Chickens inside a backyard pen in the Lettered Streets neighborhood.

Photos by Daniel Berman/The AS Review

Story by Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review

For Bellingham resident Lise Flora Waugh, raising chickens has been a lifelong passion. She grew up with them on her family’s farm, and later participated in the chicken program through 4-H where she learned to raise, competitively present, judge and properly butcher chickens. When she moved out on her own, to Norco, Calif., she began raising her chickens in an urban setting.

After moving back to Bellingham three years ago, Waugh began an informal non-profit chicken rescue program called Lise’s Home for Wayward Chickens on her 30-acre Whatcom County farm, where she currently keeps around 100 chickens.

Waugh said keeping chickens is good for many reasons besides the obvious benefit of fresh eggs every morning, which are much healthier and better tasting than store-bought eggs. She also enjoys watching her flock, and being around them provides her with a sense of relaxation, she said.

Western graduate Renae Kibler (left) and senior Natalia Oncina hold their favorite chickens in their backyard pen.

Waugh said one thing people constantly ask about is the color of the eggs, which does not determine how the egg will taste. She said that store-bought eggs have their shells vigorously cleaned before they make it to the shelves, which rubs away the egg’s natural protection. This means that air and toxins get into the eggs, making them less healthy than if they were washed right before being consumed instead.

Waugh also said to watch out for cartons that claim they are free range and vegetarian, which is by definition impossible. If a chicken is raised free range it means that they have access to space outdoors. This also means that they will be consuming bugs and insects, a natural part of their diet, and will not be completely vegetarian.

“Raising chickens in a city is a challenge,” said Carolyn Watson, owner of Core Kinetics Movement and Pilates Studio where Waugh works. Even inside the city chickens are threatened by predators and disease. They are also animals which require constant attention, and owners need to know how to provide proper shelter and sustenance for them.

For a few years Waugh and Watson kept a few chickens at the studio on Railroad Avenue, but eventually had to remove them because there was a possibility they were bringing in rats, Watson said. Now she focuses on the six hens living at her York district home. Recently Watson began moving her chickens from a coop in the front of her house to a coop on the side of her house with the change of each season. She said this way the ground they live on has a chance to regenerate itself, the smell is contained and she can use the chickens’ composted waste in her garden.

A Chinese chicken inside the backyard pen.

A big problem for chickens is predators, especially raccoons, Watson said. They will do just about anything to get at the hens, she said. She recalled several times she had come home at sundown to find three raccoons closing in on her flock.

One of the biggest challenges to raising chickens is providing them with enough space because of their natural urge to wander.

“They are very friendly,” Watson said. “They are sociable creatures.”

Hohl Feed and Seed employee David Parker owns 17 hens and one miniature rooster on his Fairhaven neighborhood property. He said each chicken needs about three square feet of their own space. Like any social animal, they will attack if they feel their territory is being threatened, he said.

Chickens need a constant supply of clean food as well, which will attract rodents if it is not changed regularly, Parker said. One chicken eats about one pound of feed per day. They also need some kind of grit in their diet, such as soil or oyster shells, which keep the shells of their eggs hard. Without calcium the shells will become brittle and flaky or soft and rubbery.

Parker said that chickens also need an adequate shelter from the elements. Chickens can withstand cooler temperatures and do not need a heat lamp during the winter, but have trouble fighting off the cold when it’s windy and raining.

Parker said chickens have a ton of personality and are fun to have around, but you have to do your research to properly raise healthy chickens.

“People need to realize it is a commitment,” Parker said.

Western senior Natalia Oncina works inside the chicken pen.