Being in the communications field I know that what you say to a reporter and what comes out in print can very different. However, our recent front page article was a fine exception, due in part, to providing the reporter with more information than was asked AND sending it via email. Yes, I did some of the reporter's work here, but really who know my flock better?
Below are the two questions I was asked, followed by my own questions and answers. Not everything I sent went to print, so below you'll find a few chicken raising tips and a pretty good summary of our first two years of raising chickens.
Coming later this week -- a full garden report of spring crops, seed starts and potatoes; a fabulous source for heirloom seeds and updated "ranch" photos!
eMail Interview for the CdA Press/ Maureen Dolan:
MD: It seems like more and more people are raising their own chickens. Do you see that happening?
CG: Yes, I think it’s all part of the sustainable living movement. For some this is a trend and for others it is a way of life. We’re somewhere in the middle I guess! I love to garden and have had a veggie garden in place since we moved here in 2003. I loved the idea of fresh eggs and having chickens in yard so in 2008 we decided to start a small backyard flock. I can’t claim any real “savings” on eggs, but there really is nothing like fresh eggs! Here’s my take on the chicken popularity: I recall going to the Kootenai Co. Fair the year we started our flock and noticing there were not many egg entries – like 5 or 6. Last year the entries easily doubled from the previous year, and I suspect this year you will see even more egg entries. By the way our girls won a blue ribbon in the Large category and a red ribbon in the extra-large class last year! More and more people are eating local; look at the popularity of our Farmer’s Market, and want to know what goes in to their food and where it comes from.
MD: Can you tell me a little bit about when you started, why and how it's been?
CG: After doing a bit of research on breeds, winter hardiness and egg production (all easily found on the web); we purchased six one-day old chicks from D & B Farm Store. We kept them in a plastic tub with a heat lamp in the family room for about 3 weeks and then moved them into the coop. They grow fast – really fast – but they don’t start laying eggs until they are about 20 weeks old. Our first eggs came in early October and they laid consistently through the winter. That was the first of our two back-to-back killer winters, but our hens did great. With a heat lamp and their custom made down jackets (feathers) keeping them warm, they came through both winters with no problems. Our hens will be two in May and they are still strong layers. We saw a little tapering off this winter (they need 16 hours of daylight to lay, which we supplement with disco lights), but now that we are seeing more daylight hours, the production is back up. We now have 5 hens and get anywhere from 2 to 3 eggs per day. It takes about 24 hours for an egg to form.
These were my questions (and answers) to help round out the story:
Are they pets? Yeah, they are – they are the only pet that can make you breakfast! They have names, Helen is the Rhode Island Red; Henrietta (Henny)and Penelope (Penny) are Barred Rocks; Flame is the Black Sex-Link and Harriett is an Australorpe (Australian breed). They will keep laying into old age, but the number of eggs produced will drop. And, they can live for 8 – 9 years. Usually by age 3 it is costing you more in feed then you are getting in eggs; so many are, well, sent to the farm…if you know what I mean. It is part of the life cycle and they are chickens after all.
Do I feel bad eating chicken? Not at all. I have a BS in Agriculture from the University of Idaho – urban farm-girl. Would I eat my chickens? No, they would be very tough and scrawny; they are bred for egg production, not meat.
What are they like? A joy. They are clowns. Really. I’ve handled them since chicks so they come running when I come out, all eager to see what goodies I might have for them. They were raised on polenta and still love it, that, and cottage cheese. They do have individual personalities. Helen is the “mother hen” – she keeps a watch on the coop and “supervises” when someone else is laying. Poor Penny is at the bottom of the “pecking order” and has a few bare spots on her rump to prove it. All the clichés you hear are true – “madder than a wet hen” – they hate water; dumb cluck and bird brain, yeah, they’re not too smart; and my favorite “like a bunch of old biddies” referring to a gathering of women who are talking non-stop. I let them out to graze in the yard only in the fall and early spring – when the garden is dormant. They can clear a patch of lettuce in no time flat – I learned this the hard way. They are easy keepers – fresh water, feed and a secure coop is all they really need.
What question do you get asked a lot? People always seem to ask me if we have to have a rooster to get eggs. No, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs, but you do need a rooster to get chicks! By the way, roosters are not allowed in city limits.
Do my neighbors care? No, it hasn’t been a problem at all. They are quiet; I keep them clean and share eggs. I am planning to add a few more chicks to keep the egg production going and I’d love to get a goat for milk…but I think the city of CdA would have other thoughts about that – not to mention my husband.