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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 3.26.2009

 

Nesting Green Home & Garden Special Issue

Seasonal Salads What to plant for tasty greens year-round

Conserving Water, Anticipating Surprises A profile of Deborah Brady

Small Space, Big Tastes Ten herbs you can grow in your apartment

Eco-Paint the Town Environmentally friendly options

On the Wing Plants that attract birds and butterflies

2009 Spring Planting Guide

 

Not a Yolk

Backyard chickens produce

by Jessica Hirst

Maybe you like the idea of bestowing fresh eggs on your friends in exchange for all that zucchini they give you every summer, but you don’t know the difference between a biddy and a brood. You want to take advantage of Eugene’s city code that allows you to keep chickens, but you’re just not sure where to begin. 

Dark Brahma hen. Photo by art Bromage Through Wiki Commons

It turns out that getting started raising your own chicks might not be as daunting a task as it seems. And now that it’s spring, chicks are available in stores. 

“Chickens are easy to care for,” says Down to Earth store manager Rachel Klinnert, who began raising her own chicks about a year ago. Klinnert says she had no experience caring for chickens before she started but that she’s been able to learn as she goes with the help of books such as Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow. 

To begin your adventure as a chicken owner, you’ll need the following items: chicks, a large cardboard box (Klinnert used a refrigerator box), a heat lamp, pine chips, feed and special containers for food and water. Klinnert says she got her day-old chicks from Coastal Farm Supply for about $2 each. Coastal carries all the other supplies you’ll need to get started, she says.  

For the first eight weeks or so you’ll need to be home every day to feed the chicks, clean their box and keep an eye on them. After that, says Klinnert, they “feather out” and are ready to go outside. You’ll need to build a coop and keep it clean, but grown chickens are pretty low maintenance, she says. 

The only downside to the endeavor might be the cost. Although it might seem like backyard chickens would be a money saver, the initial setup costs for two chicks could run anywhere between $60 and $80. And down the road, you’ll still need to build a chicken coop. But with organic local eggs running $4.50 to $5 a dozen, that’s not a bad deal.

Klimmert says that you can build a simple coop for minimal effort and cost. She recommends building a complete enclosure to keep the birds safe from neighborhood predators such as cats, dogs, raccoons, possums, hawks and owls. 

Because Klinnert’s chickens are in a safe environment, they’re not stressed, so they’re content and easy to have around, she says. “I love the noises that they make,” she says. “It’s great listening to the sound of chickens cooing, and they’re pretty, sweet little animals. It’s been a really good experience.” 

Of course, fresh eggs aren’t bad either. A chicken lays approximately one egg every 36 hours, so two chickens will provide about a dozen eggs a week. A chicken will generally begin producing eggs after it’s about 5 months old, says Klimmert. And as for the other stuff that comes out of chickens, it can be used to fertilize the garden.

Most importantly, though, fresh eggs will release you from any zucchini debt you might be in since your neighbor’s windfall harvest last season.