if requested. Mail-order hatcheries will send day-olds through the US mail with excellent results, but they sometimes require minimum orders (see “Chicks ’n’ Stuff,” below, for hatcheries and suppliers).