Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Outlne of final story.

While there are no roosters crowing in the Smiths back yard, there are chickens. Thanks to a recent change to the laws in Ann Arbor, the Smiths can keep 4 hens- enough to keep their family, and their grateful next door neighbors in eggs for most of the year.

"The eggs are good but this is hardly a cost effective venture!" says Smith. She stands in front of their homemade coop holding Mrs. Lakenvelder, a large mostly white hen who seems very content in her arms.

It seems as if keeping chickens has more to do with keeping chickens as pets rather then the eggs they produce. A pet with benefits, according to Smith.

According to many, the eggs taste better then store brought eggs.  Mother Earth News magazine has an article discussing the differences, including a heathful  1/3rd reduction in chloresterol.

Grocery store eggs are often older then two weeks since they have been laid. Home eggs are often less then a couple hours old-and fresh eggs are certainly better then older eggs. The hens are allowed to be out, are fed food that the owner controls. 

Need to match your coop with your house? Designer eggs are even possible-the shells can be colorful in hues that are multicolored- brown, green or even a pinkish tinged eggs come from specialized hens bred to produce "easter eggs". It gives new meaning to Green Eggs and Ham- although once you crack the egg, they all look the same.

Turns out there are more benefits to keeping the hens then their eggs. They are quite entertaining. The term pecking order comes from hens and their social status within their group. Watching hens walk around, scratching for something under the surface, clucking at each other, occasional chicken tag, it's like watching water or fire- it's always changing. These are very busy girls.

Even the byproduct of keeping hens- manure- can be beneficial. Many chicken owners turn it into compost for the garden. Here is an article about making Chicken Manure tea. While not a topic of dinner conversation, knowing what might benefit your plants seems like a good idea. 

"All around, we benefit- and I like the fact that our kids will see where their food comes from." says Fetner. The chicks that the Fetner's ordered last year are now the ones that are producing the eggs in their small flock. On average, she collects 2 to 3 eggs a day, more then enough for her family and neighbors.

Fetner and a few friends ordered their chicks from McMurrys Hatchery, one of the most popular hatcheries, and an impessive source of "Mail order chickens".

To keep chickens inside the city limits, you have to order just hens. This is to cut down on the crowing that rooters are known for- while enjoyable to some, it does have it's opponents. 

McMurrys has solved this dilemma with orders of only female chicks available- more expensive then "straight run" where the chicks are not sexed before sending out.

Pullets, female young chickens are in demand and often much harder to get then straight run chickens. Pullets range in price from about $2 to over $5 for a day old chick, whereas their male counterparts are often half that price.

There is one other problem with mail order chicks-the number that must be shipped in order to ensure a survival rate.

"Our first order of chicks the hatchery told us to expect 20 percent to die. So, we ordered the minimum 25. Since it was really cold that February, they sent us 32- thinking attrition might be greater then 20 percent," says Tammy Fisher, a teacher at Honey Creek Community School who ordered chicks for her class to raise a few years ago.

"I guess we are good chicken farmers- only two died. So, we ended up with 30 chicks that needed homes." Fisher says she had quite a few chicks turned chickens living in her garage before she found homes for the hens. 

While Fetner ordered  day old chicks, many choose to get hens that are already laying. This also quickens the egg laying process- a hen does not lay eggs until she reaches the age of at least 15 weeks. You also can get 4 hens instead of 25 chicks.

A quick look on Craigslist provides a few chicken farms in the Ann Arbor area. The A2citychicken , a web site dedicated to chicken farmers in the Arbor Area can direct you to many local sources for chickens that are already laying, coops and advice for keeping hens in the Ann Arbor area. The price of a hen ready to lay is about $15. 

While there have only been 11 permits for chickens inside the city limits since June 2008, the numbers seem likely to increase since orders of chicks have increased for the SE Mich area.  According to the Facebook group, Urban Chickens, there is an anticipated shortage of chicks available this year.

 Chicken keeping is fun, and provides organic, free range eggs for your family to enjoy. It is becoming a serious hobby for many. Perhaps this is the Martha Stewart phenomena- she has touted the benefits of keeping chickens in her magazine and blog. When you have chickens in your back yard, you control what they eat and how they live. "It's all good."

If you want to learn more about urban chicken keeping, you might want to check out Keep Chickens- a comprehensive guide to keeping chickens in urban settings. 

Want to keep hens in Ann Arbor? Click here for a permit!

Left- Martha Stewarts Chicken Coop

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