Yes, In Your Backyard: The Rise Of The Urban ChickenFeb 23rd, 2012 | By Julie Joyce | Category: Feature, Misc
I’ve wanted chickens for a long, long time, oddly enough…might have been a combination of watching Vincent and Theo and reading A Slice of Organic Life. Living in between UNCG and Greensboro College not at all far from downtown, it seemed like, well, a bit of an odd thing to want. It wasn’t the thought of lovely fresh eggs every day, or pest control, it was just the idea of these gorgeous and silly birds wandering crazily about my backyard.
In April of last year, my chicken dream became a reality. I now have 6 out back: 3 Plymouth Barred Rocks (S. Epatha Merkersen, Pearl, and Sophie), 1 Americauna named Athena, 1 Red Star named Star, cleverly enough by my daughter, and 1 Silver Laced Wyandotte named Ashes. I get 3 dozen eggs a week usually, enough to keep 2 dozen and give a dozen out to friends and neighbors. I also get the massive, massive stress relief that comes from letting them out of their run into the backyard to free range, watching them trying valiantly to figure out how to actually exit through the large door (every single day), and not caring how irritated they are when I pick them up and pet them. Having your own eggs in the backyard is one small step in reducing your dependence upon an industry renowned for its poor treatment of animals, and damn those fresh eggs are absolutely amazing. If only I could plant a vodka tree out back…
Backyard chickens are huge in the UK (well not the actual chickens, the movement) and initially all of my positive responses to getting chickens came from Brits that I knew. After getting them, I’ve only encountered a few people locally who found the idea to be a bad one, and those people are persnickety in just about every way imaginable anyway. My friends Kit and Lauren Spence were the first people to get chickens and I hold them responsible for being brave enough to dive in myself. Since getting ours, several neighbors have expressed the desire to get their own, with their kids of course being the driving factors. All kids seem to be nuts about chickens, about opening the nesting box doors and finding nice warm eggs. Kids who don’t usually eat eggs take these home and eat them for multiple meals in a day. They insist on eating the Americauna’s turquoise eggs since they’re very Dr. Seussian. They want to help put the chickens up when they’re over for playdates. They innately relate to animals of all sorts. Even though they may not think about it in this way, they’re potentially getting up close and personal with their food for the first time ever.
Here’s my daughter Dylan with one of our Barred Rocks, and there’s my son Mason with his third eye and math t-shirt, just because if you have two kids and you write a post featuring a photo of just one of them, well you’re a really bad mother.
There’s even a Greensboro chicken group on Facebook called the Gate City Cluckers where people ask questions about where to find a great vet and brag about the eggs that have just hatched. It was through this group that I found other chicken fanatics willing to talk about their own flocks. So, without too much further nonsense from me, here are their stories.
Camille Williams says that “Having chickens had never been on my “must do” list. I became curious after seeing some in a neighbor’s yard. Shortly after, I was at a Farmer’s Market type event in Charlotte where there were some chickens and the people at that booth were passing out flyers on an upcoming “How to raise backyard Chickens workshop”. I attended this, as I wanted to be fully educated before committing to more living creatures at my house (I have a dog and 2 cats). After the workshop, I was sold. I began researching on www.mypetchicken.com. They offer a tool where you plug in what you want; cold hardy, good layers, size, etc. I settled on the Faverolles and ordered 3. They ship via US post 1 day after they hatch. Its the only time in their life they are able to travel so long without food/water. I had alerted my postman and he called me when they arrived. I opened the brown box with holes and there they were- 3 bright yellow fuzzy chics; Lulu, Gracie and Frances. The chics were only 2 bucks each and the shipping was around $50.00. I have no idea how much money I have spent (their coop was $300 which I found on Craig’s list). The workshop reported it costs about $33.00 a year to feed 1 hen. They are a little over 7 months old now and began laying eggs about 1 month ago. My neighbors love them. I let them out in the yard during the day and they return to their coop at dusk. They are much easier than I anticipated. They each have their own personalities and they are super sweet! Lulu likes to be held. No regrets! Everyone gets along beautifully- dog, cats and chickens- a mini farm right here in Fisher Park!”
Lisa Lewis says “We wanted to do something we had never done before to learn something brand new. Our neighbors , the Smalls, got 3 and we saw their coop, and we saw the beautiful chickens at Goat Lady Dairy, all which inspired us. In addition, I have wanted to have a garden but our yard is too shady, so chickens seemed a way to take part in “growing” our own food . We wanted to become closer to the food we eat, not just buy it in a disconnected way from the grocery store but to actually know where our food comes from. When our neighbor said she wanted to raise chickens too we decided to do it together so we could share the responsibility of caring for them along with the joy of knowing them and watching them and eating their eggs. We have 4 hens. We started out with 6 back in May of 2010, but one, Helen, a Barred Plymouth Rock, died of a type of chicken cancer when she was 5 months old. The other, Peep, a Black Australorp, died back in September from a freak accident when she fell off the ramp and another chicken fell on top of her and we think it broke her back. The 4 remaining are Penelope, a Buff Orpington, Dorothy, a Silver Laced Wyandotte, Biscuit, an Ameraucana, and Michelle, a mixed breed. We have spent way more on them than we could ever have saved in eggs. We did it more for the joy and experience rather than to save money.”
Grier Schwabenton says “I had been wanting to get chickens for over a year and had done a lot of research. My husband wasn’t too excited about it, but then he surprised me with a coop for my birthday last July! I love to garden and work in the yard and this was an extension of that. Another factor that came into play was trying to get more local with our food supply. Our chickens came the end of August last year. They are a lot of fun and a great stress reliever! We have 6 hens. I was leaning towards 3 or 4, but my husband suggested there might be a mortality or two and I ordered 6. We have two Rhode Island Reds- Scarlette and Ruby, 1 Dominque – Paula Deen, 2 Buff Orpingtons- Daisy and Petunia and 1 Easter Egger- Trixie. They are all healthy and thriving. Just waiting on eggs. Some of my friends and family think I am crazy and some think it is great. I get lots of questions! My neighbors are fine with it and I have lots of visitors that come to check on them. Kids love to come visit my chickens and ask questions about them. It has been a big learning experience for my kids as well and they love our chickens. My chickens like to sit on the back fence and watch the kids play baseball. I let my neighbors know about the chickens in advance and try to be a considerate chicken owner. The coop was a birthday gift, but wasn’t cheap. I highly recommend just building one as we modified it a great deal. Money spent so far is kind of a joke around our house because we are still waiting on eggs. The start up costs seem to be the most expensive. Getting feeders and supplies adds up. You can get coupons for TSC and Southern States though, online and from feed companies. Feed really has not been a huge deal. We decided to go with organic feed which is more expensive and costs about $30 for a 50 lb. bag. Mine are 23 weeks old, so it should be any day for eggs!”
And last we come to my good friend Lauren Spence, who, when asked about what made her decide to get these birds, replied “A children’s book from the library. The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington. I picked it up one day and the kids and I read it over and over and over. It made me curious about chickens and so I started reading about people who keep them in an urban setting. Within a few months we’d converted an old dog house and dog pen into a hen house and coop. I drove to Virginia and bought four one-week-old chicks. (We’ve since replaced the hen house with a larger, swanky house from Leonard. Much easier to clean and room for more chickens!)
We currently have four hens. Miss Hen, a Rhode Island Red is one of my original girls. She was named by my son after the hen in The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County. She’s the boss of the coop, a very good layer of brown eggs and always comes running when she sees me in the yard. Tina is a Barred Rock and also one of my original girls. She’s very docile and walks with a slight limp from an unknown injury she sustained a year ago. She lays brown eggs, but not as frequently as Ms. Hen. Maybellene is an Ameraucana that lays beautiful blue-green eggs. She just started laying a few weeks ago and is providing us with about 5 eggs a week. Little Liza Jane is an Ameraucana also and Maybellene’s partner in crime. They are always together unless Maybellene is in the nest box. Liza Jane has yet to start laying. I’ve placed an order for 6 more day-old chicks that will arrive via USPS mid-April. We’ll be getting one each of the following breeds: Buff Brahma, Golden Campine, Black Australorp, Speckled Sussex, Buff Chantecler and a Columbian Wyandotte. (If you’re curious, look them up at www.meyerhatchery.com – they are gorgeous!)
My friends love to come and see the chickens! They bring their kids and chickens are chased all over the yard. Our next door neighbor, 3 year old Benjamin, comes over to visit them as well. Our yard backs up to a park and I often see kids along the fence watching the girls scratch around in the yard. My family thought I was a little nuts at first but they enjoy the chickens when they visit. Of course, they’d enjoy them even more if I had enough eggs to share. With four chickens in an urban setting I am certainly paying more for the chickens than I would for eggs, but the chickens are our pets and I enjoy them tremendously. When people ask me about the expense involved in keeping chickens I tell them that coops can be costly depending on what you want and need, but general maintenance is cheap. Much cheaper than a dog or cat. A $12 bag of feed from Tractor Supply or Summerfield Feed Mill will last me 2-4 months depending on the season and what’s available in the yard. I imagine a good part of their diet comes from the yard. The only other expense is an occasional $5 bale of wheat straw which I use for nest boxes and the coop floor (keeps it smelling fresh!) I’d encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to read more about keeping chickens. They are wonderful pets that provide entertainment, eggs, and fertilizer for your garden. Most people don’t realize how very easy and inexpensive they are to keep. There’s a Facebook page, Gate City Cluckers, dedicated to keeping chickens in the Greensboro area that is a wonderful resource for people who already have or are interested in urban chickens. Also, check out http://www.hencam.com/henblog/
So if you’re interested in backyard chickens, you can tell that you’re in good company. We’re not all a bunch of rednecks (well, I do come from Rockingham County) and we’re not completely bonkers; we’re just making an effort to enjoy one less food product that’s tainted by a cruel industry and getting some added amusement in the backyard. Of course, once they eat all your seedlings, the laughter may stop for a bit…