In the last few years, raising chickens in San Diego’s urban areas has become more popular and, according to farming experts, the trend is expected to last.
“People are more conscious of where their food is coming from,” said Sam Tall, whose family has owned the City Farmers Nursery in City Heights since 1972.
Mike Handford and his wife, Lisa, live in City Heights, a densely populated neighborhood in central San Diego.
They've been raising chickens for the last four years. Right now, they have four hens living in their approximately 500-square-foot yard. Mike said that's plenty of space for the hens to roam around.
Each hen typically lays one egg per day and produces droppings with a lot of nutrients.
Mike collects the droppings from the coop and spreads it around the plants to use as fertilizer.
The Handfords' four chickens live harmoniously with their two rescue dogs, Daisy and Jimbo.
But that took a little time and training.
“[Daisy] will protect them like they're a part of her pack,” Lisa told NBC 7. “Jimbo, our other dog, grew up on a ranch. He wasn't used to it. He thought they might be dinner.”
“Daisy actually helped teach Jimbo not to eat chickens,” she added. “That they’re part of the family. So he's great with them now.”
Mike and Lisa didn't expect the hens to have such distinct personalities.
“One is very timid and very shy. We have one that's very grumpy. We have an adventurer that will go into our neighbor's yard,” said Mike. “We have one that's a lap chicken that just loves attention and loves to hang out with you.”
With those personalities in place, the couple has also named their hens and said they’ve also become attached to them.
“Probably the two best byproducts of having the hens are eggs and fertilizer," said Mike. “Entertainment is the third bonus.”
The Handfords learned how to care for back yard chickens from the staff at City Farmers nursery.
Tall said anyone who is interested in raising their own chickens – even in urban neighborhoods – can easily learn to do the same.
“Having chickens in your back yard is really simple,” explained Tall. “You usually need a hen house for them, something where they're going to lay their eggs, and [a place where they will] sleep at night, to protect them from predators."
Tall said a lot of the nursery’s customers are families with children.
“It's good for kids to go out in the morning, to pick out eggs, and see where they come from,” he added. “[The hens] don't fly away. They'll stick in your back yard.”
“They're great for keeping your bugs under control, eating weeds,” Tall continued. “You don't really get a lot of diseases or issues, if you keep things clean.”
Tall said hens usually produce about an egg a day for two to four years. In their later years, a hen’s egg production usually slows down.
“The only time they'll make noise is when they're laying an egg. Most chickens are pretty quiet,” said Tall.
Still, Tall suggests letting your neighbors know you're raising chickens in your back yard, out of consideration.
“Because we are in a relatively small space, we have to think about our neighbors and make sure the chickens aren't jumping off into their yards,” Lisa agreed.
Every city has its own ordinance for keeping chickens. In San Diego, a coop must have at least six square feet of space for each chicken. Housing roosters is illegal in San Diego. The city's ordinance for housing chickens is detailed on its website. Enforcement falls under Development Services.