Rule the roost
When Mindy Wolfe lets herself into the chicken run she keeps in the backyard of her Reno home, six hens of varying breeds happily greet her in the hopes that she brings a slice of watermelon rind or some corn to snack on.
With many different breeds specializing in a variety of purposes, chickens are no longer just for farmers.
The urban chicken trend, which farmers say rose out of the growing desire and pressure to eat more locally grown foods, is alive and well across the country, including right in Marietta and surrounding areas.
“It’s a really good thing to do if you’re the kind of person who believes in animal rights and if you want to eat healthy,” Wolfe said. “When I was a little girl we always had them.”
Wolfe keeps six hens at her Reno home, which she describes as being in a “suburban” style neighborhood.
“I’ve noticed across the nation, it’s really started to catch on,” she said. “People are raising them because they don’t like what comes out of the grocery store.”
Factory farming, the term used to describe a way of mass producing meat and eggs for sale, typically involves pumping poultry full of hormones and shipping them, a process Wolfe said made her want to raise her own.
“If you take care of your animal you’re honoring it, rather than going to the grocery store and buying anything pumped full of preservatives,” she said.
Rick Schaad, regional manager of the Marietta branch of the Green Valley Co-op, said urban chicken farming is on the rise.
“It really has picked up quite a bit in the past few years, and we’ll sell them to anyone who walks through the door,” he said. “There’s really not much risk, you just have to keep them sheltered and keep them out of the weather.”
The co-op sells chicks in groups of about 25, and typically if someone wants to purchase them, the hatchery or supplier requires a minimum amount, which supports a chicken’s need to be part of a flock.
“I believe we can get a selection of like 10 to 15 different kinds of chickens, depending on what you want,” Schaad said. “And it really isn’t too expensive to get started.”
From tiny bantam hens typically kept for show to traditional roosters that people associate with a morning wake up call, Schaad said with a proper coop, feed and water, chickens can be for anyone.
Sarah Chichester, of Lowell, first purchased a set of chicks more than a decade ago for the sake of her granddaughter.
“I wanted to teach her where the beginning of food comes from,” she said. “They’re great pets, they’re great egg-layers, and they’re lawn ornaments.”
Chichester keeps white silkies, partridger rocks, silky roosters and other hens at her home just outside the Lowell village limits.
“I have a small 8-by-12 insulated chicken house that I heat in the winter with lights, then it’s surrounded on two sides by a veranda that’s glassed in in the winter and screened in in the summer,” she said. “Proper housing is the most important, but if you have that, they can be easier to take care of than cats.”
Wolfe said for a novice, try sticking to hens, as they are quieter but can still produce eggs without all the extra noise. She also recommends purchasing chicks from websites like mypetchicken.com, that allow smaller orders to keep from overwhelming a new owner.
“We do that out of being civil toward our neighbors,” she said.
Chicken owners also strongly urge first-timers to use forums like backyardchickens.com, which provide advice on what types of breeds are best, how to prepare and how to take the best care of your own.
“Golden Comets are good for laying eggs, and that’s what a lot of people go with,” Schaad said, describing the breed known for producing the best brown eggs.
Most urban chicken farmers stick to egg production and keeping them as pets, as the process of using them for meat is both laborious and messy, Wolfe said.
In many rural communities, even within city limits, chickens are no longer illegal to keep.
“Is it against the law? No it’s not, and you can absolutely have them within the city of Marietta,” said Marietta City Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp. “In fact, quite a lot of people keep them right in city limits.”
Hupp said city law only states the fowl must be kept contained, in a clean environment and must not create any sort of nuisance, whether it be through odor or noise.
“We don’t really get many complaints about either of those,” he said. “Just keep them clean, keep them contained, and it’s not an issue.”
Wendy Bartlett, a Marietta College geology professor, lives right within the city of Marietta with her brood of six roosters and hens.
“In Marietta, I think in 2009, I got my first chickens from Tractor Supply, but I had them when I was young in a different state,” she said. “I use their eggs, and I give them away to everyone I know.”
Bartlett, who keeps a mixture of everything from bantum hens to roosters, has become a sort of foster mother, all out of her love for animals.
A neighbor once pleaded with her to take one of his chicks with a lame leg that was struggling to survive alongside his other healthy ones.
“I stayed up with him all night, and now I’m ‘foster childing’ him, and he has recovered,” she said. “Both of his legs work, and now he’s a chowhound.”
Bartlett, Chichester and Wolfe all said that chickens are not very hard to clean up after, as long as you have patience.
For feed, they all agree that just buying a decent brand is best, but that chickens are very adaptable.
“They’ll eat salad, and a lot of times if they see you eating, they want whatever you’re having,” Bartlett said. “Try corn or carrots, and a lot of the times they’ll even learn to eat grass.”