Raising Chickens

Have you ever thought about raising a few chickens in your backyard?  Talking with Todd Goldsmith and Diane Dear of T&D Farms, who have eighty-eight Barred Rock laying hens, I learned that raising chickens is one part worry, one part daily chores, and one part entertainment.

“Did you see that big old raccoon on your way down here?” Todd asked as he joined Diane and me outside the wire-roofed chicken coop. “I clapped my hands and it backed off.”  But the raccoon is just one of the predators that worry people who raise chickens.  In addition to the raccoon “climbing up the coop, trying to figure out how to get in, we’ve had a river otter looking at them, a great horned owl, and a hawk perching on the edge of the lid.  We’ve had three bald eagles circling the field, checking them out.”

Clearly concerned about chicken safety, Todd and Diane concluded, “You don’t need an elaborate coop, but if you don’t have a lid on them, they’re gone.”

You also need time for daily chores.  “It takes the two of us about three hours a day total to take care of them.”  Todd said.  Gesturing toward the two flocks, Diane explained that twice a day each flock gets scratch, organic grain, fresh greens and water.   They also get clean bedding every day.

And then there’s egg collection.  Chickens lay all day.  Shaking his head amazement, Todd said that the younger flock lays sixteen eggs between 12:00 and 1:00 every day.  Todd or Diane check for eggs every hour or so during the day, collecting about 70 eggs a day.

So why are chickens part of T&D Farms?  “It’s really fun to have them!  Chickens are the smallest, most manageable kind of farm animals.”

“Our initial thing was to be able to feed neighbors and friends and that’s part of it and it’s been great,” Diane said.  T&D Farms 30-member egg CSA is currently fully subscribed.  “And,” Diane added, “they’re part of a cycle. It’s really nice to have the animals to eat the excess vegetables—they have their favorites, like pumpkin—” from their 2-acre organic produce garden.  In return, the chickens produce compost for the garden.

“They love greens,” she said.  “Watch!”  Tossing out handfuls of chopped chard, kale, radicchio, over wintered leeks, she called, “Girls, look what I got,” and the black and white birds clustered around her, clucking and grabbing for the tasty bits of salad.

Chickens are endlessly fun to watch.  “When we first got them, we were amazed; they weren’t raised by mothers but they know all the behaviors: how to stand up to lay the egg, how to feather dust.” And to listen to: “At first they just cheep, then at some point they get more vocalizations.  When you’re cleaning their coop they have a scold sound.”

“In the feed mix that we get there will be the occasional whole kernel of corn,” Todd said.  “They love that.  They’ll pick right through the pile to find it.  They also eat a lot of dirt, packing their crops full of food and dirt at night to help crush their food.  And when it snowed, they were like Whoa! Then they tried to eat it.” Todd also has a favorite, Miss Rotund. “She is at the top of the pecking order and quite large.  She took to me right off and will just jump up on my lap for attention.”

For Todd and Diane, it’s clear that the entertainment outweighs the worry and the chores of raising chickens.  It might for you, too.  And you also get eggs!

First published in the Islands’ Weekly, June 10, 2008

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