"Love and eggs are best when they are fresh."
The idea of raising chickens has always appealed to me. What could be more idyllic than gathering fresh eggs hatched by happy chickens wandering around your garden?
So, when I learned many homeowners were raising poultry these days, I turned to Melissa McCanna of Kingston, Washington to find out why. Her family has raised chickens for three years. It all started when the oldest son Aaron (now 14 years old) brought home two chicks he'd hatched for a science project.
"He thought they were hens, but they turned out to be roosters," recalls Melissa. "So, we got a handful of hens to keep the roosters from fighting. Then, a framer working on the house, brought over six more hens to balance out the rooster-to-hen ratio."
One thing led to another. Now 17 chickens -- with names like Pepper, Granola, Hot Tamale and King Kong -- are wandering around the McCanna gardens. Nutmeg (above) is an Old English Game Bantam. Quite an elegant lady, don't you think?
The fresh eggs are a big plus for raising chickens. And the eggs are both a health issue and a philosophical one for the family, which also includes husband James, 12-year-old Sean and 10-year-old Maria.
"Knowing our eggs came from happy, healthy chickens is important to us," explains Melissa. "It's great to have fresh eggs that we know don't have hormones or chemicals added to them."
The variety of eggs is wonderful too. Nutmeg and the other bantams lay small tan eggs. The Rhode Island Reds hatch brown eggs of various shades and sizes. But these three Ameraucana Pullets chicks (Ginger, Eggy and Greg) will some day produce blue eggs.
"We're also thinking about getting a few Cuckoo Marans," adds Melissa. "They hatch dark chocolate brown eggs. But regardless of the colors, all the eggs taste great."
After three years of living with chickens, the McCanna household considers them part of the family now. If you're thinking of raising poultry yourself, here are tips from Melissa:
- "Get a good chicken coop to keep your chickens safe," she advises. "Eglu coops are neat, but rather expensive. It's easy to build your own." Here are tips for building a chicken house from Grit Magazine editor Hank Will.
- "Check city and county codes to make certain you're allowed to raise chickens," says Melissa. "Some cities permit hens but not roosters. Also make certain your neighbors won't mind living next to roosters, which can be quite loud at times."
- "If you can, invest in at least one rooster to guard hens against predators," she suggests. "Our chocolate lab Java also helps keep the chickens out of the forest."
Want to learn more about raising backyard poultry? Don't miss these resources:
- CommunityChickens.com: A joint service from Grit Magazine and Mother Earth News, this helpful site is packed with everything you need to know about raising chickens.
- UrbanChickens.org: More advice on backyard poultry, with a special focus on urban chickens.