In the past week, several people have contacted me to ask where they can buy hens and how to care for them. This seems to have been spurred by Israel’s massive egg shortage, coming right before Pesach – the most egg-intensive period on the Jewish menu.
Perhaps this egg-istential crisis is pushing people to reconsider the city farming lifestyle?
The problem is that so many people are full of misconceptions about chickens, especially about keeping them if you live in an urban area in Israel.
As a long-time hen herder and friend of the fowl, I would like to share with you:
7 Myths & Facts About Keeping Chickens in Israel
Myth: Chickens are noisy. They’ll wake up the neighborhood with their Cock-a-doodle-doo (or Kuk-a-ri-ku, if they’re Hebrew-speaking chickens).
Fact: Male chickens, known as roosters or cockerels, are famous for their loud crowing – sometimes all night long.
Female chickens, known as hens, do not crow and are fairly quiet creatures. Some are chatty but they are not loud. Some like to sing a comic bawking song after they lay an egg. It lasts about a minute and is the highlight of the day for most chicken keepers. In my experience, hens kept in a coop are fairly silent. If they free-range around your yard, they cluck more.
One thing’s for sure – hens are not particularly noisy animals and don’t crow.
Myth: But I need a Rooster so that the Hens will lay eggs
Fact: No. You don’t. Forgive me if I skip a lesson on the reproductive habits of fowl. All you need to know is that laying hens have been bred for thousands of years to lay eggs often even if there is no male around.
No rooster means no crowing, but you can still enjoy fresh eggs.
Myth: Chickens smell AWFUL
Fact: Not in small numbers. I think this misconception comes from people who have walked past the chicken house on a kibbutz and never forgotten the all-penetrating stench of a thousand birds crammed in a poorly ventilated tin shed.
However a small home flock of 2-4 chickens with a nice airy coop don’t smell strongly. If you stick your nose in the manure pile, you will smell something manurey. I’m not sure why you would do that though.
You can minimize the smell by making sure that the earth floor of the coop drains well and/or covering it with a layer of leaves or plant clippings every now and then. Some people clean out their coops regularly to avoid smells. This would be essential if you’re on concrete – not that I’d necessary recommend keeping chickens on a hard floor. I’ve never tried it but I imagine it would be messy and smelly at times.
Myth: Chickens are messy
Fact: OK. This is not really a myth. Chickens will toilet anywhere indiscriminately. So if you let them wander around your porch, they will leave little plops everywhere. However, if you confine them to a coop and run, your porch will stay pristine. This is what I do.
Myth: Keeping chickens is a lot of work
Fact: Chickens are a responsibility and they take some work. Every morning, before my own breakfast, I fill up the chickens feed tray and water. In the afternoon and evening I feed them leftovers from family meals. At one of these times, I collect the fresh eggs. If I’m going away, I arrange a neighbor to feed and water them.
Total daily investment: 5 minutes.
If you call this a lot of work, then chickens are not for you!
Myth: Stray cats will eat my chickens
Fact: Though Israel has an abundance of wizened street cats, they will not approach or harm an adult chicken. They will try and get chicks – but those generally need to be kept inside. Cats and adult chickens get along fine.
Myth: Keeping Chickens is Illegal in Israel
Fact: While there are Israeli laws against keeping farm animal in urban areas, hens (female chickens) are not included in the banned list. It is said that some municipalities do ban all chickens, but no one seems to know which ones.
It is the general wisdom among Israeli chicken lovers that it depends on your neighbors. If they complain to the municipality that your chickens are bothering them, then you may have to get rid of them. This is the worst that can happen.
Keeping chickens is not a criminal offense. No fines. No day in court. No public flogging.
I really hope you have nice neighbors! Hens are not bothersome compared to barky dogs or weed whackers or kids who play the drums – all things that your neighbors may think are normal pitfalls of living in the city.
So…should you get some hens?
- have a yard to keep them in and the capacity to build/acquire a coop
- you WANT chickens
People have lived side by side with chickens for thousands of years. They are amusing, low-maintenance pets that pay their way in fresh eggs.
Of all my many city farming projects over the years, the chickens is by far the most profitable and worthwhile. I wake up in the morning to fresh eggs and I think: Finally, I’m earning parnasa in my sleep 🙂
If you don’t want chickens and you don’t have the right backyard conditions for them, but you’re just desperate for eggs for Pesach
Don’t get them.
I’m assuming you intelligent readers who made it to this advanced point in my article already figured this out on your own.
How to Care for Backyard Chickens in Israel
There are tons of resources on chicken purchase and care on the web and you should do much research before you start. I will mention a few things that are pertinent only to Israel, because you won’t find this info elsewhere in English.
- The standard chick sold in the pet store is a mixed breed (known in Hebrew as Aravit or Baladi). They are cheap and chicken buffs will testify that they don’t lay as well as costly pure-bred chickens you buy from a breeder. But I recommend you start cheap and only invest when you decide that chicken keeping is for you.
- Since people buy chicks for their kids when they are tiny and cute and regret it when they get bigger, you can often take them off their hands for free. This is how I got my first pair years ago (which you can read about here). Chicks are fun but require significant care. Adult chickens are hardly and self-sufficient.
- When you buy chicks in Israel, you cannot tell if they are male or female. It will only become obvious after one of them starts crowing. Please get rid of that one before it bothers your neighbors.
- To guarantee you get healthy, vaccinated females, you can buy pullets (i.e. young females) from a breeder. You can find a local breeder on this group.
- You can buy sacks of chicken food from most pet stores. It’s called “ta’arovet metilot” – תערובת מטילות. I get a 20kg sack delivered twice a year and pay about NIS 120 each time. You should supplement with fresh greens, such as weeds that grow wild around your garden or neighborhood.
- You can also give your chickens your leftovers. They especially love cholent, but will eat pretty much anything, even if it’s rotten or moldy – except soy hot dogs. Try not to think about why that might be!
- While pre-made chicken coops cost $80 on Amazon, they can’t be shipped to Israel and the ones available here are insanely expensive (think NIS 3,000). You may have to improvise out of an old shed and packing crates. I hired a local teen woodworking hobbyist to build mine and paid about NIS 300.
I think I have gone on about Chickens long enough.
Got any questions? Ask in the comments!
My name is Naomi and this is my tiny little farm in the heart of the rapidly growing city of Beit Shemesh, Israel. I enjoy growing, making and processing as much of my family's food and household essentials as possible, while nurturing a biodiverse ecosystem filled with beauty and life.