Backyard Chickens

I am obsessed with chickens of late. I find myself setting the alarm a half-hour earlier to sit with my chickens for a morning cup of coffee. It is a delight to watch them run around and stretch their wings when I open the door to their coop in the morning. They are much more interesting to watch than I would have thought.

I turned my failed attempt at a greenhouse (I naively built it in the shade with the hopes the glass would somehow increase the non-existent sunlight) into a coop. In front of the coop is an enclosed run to keep out marauding raccoons & ravens.

Chickens by Shana SemrickThe first four feet of their run has a covered roof to allow them outside time in the wet of winter. Chickens are prone to disease if they are perpetually damp.

My chicks are now five weeks old (technically now called “pullets”) and won’t start producing eggs until about 5 months old. At peak production, I can expect about 5 eggs/week from each of my four birds. I have two Buff Orpington, a classic yellow bird which will produce brown eggs. I also have two Ameraucana with a beautiful multi-hued plumage. The Americauna produce slightly smaller, pale blue eggs.

My 10 month-old daughter delights in watching the chickens run around their yard. I look forward to the day when she will be able to collect the eggs. I think it is important that children have a physical connection to their food and realize that eggs don’t just come from a carton in the store.

I deeply despise the industrial food system that keeps thousands of hens perpetually locked in small wire cages without the ability to walk and stretch their wings. Automatic feed rations are laced with antibiotics to minimize the disease outbreaks that are inevitable in such cramped quarters. It is common practice to sear off the ends of the chick’s beaks to reduce injury from the bored, caged hens pecking at each other. [Beak searing or ‘de-beaking’ is a painful procedure which involves cutting through bone, cartilage, and soft tissue].

Knowing my birds are healthy and happy means a great deal to me. Having control of what my chickens are eating also gives me the assurance that my eggs will be maximally nutritious.

I am able to produce a lot of my feed from local Rye, Wheat and Oats I buy from Sloping Hill Farm in Qualicum Beach.

It is delightful to have somewhere to put my organic vegetable trimmings instead of the compost pile. My chickens will happily turn them into eggs that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, and rich fertilizer is the by-product.

Nanaimo is one of the many cities across Canada that have recognized the value of backyard chickens. Here is an excerpt of the Nanaimo bylaw regarding chickens:



Notwithstanding Section 8(a), a maximum of six (6) chickens or ducks may be kept on a lot less than 0.4 Hectares (1 acre) in size but where the lot is less than 450m2 (4843.75 ft2 ) no more than four (4) chickens or ducks may be kept, provided that:

(1) No roosters, cocks, or cockerels, or peacocks, and the like, are kept on the property;

(2) A minimum enclosure of 0.37m2 (4 ft2) must be provided per chicken or duck;

(3) Any structure containing chickens or ducks, whether portable or stationary is subject to the setback requirements of the zone;

(4) Structures housing chickens or ducks must be kept clean, dry, and free of odours;

(5) Areas within and around structures are kept free of vermin;

(6) Any diseased chicken or duck is killed and the carcass destroyed;

(7) No slaughtering of chickens or ducks occurs on the property;

(8) Chicken and duck manure and waste products are composted or disposed of to prevent odours; and,

(9) Chickens or ducks are not permitted within a dwelling unit.


There is an abundance of information on the internet if you are interested in getting some chickens for yourself. I still like books for their completeness and the best I’ve come across on the topic is Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.

A popular coop design to consider is the ‘Chicken Tractor’, which is basically a coop on wheels and a moveable fenced yard. Moving the coop around keeps the chickens from completely destroying an area with their scratching, as well as minimizing risk of disease. An internet search will yield many interesting designs.

Once you have chickens, you’ll need a way to eat all those eggs! This Finnish Pancake recipe is my favorite way to eat eggs:

Finnish Pancake Recipe

Preheat a 9” x 9” cake pan to 400 degrees.

Mix 4 eggs, 2 cups of milk and 1-1.5 cups of flour (depending on the consistency you prefer—I like it with 1.5 cups of flour).

Consider adding a cup of oatmeal to make a delicious oat cake.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.


Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor. Photo by Shana Semrick.