So & So

Fly the Coop

Backyard chicken farming builds a local presence

Posted

Chickens coming home to roost used to be a metaphor. Now they’re literally roosting in many South County backyards as the Backyard Chicken Movement goes local.

Chickens are low maintenance, relatively inexpensive to keep, fun to observe and produce great eggs. This movement has inspired Backyard Poultry magazine, at least two websites, innumerable Facebook pages, and a back-to-the-land ethic in line with our organic time.

A couple of local men, Phil Larson of Jamestown and Efrem Bromberg of Exeter, are committed to their chickens and like the give-and-take action they get in return. Efrem suggests, “If you’ve got any kind of farm fantasy, a few chickens can easily make it come true.” Set them up in a coop, provide some kind of run for them to go scratching in, kick back and observe the action. You’ll be amazed at what they dig up. Any animal lover can appreciate a chicken’s delirious agitation when you deliver a pail full of seeded fruit or vegetable rinds for breakfast. Phil adds, “Shake a bucket of sunflower seeds and watch.”

Then there are those eggs. Phil, who was a chef for 35 years, says, “There’s nothing like fresh eggs, especially if you poach them or use them in a hollandaise sauce.” Rhode Island Reds, our state’s official chicken, are famous for their big eggs and small breasts, which, incidentally help keep the chickens in the backyard and off Sunday platters.

Nurturing healthy, happy chickens is another reason to fowl up your backyard. Commercial chicken warehouses are notorious in their drive for production over any other considerations. A half million birds cramped in, going stir crazy, is not unusual. Whatever care exists for the birds translates to hefty doses of antibiotics to guard against disease. And what about growth stimulants? Those enormous chicken breasts in your supermarket are implants. So why not go organic and do a little something for your karma while you poach that cage-free egg. Phil says he gets an egg a day from each chicken on good days. Things change with shifts in the weather, and, of course, when the chickens age. Then you have to decide to keep the chicken as a treasured pet – or make soup.

If you’re sensitive to endangered species, several chicken breeds are on the list. Redcaps, Chanteclers and Campines, to name a few, are in trouble. Raise some of them. If you want to confirm the size and flavor of their eggs first, well, that’s up to you.

It’s not all poached eggs and toast, of course. When chickens molt they’re hardly a joy to behold (thus the term, “revolting molting”). And the natural pecking order of birds is unattractive in general and especially so with chickens. Then there are predators: dogs, fisher cats, foxes and raccoons (thus, the coop.)

However, the pluses far outweigh the minuses – and think of all our county fairs. Bring your prize chicken with you. You’ll be amazed at all the chicken criteria that exist for judges.