Raising Chickens in the Tahoe Sierra

Polly Triplat holding one of her chicks

In Olympic Heights, which overlooks the Truckee River and beyond, Truckee Regional Park and Northstar, there is clucking coming from some houses at the end of a cul-de-sac. A few homes in this neighborhood are raising chickens —for eggs, meat or as pets. Chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain, their droppings make great fertilizer for the garden and they have a lot of personality.

Chickens are fun, interesting and can help you become more self-sustainable, but raising them
is a lot of work.

In June, Slow Food Lake Tahoe turned to its resident chicken expert, Polly Triplat, to give a workshop about how to raise backyard chickens. With nine years of experience in maintaining around a dozen birds at any one time, Triplat shared with the group what to feed them, how to build a coop, what breeds are best for this area, how to care for chicks and information on local codes and ordinances.

“As we go along, continue to visualize what [your chicken space] is going to look like for you,” Triplat said. “We have a good nook here with three houses that raise chickens; the biggest thing is to make your neighbors happy.”

Once you have gotten the OK from your neighbors, make sure you know the local ordinances for raising chickens. For instance, in Nevada County and Placer County, your lot size determines how many chickens you can have. However, in a few Truckee homeowners’ associations, raising chickens is not allowed, nor are roosters, guinea hens or peahens. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency also prohibits raising chickens in the Tahoe Basin.

Once you get clearance from your neighbors, HOA and county jurisdictions, then you can proceed with planning out space for your chickens. When building or obtaining a chicken coop, keep it shaded and fenced in. Triplat’s coop was off the ground with a walkway up to it and a roosting area made of straw and laying boxes.

Polly Triplat’s chicken coop.

“People use old trailers, kid playhouses — you can get really creative with the design,” Triplat said. “The main thing is to keep your chickens safe from predators and the elements.”

While chickens are good at keeping their own heat, in the winter make sure that their water doesn’t freeze and that the coop can handle various snow loads and is accessible. In the winter, Triplat’s chickens sometimes don’t come out for days. But that’s why she likes to keep her coop off the ground, so her chickens can scratch underneath the coop in heavy snow years.

Chickens need to be closed in at night so bears, raccoons and other predators cannot get to them. It’s important to build a perch in the coop for the chickens to sleep on. It’s worth building a coop near some trees to keep birds of prey from swooping down and snatching them from the air. However, keep in mind that raccoons can climb a tree and get in the coop. Dogs and cats can make good protectors and help keep rodents out of the feed. However, even domesticated pets can become predators, so keep your chickens safe.

Some other things to consider is that chickens can live for up to 10 years, while their egg production lasts only for three or four. When the hens stop producing eggs, the owner needs to decide what he or she is going to do with them — keep them as pets or change out the group. It’s important to consider what your next steps with them will be should they get sick.

Feed is also an important factor to consider. There is a lot that chickens can consume such as fish crickets, mealworms and food scraps, but they shouldn’t consume sugary or salty foods and should be kept away from toxic plants.

Chickens are fun, interesting and can help you become more self-sustainable, but raising them is a lot of work. Before getting into it, do your research and think about how hard you are willing to work for fresh eggs. | slowfoodlaketahoe.org