In the Garden:
Backyard chickens are becoming popular with city dwellers, offering both fresh eggs and an interesting addition to the landscape and garden.
I remember as a child having chickens in the backyard. We lived in a small town and had a fenced area where the chickens lived. It was always exciting to find the small "pullet eggs" that appeared when a new batch of chicks reached laying age, or later finding a not-so-common double yolk-egg!
On some days we'd let the ladies out to roam the yard. They'd sprint out the gate like a busload of school kids arriving at Disneyland. Their day out was spent chasing down bugs and patrolling the yard and garden, pecking and scratching away. Over the years, when we've lived outside of town, my family has had chickens from time to time.
Now chickens are moving back into the city! Across the country the interest in fresh, local food has coincided with an explosion of new interest in "city chickens". Some folks are into chickens for the eggs, others for the fancy of unusual breeds such as Blue Splash Andalusian, Sicilian Buttercup, and Buff Laced Polish. Still others like myself find a bit of nostalgia or "back to the earth" appeal to the idea.
We are now once again the proud owners of 8 hens (I already own an alarm clock, and the neighbors would not appreciate me having an outdoor one!). "The girls", as my wife calls them, include five different breeds, mostly selected for their egg production.
Last week I built a "chicken tractor", an amusing name for a mobile chicken coop. This will allow for us to keep the ladies cooped up away from predators such as dogs, owls, and hawks; one has already landed in the yard to investigate! The mobile coop is moved from one location to another out in our garden and future fruit tree areas.
Weeds (from my neighbors- I don't have any!) and vegetable garden trimmings go into the coop for the grateful birds to sample. Garden areas in between crops get a visit by the mobile coop for a bit of scratching and pecking, which helps keep some pests such as caterpillars, wireworms, and root weevils under control.
While backyard chickens are certainly not for everyone, their popularity is growing rapidly. Visit with your local County or Parish Extension Office for free information on keeping chickens. Stop by a feed store for more advice. Check with your homeowner's association and city regulations to get the facts before launching out into your own backyard chicken project.
Groups of backyard chicken enthusiasts have formed in many cities across the county, and several are now offering tours such as our own Funky Chicken Coop Tour here in Austin, Texas. Even if you decide that chickens are not for you, it is a fun outing and you'll meet some great folks and perhaps make contacts for purchasing some of the best tasting eggs you'll ever eat!
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