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Adventures in Urban Homesteading

FPA Suggested Care Practices

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Note: Backyard chicken or goat classes require a relatively small investment, and are a wonderful way to learn how to care for the animals and have your questions answered in an interactive setting.

Fowl

Backyard chickens and ducks can be wonderful pets, in addition to providing healthy eggs for their owners. There are a couple of important things that future fowl owners should consider before getting their birds:

– Fowl need regular daily care. Depending on your setup, they may need to be taken out of their coop every morning and put away every evening (see “Setup for a Flexible Schedule,” below). Their daily needs also include fresh food and water, plus coop/yard cleanup tasks. If you’re going on a vacation, fowl typically should not be brought to another fowl owner’s backyard to be cared for, since mixing flocks can create behavior problems. You will need to plan on finding someone to come by and care for your chickens while you’re away. Neighbors are often a great option for this, and you may also be able to find someone on a local homesteading message board (see Resources).

– Fowl do not lay eggs regularly for the duration of their lives. Chickens only produce eggs consistently for 2-3 years; ducks for about 5 years. Fowl can live to be 8-10 years old. Therefore, fowl owners need to be prepared to either explore retirement options for older birds (see “Retirement Options,” below) or make allowances to keep their older birds as pets. If you’d like to keep your older birds until they pass away from natural causes, start with just 3-4 fowl. After 2-3 years, you can add 2 more young birds, then 2-3 years later add 2 more. This will allow your older fowl to live out their lives and die of natural causes, and you’ll still have consistent egg production within the 8-bird limit laid out in the FPA ordinance.

Permeable Space
The Denver ordinance requires that FPA owners have at least 16 square feet of permeable space per bird. 16 square feet is certainly adequate, but it’s always a good idea to give the birds as much additional space as you can. The fowls’ permeable space (as well as the shelter) must be on the rear 50% of your zone lot.

“Permeable space” means ground or grass (i.e. not concrete). If you are keeping your fowl on bare ground, cover their entire living area with straw or pine shavings. This will provide mulch for fowl manure, which helps to reduce smells and keeps the birds from walking through wet manure.

Fencing
If the fowls’ permeable space is an open-air barnyard (as opposed to an enclosed chicken-wire run) then you need to provide adequate fencing. Fences that are 3’11” tall are typically adequate to keep fowl contained. Fencing can be made of chicken wire, stock wire, chain link, or any other durable material.

If your fence is not containing your birds, you have a few options. You can make your fence higher (be aware that construction of fences 4’ or higher require a zoning permit in Denver), keep your fowl in an enclosed run, or secure netting over the top of your barnyard. You also have the option of performing wing clipping on your fowl, though this leaves them unable to fly if confronted by a predator.

Structures
The function of both a nighttime enclosure and a daytime shelter can be served by one single structure. However, if one structure is serving both purposes, then it must meet all of the requirements listed below.

Nighttime Enclosure
Nighttime enclosure must be predator-proof. In order to be predator-proof, the enclosure must have 4 solid walls and a solid roof. The door must be able to close securely. The floor of the enclosure may either be: 1) solid wood, concrete, or other impermeable material; 2) securely attached hardware cloth or chicken wire, which forms a barrier to prevent predators from digging into the enclosure; or 3) permeable ground, with chicken wire or hardware cloth buried at least 12 inches around the perimeter of the enclosure, to prevent predators from digging in. Nighttime enclosure should be large enough for the fowl to rest comfortably and walk around each other. Nighttime enclosure must provide protection from precipitation and wind.

Fowl should not sleep on hard wood or concrete. Provide bedding of straw or pine shavings. Alternately, chickens can be provided with roosts within the nighttime enclosure for sleeping.

Daytime Shelter
Daytime shelter must have at least 3 solid walls and a solid roof. It must be large enough for the fowl to scratch, peck, walk freely, and spread their wings. Daytime shelter must provide protection from precipitation, wind, and sun.

Nesting boxes are typically placed within the daytime shelter.

Setup for a Flexible Schedule
If you have a situation in which you can’t reliably be around to let the chickens out of their coop every morning or secure them every evening, you can construct a setup that still allows your animals to be safe from predators. Attaching a large (at least 16 square feet per bird), predator-proof chicken run to a reasonably large (i.e. “daytime shelter” size), predator-proof coop will allow your birds to roam freely inside and outside, while remaining safe. Fowl will wake up in the morning and venture into their run, where they will spend the day. At night they will go into their coop to sleep once the sun goes down. Stable food and water that cannot be knocked over is a critical part of this equation. A hanging feeder and waterer will accomplish this.

Winter Care
While fowl are generally well-equipped to deal with cold daytime temperatures during winter, they often need supplemental heating at night when the temperature drops below about 20°F. You can add a heating lamp or lightbulb (the necessary strength depends on the size of the enclosure) to your nighttime enclosure during winter months. In addition, fowl with large combs and waddles (like Leghorns) will likely need to have petroleum jelly applied to their combs and waddles during cold nights to prevent frostbite.

Food & Water
Fowl should eat a “growing” feed (which contains extra protein) from weeks 8-19 of age. From week 19 on, fowl should be eating a “laying” feed that contains supplemental calcium. Do not allow the drinking water to become dirty, particularly with bird feces, as it can cause diseases.

Fowl can eat most table scraps, but they should not be given green potato peels, dried or undercooked beans, avocado skin or pit, raw eggs or egg shell pieces, raw meat, rhubarb leaves, or nightshade (tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato) plant parts.

While ducks do enjoy having water to play in, providing bathing water is not required when keeping ducks. Be aware that bathing water can potentially introduce problems, as it may quickly become dirty and the animals might try to drink it.

Veterinary Care
Fowl in Colorado do not require preventative vaccinations in order to remain healthy. If your fowl experiences a minor injury or problem, help can often be found in books or online message boards. For more serious injuries or illnesses, contact a local veterinarian (see Resources).

Retirement Options
While many people choose to keep their fowl as pets after they stop laying (see introductory paragraphs, above) some decide to retire non-productive hens. Local sustainability groups (see Resources) should be able to provide recommendations for places outside of Denver that are willing to take older fowl. Animal Care & Control can also give you the names of local animal sanctuaries. You can put your fowl on Craigslist, but if it is important to you that the animal be kept as a pet and not used for meat, be sure to specify that in your ad. Slaughtering is not allowed within the city of Denver, but it is allowed in many rural areas surrounding Denver. If you’d like more information about this option, contact the local sustainability groups.

Disposal of Dead Fowl
If one of your fowl dies, there are a few methods of disposal that are recommended:

– Dead animal pick-up can be requested by calling 3-1-1. The city will provide this service free of charge.

– You can contact a private animal rendering company to come and pick up your animal.

– You can take your animal to the veterinarian to be disposed of, as you might with a dog or cat.

Chick Care Tips
Chicks should be provided with an indoor brooder which keeps them secure from predators and provides them with ample room to move around. The larger of a brooder you can provide, the happier and healthier your chicks will be. Many people choose to make a brooder out of large cardboard refrigerator boxes and chicken wire, rather than purchasing one. Your brooder should include an adjustable heatlamp or lightbulb (250 watts is recommended for chicks).

Chicks should be given a “chick starter” feed and clean water. Do not feed produce or other table scraps to chicks. Chicks should have their vents (their bottoms) checked daily for pasting. Any dried feces should be removed so that the vent is clear. Chicks should be brooded inside for 6-8 weeks.

When ordering chicks, be sure to purchase females and not “straight run” (which is always a mix of males and females). Even if you order all females, there is still a small chance that you could end up with a rooster. If you discover a rooster in your flock, put an ad on Craigslist as soon as possible to find him a new home.

Dwarf Goats

Backyard dwarf goats can be wonderful pets, in addition to providing healthy milk for their owners. There are a few important things that future goat owners should consider before getting their goats:

– You must have two dwarf goats. One goat raised alone will be so stressed that it may become sick, and it will also be much louder than a goat with a companion. Dogs or other pets are not suitable companions for goats. If you prefer to own just one milking doe, the ordinance does allow the keeping of wethers (neutered male goats), which cost a fraction of the price of a doe.

– Doe goats must be bred in order to produce milk. A dwarf goat’s lactation cycle is about 300 days long. Their gestation is 5 months, and the goat kids need to nurse for 6-8 weeks. Given these timeframes, if you are keeping two doe goats you would need to breed each one every 16 months (or one goat every 8 months) in order to have a steady supply of milk. There is a demand for dwarf goat kids both within and outside of Denver, but understand that you will be responsible for re-homing kids as part of milk production.

– Goat owners who wish to go on vacation have different options, depending on whether or not their goats are currently being milked. Goats that are not being milked can be easily cared for by a neighbor. Goats that are being milked need to stay with another goat owner who will be able to maintain their milking schedule. Some rural goat breeders outside of Denver will also allow you to board your goats with them, for a small fee.

Permeable Space
The ordinance requires that FPA owners have at least 130 square feet of permeable space per dwarf goat. 130 square feet is certainly adequate, but it’s always a good idea to give the goats as much additional space as you can. The goats’ permeable space (as well as the shelter) must be on the rear 50% of your zone lot.

“Permeable space” means ground or grass (i.e. not concrete). If you are keeping your goats on bare ground, cover their entire living area with straw. This will provide mulch for goat manure, which helps to reduce smells.

Goats enjoy climbing, so it’s a good idea to provide them with straw bales or other safe, small things to climb on. Keep the climbing materials in the center of the barnyard, away from fences.

Fencing
You must provide fencing adequate to keep your goats contained. Chain link, stock wire, or other sturdy fencing materials would be appropriate. Chicken wire is not adequate fencing for goats. Wooden slat fences are not generally recommended, as goats can knock out one of the pieces and get their head caught between the slats. A 3’11” fence is typically adequate to keep dwarf goats contained, provided climbing materials are not set next to the fence.

Structure
A basic goat shelter must have at least 3 solid walls and a solid roof. It must be large enough for the dwarf goats to move around freely without coming into contact with another goat. Shelter must provide protection from precipitation, wind, and sun.

Some areas of Denver contain more large mammal predators than others. If you feel that your dwarf goats would be at risk from large predators, you can provide a predator-proof structure. See the guidelines for predator-proofing under “Nighttime Enclosure” for fowl, above. Before creating an enclosed structure for goats, it’s advisable to check with your veterinarian. Enclosing goats at night can cause lung damage from ammonia fumes produced by wet bedding.

Winter Care
Dwarf goats grow a thick coat during winter months, and are generally well-equipped to handle cold weather provided they have a shelter to keep them out of precipitation. A heat lamp can be placed in the shelter during unusually cold nights.

Food & Water
Goats should eat a diet that consists primarily of hay. Grain should be given sparingly. Be sure that grain is stored securely where the goats cannot reach it, because if they are allowed to gorge on grain it could be fatal. Do not allow the drinking water to become dirty, particularly with goat manure, as it can cause disease. Goats can be given baking soda and goat mineral salt “free choice” (left out for them to eat as needed) to help stay healthy.

Goats are omnivores and can eat most plant-based table scraps. Do not feed goats fruit pits, green potato peels, bindweed, white clover, rhubarb leaves, or nightshade (tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato) plant parts. Goats that are milking should not eat onions or garlic.

Dwarf goats are very intelligent. Therefore, owners should be cautious not to “spoil” their goats. Goats should always have access to fresh hay and water. However, do not give goats treats if they whine, or they may soon become more noisy than you would like.

Veterinary Care
Goats in Colorado benefit from an annual CD-T vaccination. This protects against enterotoxemia and tetanus, which are problematic for goats but do not transfer to humans. In addition, goats should periodically be given a de-wormer, according to the product instructions. Both herbal and medical de-wormers are available for goat owners to purchase and administer.

See Resources for a list of local goat veterinarians.

Other Goat Care
Goats need to have their hoofs trimmed periodically. The frequency varies, but is typically around once every couple of months (depending on the goat). When you purchase your goats, ask your breeder to show you how to trim their hoofs.

It is generally best for goats raised in the city to be disbudded (have their horns removed). Horns can get caught in fencing material, and horns raise the likelihood that goats will injure each other during play. The safest time for a goat to be disbudded is when it is 2-4 weeks old. If the horns have become established, surgery would be required to remove them. Purchasing a mature goat and getting the horns removed is not advisable; it is best to purchase goats that have already been disbudded.

Breeding
Denver’s FPA ordinance does not allow un-neutered male goats in the city, even for a brief visit. In order to breed your doe goat, you will need to contact a breeder outside the city and bring your goat there for mating.

Milking
Goats that are milking need to be milked once or twice every day on a fairly consistent schedule in order to maintain milk production. If a goat is not milked regularly, she will “dry up” and her milk production will stop until she has kids again.

Disposal of Dead Goats
If one of your goats dies, there are a few methods of disposal that are recommended:

– Dead animal pick-up can be requested by calling 3-1-1. The city will provide this service free of charge.

– You can contact a private animal rendering company to come and pick up your animal.

– You can take your animal to the veterinarian to be disposed of, as you might with a dog or cat.

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