Alibi V.18 No.6 • Feb 5-11, 2009 

Ask Chef Boy Ari

Q: I’m interested in raising hens for the eggs, but we have a tiny backyard. Does two or three sound like a good number? Also, will the eggs hatch if we let them? And what’s the best way to procure chickens?

—Hen Quest

A: It sounds like there are about 50 more very good questions behind the ones you’ve asked. You’re considering raising a flock of hens for eggs, fun and maybe some fertilizer on the side, and there are a few things you need to know. Raising hens is pretty easy, but it requires more guidance than I can give in this space, so I’ll refer you to, where you will find a community of hen-philes that obsesses about all things related to backyard chickens to a degree you may not have thought possible. There you will find detailed instructions on the many issues a chicken-raiser must consider, including an appropriate population for the square footage you have available.

I’d advise you to order more than you think you’ll need, since chickens tend to die, succumbing frequently to illness, predators and other dangers.

Probably the best selection of mail-order hens can be found at the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalog (, but you may have to combine your order with a neighbor, as the minimum is 25 chicks. Come springtime, baby chicks will be available in local hardware stores.

Most urban areas don’t tolerate roosters because they make noise and can be pretty aggressive. So assuming your hens are not in contact with roosters, the eggs they lay won’t be fertile—no little chicken will ever hatch.

Send your food and garden queries to