Sourcing spring chickens for every yard

Feb 25, 2015 at 3:50 pm
Sourcing spring chickens for every yard

Victory garden propaganda during WWII urged citizens, namely women and children, to grow vegetables and raise chickens for eggs. At the time, self-sufficiency was considered a patriotic duty. Families stretched dollars and ration coupons by growing their own food. Today, consumers stretch household budgets with manufacturer’s coupons for processed food products; convenience is marketed over labor.

Decades of innovations in shipping out-of-season foods across the globe sparked locavorism as a modern idea, but it represents a very old way of living; it’s eating from your yard, trading abundance with neighbors, buying from a local farmer’s harvest and frying an egg less than a day old, among other things. It’s flavorful, rebellious and promoted by our rural friends in overalls.

Farmers are notorious backyard chicken pushers. Since I raise chickens in my small yard, I can only agree with the farmer who told me recently that everyone should raise chickens. Farmers work hard to live lives of self-sufficiency, and they are promoters of sustainability not only in the communities they serve, but among the people who make up a community.

Backyard chicken keepers in cities across the country are working to regain the right to farm their own properties. In Louisville, we’ve never had that right revoked.

Unless you belong to a homeowners association, you can raise your own chickens.

Jefferson County residents can legally keep up to five hens and one rooster on a lot smaller than a half acre, although five hens aren’t enough for one rooster – the hens can be overbred and become seriously injured for it. At their loudest, hens are quieter than a barking dog, but a crowing rooster is not. Raising a flock of hens makes one a more desirable neighbor.

If you’re ready localize your locavorism to your own backyard, the chicken is your mascot. A flock of just three hens can produce nearly two-dozen eggs per week at its peak. Grabbing a handful of warm eggs in different shades, shapes and sizes feels like striking gold every time. What’s better, you can source everything you need right here in Louisville.

Fresh Start Growers Supply is one of the best resources for Louisville’s chicken keepers, and they love talking about chickens! Between now and March 15, customers can order six-week-old chicks with the choice of 6 different reliable and friendly breeds for $13.50 each. The price is about $10 more than the price of a day-old chick from a hatchery, but it’s a bargain since you won’t need to buy baby chick supplies or pay for shipping. At 6 weeks, chicks have survived their most critical newborn stage, and they’ve feathered out, so in April in Louisville, they won’t need supplemental heat.

Buying chicks from a farmer or a local business might seem like a more local option over hatcheries, but even the chickens that farmers raise for meat and eggs to sell at market are most often from hatcheries; few farmers hatch their own chicks. If you prefer to raise day-old chicks, sourcing chickens regionally is an option. MyPetChicken.com, for example, is based in Pennsylvania, but its hatchery is on an Amish farm in Ohio where the company rents space. Day-old chicks from My Pet Chicken arrive in Louisville about 24 hours from the time of shipment.

Many of Kentuckiana’s Feeder’s Supply locations stock several chicken feed options: conventional and organic, crumble and pellets. The stores also carry a limited supply of some chicken supplies, like feeders, watering systems and grit.

Whether you buy a coop for several hundred dollars, build your own for a couple hundred from plans you purchase or design yourself or create your own from reclaimed materials for free, the chicken coop is the chicken keeper’s largest investment. Mobile coops are great for small yards, and for moving a flock to fresh pasture every day for the most nutritious eggs.

Eggs from hens raised on green pasture contain less cholesterol and saturated fat, and more omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins D and E than factory farmed eggs. It’s the availability of greens and pest protein that accounts for the nutritional difference. Laying hens recycle more than the nutrients in backyard greens and pests into fresh eggs, they also recycle kitchen waste. For you, that means reducing the amount of food waste you wheel to the curb each week.

Of course, locavores don’t need to raise chickens to keep their modern label; I’m just a local backyard chicken farmer slash enabler. But, if you’re ready to bring the mascot of sustainable living into your landscape, all the supplies and advice you need are nearby. Knowledgeable business owners and hobbyists are ready to help you bring chickens back into the mainstream where they belong.

Rachel Hurd Anger is a regular contributor to Urban Farm and Chickens magazines.