Feathered Friends

Raising chickens has become
quite a fad for area residents

Many do it to provide family with healthy food choices

(March 2018) – A carton of one dozen Grade A large eggs ranges in cost from $1.69 for a generic brand to $4.27 for organic eggs. Eggs are readily available from most convenience stores or gas stations, mini-markets, grocery stores and supercenters. They are carefully washed, packaged and ready to use. Then why would an average individual decide to build a chicken coop and pen, buy chicken feed, shavings or straw, as well as the number of chickens it takes to produce eggs for their family each week?
Each day, the eggs must be gathered from the nesting boxes in the chicken coop. Each day, the chickens must be released from the coop to the chicken run. Each evening, the chickens must be returned to the coop. The coop and chicken run must be cleaned and maintained. Each hen can only lay one egg per day. All of that work for one dozen eggs!

Photo provided

Candice Johns of Trimble County, Ky., poses with one of her prized chickens.

Raising chickens has become a trend among health conscious individuals. Fresh eggs are delicious and contain more nutrients due to the diet of the hens. Hens that are allowed to peck and scratch for food such as grass, weeds and insects for protein, produce eggs that are higher in omega-3s and vitamins.
This natural environment is completely different than a commercial farm where hens may be confined to a small space to maximize egg production. Both the eggs and the chickens that lay the eggs are a product of their environment. Some families just raise hens for eggs, while others raise meat chickens to eat as well.
Three area residents discussed their experiences in raising chickens for their own families. Madison, Ind., resident Brandon Taylor observed that “people have lost track of where their food comes from. You do not have to be a health nut to become more conscious of food sources.” 
When their children wanted pets, Brandon Taylor and his wife, Sheri, saw chickens as a dual-purpose solution. Their 7-year-old daughter even gave names to their original six hens. They built their own backyard chicken coop that fit with the architecture of their home on West Main Street.
To make the maintenance process easier to manage, Taylor used the deep composting method that involved layers of sand. He also built automatic feed and water dispensers. Chickens are great garbage disposals – they will eat most anything. They learned that it is calming to hear the chickens “clucking” in the yard. 
A small number of chickens are manageable even on a typical city lot. For the Taylors, the project continued to expand, so now the chickens have been relocated to a peaceful 10-acre weekend escape up on the hill.

Photo provided

Candice Johns allows her chickens to roam free on their property. They are protected from predators by their dog.

Taylor found that when they had more eggs than their family could use, the extra eggs could be shared. Sharing food is a unique way to connect with the community. The most fun part was the personalities of the chickens, the variety of colors and types of eggs.
For example, the Sicilian Buttercup Chicken produces eggs with the darkest yellow yolk. His advice for a novice urban farmer: “Do your research first.” 
Lexington, Ind., resident Bess Adams started with chickens as a 4-H project. She found she loved the chickens and their personalities. She has raised chickens off and on for 20 years. Currently, she has eight hens. She also names her chickens. Two examples are “Myrtle” and “Chicken Little.”
She raises chickens primarily because of the high quality of the eggs.
Adams keeps her hens in a large enclosed pen during the day and in a chicken coop at night. She does not let them run free due to predators. She uses cedar shavings in the chicken coop. The “work” of the chickens is exercise for Adams and her husband, Jerry.
She said that they love to work, to be outside, and to do physical work. “I like to be able to see what I have accomplished.” Their seven grandchildren also love to watch the chickens and interact with them.
Working with the chickens taught her children many lessons as they were growing up. Children need responsibility. They learn that they must do their work well so the chickens will not suffer. Do the best you can, take care of your animals. “Start out well to end up well,” said Adams.
Trimble County, Ky., resident Candice Johns was also interested in the health value of growing and raising food for her family. She grew up in Louisville with no farming experience. Her husband, Mark, had fond memories of his grandparents’ farm, so he and Candice purchased 23 acres in Trimble County.
The first year, they built their home. The next year, they planted gardens to provide fresh produce. Next came the chickens, which meant building a chicken coop. The Johns family allows their chickens to roam free on an open grassy area adjacent to the chicken coop. Predators are kept at bay by their Great Pyrenees dog. Other animals have been added in subsequent years. The constant motivation is the quality of their food.
Soon they realized it was more than the quality of their food; it was the overall quality of their life. The work was exercise. Their children grew up working outside in fresh air and sunshine as well as learning the stamina to persevere in bad weather. Science came to life in their yard during their home-school studies. Their four children, now ages 10, 13, 16 and 17, have learned self-sufficiency and life skills, as well as how to produce high quality food. As a family, they take great pride and satisfaction in preparing and serving meals using their own produce and meat.
Candice started writing a blog to chronicle their experiences. As questions poured in from other families about how to start growing and raising food, the blog grew to a website, FarmFreshForLife.com. Her message is, “You can do this!”

To learn more about starting your own chickens, “Chickens 101” is a two-part short evening class that is being offered by the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Kentucky. Part 1 will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 1, in Shelbyville, Ky., and Part 2 on Thursday, March 8, at the John Black Community Center, 1551 N. Hwy. 393 in La Grange, Ky. Those interested in attending are urged to reserve ahead for the class by calling (502) 222-9453 or send an email to: lauren.state@uky.edu. Traci Missun, Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Oldham County, Ky. Cooperative Extension Service, encouraged anyone with questions to feel free to call even if they cannot attend the class.

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