Tour highlights Northside chicken coops


Melissa Gallagher shows off her urban chicken coop in Fineview and one of her silkie hens. (Photo/Jeanette Lee)

You don’t have to live on a farm to have fresh eggs for breakfast.

Pittsburgh’s first-ever Urban Chicken Coop Tour included three Northside residences that invited tour-goers to get a taste of urban agriculture on Sunday.

Called Chicks-in-the-Hood, the event was organized not only to give people a chance to see real examples of urban farming but also to raise money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Urban Agriculture Programs.

At the Spring Hill stop, Nancy Chubb and Pete McQuillin showcased six chickens and 10 recently hatched chicks.

“I’m truly addicted,” said Chubb, who began raising chickens a year ago.

She got her inspiration from reading “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,” which she recommends to anyone interested in urban agriculture.

“They lay delicious eggs. They’re much better than store-bought eggs,” said Chubb, explaining how eggs from the store have been cleaned of the protective coating that prevents oxygen from entering the shell.

“They really shouldn’t be washed until right before you eat them,” she said.

Raising chickens in the city isn’t without its challenges, though. Despite their efforts to secure their coop, Chubb and McQuillin recently lost 12 chickens to a dog attack.

Other common predators include weasels, raccoons, foxes and hawks.

The chickens are also susceptible to diseases and infections such as chicken lice, scaly leg mites and bumblefoot, a foot infection.

“It is an ongoing thing,” Chubb said. She avoids high veterinary expenses by referring to resources on the internet to diagnose and treat the illnesses.

“You learn how to doctor them yourself.”

In the Central Northside, Jana and Bruce Thompson keep two hens. According to Jana, it costs about $10 to $15 to buy a large bag of food for her chickens that lasts “awhile,” while the chickens themselves cost about $10 each.

She collects about 10 to 12 eggs every week, but that isn’t the main reason she decided to raise chickens.

Thompson is also an avid gardener and wanted to “complete [the] nitrogen cycle” for her garden. She said that chicken droppings are an effective fertilizer for her plants.

In Fineview, Melissa and John Gallagher keep six hens behind their historic home in Heathside Cottage. Melissa grew up on a farm and has kept chickens since she was 10 years old.

She recommends raising chickens to anyone who is “health conscious” and wants the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their eggs come from chickens that are well-exercised and fed a diet free of steroids.

According to Chicken Coop Tour Event Guru Jody Noble, Chicks-in-the-Hood attracted between 300 to 350 poultry enthusiasts to the city, not including children.

Richard George, who drove to Pittsburgh from his farm in West Virginia with his wife to see how urban farming differed from rural farming, was one of them.

“I love the sound of roosters in the morning but some city people might not like it,” George acknowledged, referring to a city zoning regulation that prohibits residents from keeping roosters.

“Clearly, there is a lot of interest amongst people about backyard chicken farming and we were kind of surprised at how well-received [the tour] was,” said Noble. She said they are talking about holding the tour next year as well.

According to urban agriculture regulations in the zoning code, the City of Pittsburgh allows residents to keep three chickens per 2,000 square feet of property and one additional chicken for each additional 1,000 square feet. Roosters are not allowed, and all feed must be kept in a rodent-proof container.

Jeanette Lee is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University studying Professional Writing and Investigative Journalism.

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