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Chickens: Not Just for Dinner Anymore

Raising domestic chickens is more than a hobby or fad. They are a great addition to life.

Chickens, for pets? Absolutely!

More and more people are choosing chickens to be the next family pet.  It doesn't seem to make a difference if they live in the city or in the country; the benefits of raising domestic chickens are the same.

Besides the obvious reason of an endless supply of fresh eggs, some of the other benefits include better-tasting, more nutritious eggs.  Eggs from backyard chickens have 25 percent more vitamin E; one-third more vitamin A; 75 percent more beta carotene; and notably more omega-3 fatty acids than factory farm eggs. 

Another advantage is the taste of these eggs. The whites of free-range chicken eggs are a lot firmer, and the yolks are bright orange in color. "These eggs taste a lot better than store-bought eggs," said Holly Barlow, of Wildwood. 

"It's hard to explain just how they taste different, maybe more robust? When I cook with farm fresh eggs, my baked foods are much better-tasting, too."

Chickens also have a high content of nitrogen in their droppings, which is beneficial for composting and enriching soil.  Along with that, chickens naturally spend their day clawing at the soil, looking for bugs and worms, which also leads to natural insect control and the constant turning of the upper layers of the dirt, which in turn, promotes better soil. 

With all of that said, the less technical part of owning chickens "is fun" indicates Lauren O'Very, a 13-year-old chicken enthusiast who raises chickens in Wildwood. "Our chickens come when they are called.  They like to be held, and plus, it's fun seeing them grow from baby chicks into egg-laying machines," she said.

Chickens come in more than 100 varieties, from ordinary to extraordinary.  The Rhode Island Red—with its rich, beautiful copper-colored plumage and its good nature—seems to be a popular choice for a lot of backyard chicken coops.  A more extraordinary looking chicken is the Polish White, with its bold-feathered head and lavish feathers. A newly popular chicken in the past few years is the Frizzle. They look like regular chickens, but with a bad case of the frizzies.

Steve Heine and his family, of Wildwood, have had chickens going on eight years now. They have Araucana chickens, also known as the "Easter egg chickens" because they lay different colored eggs. 

"The kids love the blue, green and yellow eggs the Araucanas lay.  Chickens also teach them responsibilities of owning pets, such as feeding and watering, and cleaning the chicken coop," Heine said.

Then there is the better-tasting eggs about which many people have heard.  "It's true," Heine said, "These eggs taste a lot better than the store-bought eggs. No comparison."

Raising backyard chickens isn't hard, but it isn't a no-brainer either. They need a safe place to stay at night, even if they are free range. It's best to confine them at night to keep them from the raccoons and coyotes. Hawks also can be a danger to them, as well cats and dogs.  

Chickens are a great way of getting rid of scraps of fruits and veggies otherwise meant for the garbage disposal. They love food scraps, and it's a great addition to their normal feed. 

Chickens weigh on average about 6.75 pounds, and eat an average of 4 to 6 ounces of food per day. So, a bag of 50-pound chicken feed will last a flock of 10 chickens about 13 days or so.  Chickens also must have continuous fresh water to drink; self-dispensing food and water containers make this a lot easier.

Baby chicks up to 10 weeks of age must have an extra source of heat light or heat lamp, and must be fed chick food that contains necessary vitamins and minerals meant for young chicks. Food then can be switched as they grow into adolescent chicks, usually between the ages of 11 to 20 weeks of age. This is when the chickens start to lay eggs, and some feed is geared toward the egg-laying chicken, giving her the necessary vitamins and minerals for good egg laying.  Chicken food and other chicken products can be found at local feed stores, such as in Wildwood and in Eureka.

One final comment about raising domestic chickens: They are funny! Many chicken owners talk about the humor in chickens, of which they never knew until they had them. Between chickens taking dirt baths, to the way they interact with fellow chickens, they definitely prompt smiles. 

MartyMoose February 23, 2011 at 04:38 PM
I hope you don't live in a close neighborhood subdivision in Wildwood. We lived in a subdivision once that allowed chickens. It grew into rabbits, ducks and then goats and sheep in their back yards. Please don't let it get out of hand. There's a place to do all that and it's on a farm.
Jo Beck February 24, 2011 at 01:37 AM
What a great idea! Yes, I've thought about having chickens too. Winter could be a bit of a problem without a henhouse, though.
Susan Stone February 24, 2011 at 06:43 PM
If you are interested in having chickens you should check out Maplewood Richmond Heights school district. They have a chicken coop and have about 15 chickens all year long. They use the eggs for their school lunch program. It seems to be a popular thing around this area. As we walk the neighborhood we are finding more home raised chickens then ever. Oh, and I have not seen one goat or sheep yet. Anyway, check out the website www.mrhsd.com they occasionally have classes on how you can start your own chicken farm in your back yard.
MartyMoose February 25, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Good for MRH school district. At least they are in a controlled area and not a neighborhood subdivision. I hope the parents of this fad with chickens show all involved how to prepare the chicken for dinner some night. I just looked up in my subdivistion bylaws and it states no animals except for household pets. You go do your thing with the chickens, etc... I'm was just saying be careful and don't let it get out of hand. I don't want them in my area.

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