Chickens in your back yard are the next hot thing. I just heard this week on NPR’s On Point program that they are especially the in thing in cities. The guests were Susan Orlean who wrote “The It Bird: The return of the back-yard chicken ” about the new chicken frenzy for the September 28, 2009 The New Yorker and Elaine Belanger, editor of Backyard Poultry. Check it out at http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/09/backyard-chickens?autostart=true.
I have a knack of getting in ahead of the next hot thing and then getting out just before it becomes popular whether it is soccer, marathons, birding, farming or chickens. I am an engineer who was told all my life that engineers can’t write which I believed. Then I found that I might have a little writing talent when I wrote the very long story about delivering Maisie in our teeny NYC bathroom. Our friends wanted to know what we were doing when we returned in 2002 to the farm where I grew up. Bob Ayres said, ‘Just send an email telling us how many eggs you get each day!’ So the “Egg Report” was born and only the first few were about chickens. It soon evolved into my own pastoral version of ‘A Year in Provence’ except it was on a farm in Indiana.
We started out with Velva, Fern, Orba and Jenny who were named after my grandmother Ollie’s sisters since we lived in what had been Ollie’s house. We soon added a dozen pullets and then found out why you don’t name the animals you eat…or in this case, everyone eats. Dogs, opossums and raccoons mostly killed them. A coyote walked between our house and the hen house once but didn’t kill anything. A ‘chicken’ hawk perched in our redbud tree for a couple of days and sat on a fence post off and on but I never saw it make a kill. Actually it was a Cooper’s hawk. I never saw a fox near our chickens and guess our dogs kept most predators away in general. Probably so they could kill the chickens themselves. I sometimes understand dogs.
But a chicken house was needed and I ordered a plan for one from McMurray’s with the intention of building it myself. Charlie and Ray were working here build something or the other and it gave me an idea. The conversation went something like this.
Me, “Charlie, do you think you could build me a chicken house?”
Me, “Here are some plans”
Charlie, “I guess we can build anything.”
Ray just spit out a stream of tobacco juice and rolled his eyes.
So we got unfinished lumber from several of my Dad Kenneth’s stashes, windows from Thriftway, a couple of ‘antique’ doors saved from the old house and I built a fence and the Taj Mahal of small chicken houses was born. A lumberman could have a field day identifying the types of wood used but the chickens hardly noticed.
We added some roosters and thus had an alarm clock each morning and even had the house filled to its 25 hen capacity for a while. But the chickens were killed by a dog here and a raccoon there and we are now down to about a half dozen hens and no rooster. One of the hens is a brooder and has been sitting on the infertile eggs all summer. I should put her in a barrel or something for a week or so and break her of the habit. Instead I just pick her up and toss her outside each time I gather the eggs which among to a couple of dozen a week.
I am going to get a couple of roosters from Marlene’s son Kyle who has been told to get rid of them after they pecked his 2 year old daughter. The hen who insists sitting on eggs will then actually have hope of hatching and raising a family! Matt of Schacht Farms sells his year old but still very productive Golden Comet hens for $8 each at the BRFM in Louisville so I am going to buy 5 of them and be back enough into the chicken business to keep up with the city people.
So all of you “city folk” people with back yards need to stop by Matt the Chicken Man’s booth at the BRFM and order a few hens of your own. He will bring them the next week in a crate for you. The Golden Comet lays brown eggs and is a prolific producer and highly recommended. You might want to check with your city first but again the old rule is it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission in these types of things! I love the “cock-a-doodle-do” of a rooster taking credit for the sun rise at dawn but your neighbors may prefer him fried so it may be best to only raise hens. You don’t need a rooster anyway if all you want are eggs. NPR said your start up cost can be as low as $125. And 4 chickens will lay enough eggs to let you give some to any pesky neighbors. They could produce for 5 to 7 years but remember everything likes to eat chicken so they could be dead any night if you don’t lock them up. Don’t shoot your neighbor’s dogs if they kill your chickens. It will damage your relationship with the neighborhood association.
The coop poop is high in nitrogen which is an added bonus in addition to the eggs. It can be put directly on roses or mixed with your compost for an excellent all around fertilizer. Martha Stewart is said to deserve credit for the renewed interest in raising chickens. She names hers and says kids love them. And when they get old she slaughters and eats them! That also may be a good reason not to name them. I do not recommend cleaning the birds yourself. Been there done that and it is harder than it looks when Joel Salatin does it in Food, Inc. Although everyone should see a chicken run around with its head cut off once in their life.
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