Raising chickens can seem decidedly unglamorous. Early morning feedings, afternoon coop cleaning, egg collecting—who wants to do that? Evidently, celebrities. This bucolic activity has swept through Hollywood, with stars like Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, and Gisele Bündchen, amongst many others, all raising poultry in their very own backyard coops. What's behind the down-on-the farm-trend and is it something the average person can undertake? We've got the good, the bad, and the extra scrambled news on how to raise your own chickens, Hollywood style!
Celebs in the Henhouse
Roberts, InStyle’s September cover girl, raises chickens because it's good for her family and for the environment. "My husband is a very healthy and environmentally minded person, so we grow food at our house. We raise chickens for eggs. We live in a world where really fresh produce and organic food are a financial luxury, so if we have that luxury I'm going to take advantage of it for my family," she says in the September 2014 issue. Bündchen's viewpoint is similar: She wants to make sure her kids know where their food is coming from.
Aniston inherited her flock of hens when she bought her Bel Air estate in 2012 (see her talk about them above), while Reese Witherspoon’s 16 chickens and one rooster have lived on her Ojai, Calif., ranch since 2009. Nicole Richie, Kate Hudson, Hilary Swank, Ellen Pompeo, Oprah, Barbra Streisand, Martha Stewart, and Elizabeth Hurley (below, with her flock) all have their own poultry.
Benefits to Raising Chickens
Robert Litt, co-author of the backyard chicken how-to book A Chicken in Every Yard, says the benefits are twofold. First, there's the health aspect. "It's part of the local food movement, it's eating healthy," Litt says. The eggs don't have to travel or be frozen, making them healthier and better for the environment. Plus, raising chickens is fun and educational, especially if you have children. "It's tied in to the same reason that people like to grow their own vegetables," Litt says. "You have more control over the way it's produced, you have control over what they're eating."
What You Need to Know
Before you start a backyard micro-barn of your own, there are a few things to consider. First, make sure your city or town allows chickens (call your local Department of Health to find out). Next, Litt recommends a minimum of 10 by 10 feet for the chicken coop and run. Lastly, consider the price: You'll need at least $200 to start, although most people invest $700 to $1,000.
Because this activity has become so popular, retailers like Williams-Sonoma have chicken coops you can buy ($700 to $2,100, williams-sonoma.com), but you could also build your own or have one built specifically for you. This is the priciest part of the project. The least expensive is the chicks. Litt says Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks ($2 to $6 each depending on where you live) are good breeds for laying and since chickens are social animals, you'll want at least two. Other necessities include a feeder, a heater, litter, straw, and food.
Once your coop is up and running, Litt estimates you'll spend $25 to $30 a month on upkeep for two to three chickens. This includes new litter, straw, and feed. It will take about six months for the chicks to mature to where they lay eggs, but once they do, you can expect about five to six eggs a week from each chicken.
Words of Wisdom
"[Having chickens is] roughly equivalent to having a cat and dealing with the litter box," Litt says, adding that you will have to spend 10 to 20 minutes a day on upkeep. This includes letting the chickens out every morning, feeding them, and giving them water. At night, you collect the eggs, make sure they're back in the coop, and put away any foo sand water they haven't consumed (this will help keep rodents and other animals away). Every few weeks, you have to change the litter in the coop, and every few months you'll have to do a full clean.
Links to Learn More
You can find a listing of local health departments here. Litt's book, A Chicken in Every Yard (above, $20; williams-sonoma.com), has more detailed information on backyard chicken farming, including steps for building your own coop, the best feed for your chickens, and even recipes on what to do with your fresh eggs. Happy farming!
For more on Julia Roberts's home life, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Aug. 15.