When I started following Jake Schultz on Twitter, and reading his tweets about his urban chicken coop, I figured he lived somewhere warm and chicken-friendly. But as tweets went by, I realized, no, he was in the Upper Midwest. Then I realized, no, he was in my town, right here in Minneapolis. So I contacted him and realized, wow, he lives about 8 blocks from me.
As it turns out, our neighborhood in Minneapolis, Powderhorn, has one of the highest urban chicken populations in Minnesota, and Jake is part of a growing movement here. Urban chicken farming is a do-it-yourself, food-security movement aimed at bringing a little self-sufficient farm-life into the city, and lots of young people like Jake are pursuing it.
FFF: Tell us how you got interested in urban poultry-raising. What’s the Parade of Coops?
Jake: It’s kind of odd that I actually got into urban farming, overall, since I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee and knew nothing about gardening, raising animals, and so on. But, I guess the desire starts from somewhere and there are others out there like me.
To give a quick rundown on how I got into this, I guess you could say that it was a snowball effect that lead up to raising chickens (and continually wanting to expand onto something else… like goats). When I started college, the freshman English classes were all food themed and so I got a nice introduction to Eric Schlosser and starting to really understand the industrialized food systems. I then joined the diving team, learned about nutrition’s impact on muscle growth, started to go organic, cut out processed foods from my life, and make everything from scratch. I can easily say that one major impact that made me look more into meat industry was Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I wanted to be able to have food security for myself and others around me. Upon graduating, one of the reasons I actually moved to Minneapolis was BECAUSE of food issues. It was here for Portland/ Seattle.. and Minneapolis has better skiing trails so that won out. Gotta love my winter.
In my first year here, I created my first garden with much success and during the winter months I decided that I really wanted eggs…. from my backyard (My mother thought I was crazy at the time). I never realized how many different varieties of chickens there were! I never went to the poultry area in the WI State Fair growing up to see all of this. I was quite impressed. So, I looked at different types of set-ups that could be a possibility (like the Omlet’s Eglu chicken house…which was too expensive for my part) and took various chicken classes that were offered in the Twin Cities. Since my lease ended in spring, I then moved in with a family who also wanted chickens and we started the process of building our coop (which one of our neighbors absolutely despised) and applied for the permit. During that time, we also went on the ‘Parade of Coops’ (it’s held twice a year: spring/summer and fall). Since there are many many families in and around the Twin Cities that have chickens we have a this coop tour for anyone that wants to see a family’s chicken coop set-up, has questions about raising chickens, or to see the different breed and varieties available. It’s a wonderful exposure to see the inside workings of urban chicken raising. In fact, this past summer when it was being held, I was in the process of building my coop (which can be an overwhelming experience especially for someone like me who has never built anything like this before) and there were 5 other families in our 2 block radius who were showing their coops on the tour.
FFF: How did you get started then? Why did you select the chicken breeds that you selected?
Jake: Like I mentioned above, there are various classes in the Cities that teach you the ins and outs of raising backyard chickens called ‘Chickens 101.’ Also, from these classes, our presenter, Peat Wilcutt, typically brought in his chickens to show some varieties and also invited us to his own house to see it all in action (unfortunately, he no longer lead the classes now). As for the types of breeds I got… it all depended on our climate. It’s exactly the same as a gardener finding the type of plant that will be suited for their climate zone. It would be very unwise to get a Mediterranean chicken for this area because of it’s long legs and large comb and the exposure to wind and temperature. Those poor little chickens would just turn into popsicles! What we looked for were ones that were: 1. good egg layers; 2. had high tolerance to cold temperatures; and 3. breeds that were feather footed as well as being more ’rounded’ which gave better insulation. But, even with this you still need to watch them so their combs do not get frostbite… which it will… especially if they absolutely insist on trying to sleep outside in -10 degree weather ( I always bring mine inside the heated coop at night).
FFF: How many chickens are in your flock?
Jake: Fifteen total. We keep them in separate coops because the larger ones will try and peck at the smaller silkies, so it’s all one flock but I keep them separated.
FFF: Silkies are pretty. I don’t have a question, there. Just sayin’.
Jake: They are as soft as a fluffy rabbit. I cold just curl up with a hundred of them around me
FFF: Wait. I do have a question. Are you going to eat the pretty silkies (pictured at right)? Or are they layers?
Jake: We got them because they are ..well… just so adorable! Allegedly they are great egg layers (which has yet to happen for us) but as soon as they get broody (tending to their eggs as to try to hatch them) then all bets are off. Plus, they are not the type to eat since they range from $40-100 (we got ours for $10 each by luck) and are quite small. So, I guess if a hawk came down to bite the neck and then fly off like it did with one of our other chickens…then we will eat it. But otherwise….no, probably not.
FFF: Are you raising the chickens pretty much for eggs and if so, how many eggs do you get out of your flock? Is summer better than winter for egg production?
Jake: We got them for eggs. If we wanted meat birds then we would look into a totally separate field of chicken breeds that are made for it (like the buckeye chicken). The egg production can really vary from the different breeds. We have a breed that lays about every day and the rest go every other day. We have 14 hens and 1 rooster and typically get about 6 eggs a day. Many factors can go into this, though, like the age of the chicken, weather, feed, fresh greens from the yard, and getting enough calcium ( which I learned after they started eating their own eggs). Over summer we got significantly more.
FFF: Do your neighbors mind that you have chickens?
Jake: Our neighbors are in absolute love with our chickens! On exception to one old grumpy man next door who does not believe farm animals should be in any city. But he raised 700 chickens growing up with factory-farm like conditions and thought they would be smelly, noisy, and a nuisance. But if they are in smaller flocks, able to establish a pecking order, and you let them actually BE CHICKENS while wandering the yard, it is the complete opposite than an industrial operation, where they can’t establish an order, so they just attack each other (which is why debeaking occurs). But if they can establish dominance, chickens are quite docile and each have their own personality. I mean, they run up and greet me when I get home! Even our neighbors come over to visit and talk to them (literally in ‘chicken talk’). Some of the best experiences children can get is having exposure to different things such as this. It heightens their learning, understanding, and exposure to the world. But if you are in an area without chickens, it would be wise to make a pamphlet about the benefits of chickens to hand out to your neighbors.
FFF: Is Minneapolis a good urban-chicken town?
Jake; I would say that it is. Although the laws governing chicken regulations within animal control, I believe, are completely ridiculous and unnecessary. Do I really need 80% approval to keep a chicken in my backyard when I could easy pick up a vicious dog, keep it loose in my backyard, and even have it ‘accidentally’ attack someone without repercussion from the city all without needing the same steps I go through with getting a chicken? I don’t think so. We all have the right to have food security and to know where our food is coming from no matter where we live. But, overall, Minneapolis has been pretty good with chicken owners and the number of owners keeps getting larger and larger every year. I am impressed where the city is going on this.
Follow Jake Schultz’s blog One Tree in Ten