Green Jerusalem: Feathering your nest

Raising chickens in backyards is a contentious issue, but it can be done in the city with little effort.

Chicken coop 521 (photo credit: Karin Kloosterman)
Chicken coop 521
(photo credit: Karin Kloosterman)
Maybe it’s because I come from a long tradition of Dutch egg farmers or that we had chickens when I was a kid, but when my dad came to visit me in Israel last summer, I suggested he get out of the air conditioning and build me a coop.
Raising chickens isn’t a crazy idea in Israel. In some of the wilder neighborhoods of any city – including my own, Jaffa, and even Jerusalem – it’s not uncommon to see chickens walking free.
Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur encourages residents to grow their own produce. “The Jerusalem model for local produce is essentially the community garden, and we have more than 50 of these all round the city,” she says.
However, she notes, Jerusalem’s by-laws “do not permit residents to raise fowl of any kind, because of requirements of the veterinary service, which follows the rulings of the Agriculture Ministry.” Readers who choose to follow my lead, therefore, do so at their own risk.
We have five hens and one rooster, Leonardo. We bought the hens at the Beduin bird market in Beersheba.
Beduin wild chickens, or baladi chickens, are something my husband wanted because they haven’t been genetically altered. Their eggs come out white to beige, some with flecks, and small. If you have a rooster among your hens, check for blood spots if you keep kosher. Baladi chickens can fly!
Building the coop
Jerusalem gets cold winters, so you’ll have to build your chickens a coop. A lean-to shelter is fine. You might want to throw a rug in front of the entrance to keep out the draft at night or when it’s raining. Chickens like some sunny spots, too.
You will need some scrap wood, which you can collect from the street. Look around where there are some home renovations going on, and you’ll probably find old cupboards that can easily be restructured into a coop.
Ours is 1 meter wide by 2.5 meters in length and about 2 meters tall.
It looks like a bus shelter, with one wall against a cement wall and one side open with fencing.
What’s essential is that the chickens have a perch to sleep on. My dad says they need something they can curl their “toes” around. We first built our perch about 30 centimeters off the ground but raised it when the feral cats started hanging around.
Chickens will do their “business” in the coop, so cover a spot with boxes for them to lay their eggs. It took ours a couple of months, and now we get five glorious eggs a day.
They eat all our compost and seem to love labaneh cheese but don’t like citrus fruit. We also feed them a couple of cups of corn meal and seeds every day. You can buy it in bulk from farm supply centers or pet shops. And always have a fresh supply of water out for them.
Jerusalem area resident Joe van Zwaren, a clean-tech entrepreneur, says he doesn’t give his chickens corn feed but lets them eat grass and weeds from the yard. He also says that the municipality offers inexpensive vaccines for the chickens to avoid the spread of disease.
Van Zwaren e-mailed me some more tips: “I fed my chickens all our organic garbage (vegetable peels, remains from meals, old fruit, old bread). They pick what they want to eat, and the rest gets composted with their droppings – this makes good fertilizer for the garden. I also turn over the soil, and the chickens are good at pulling out insects from freshly turned soil. I give the chickens the run of the garden (as long as you do not have dogs). They eat all insects, snakes and scorpions, so I do not have to use pesticides and be afraid that my grandchildren might get a poisonous bite.”
There is something wonderful about going out every day to collect eggs – ones that are hormone- free. If you don’t live in a house with a yard, ask your neighbors if you can build a coop together. It’s a great thing for the kids, and the dividends are delicious.
And if you need a rooster to start your egg supply, Leonardo may be available for loan, as I am looking to start sleeping through the night as I did in my pre-chicken days.
The writer is the founder and editor of the green news website Green Prophet To send her tips, questions and queries about going green in Jerusalem, e-mail her at