Skip to main content

Style Magazine

What the Flock?

Aug 01, 2014 02:01PM ● By Tom Mailey

Photos by Vickie Mailey.

They love being outside. They don’t fuss about food or require a ton of attention and, because they’re tidier and quieter than you’d expect, they won’t bother the neighbors. If this sounds like the kind of pet you’d like to have, consider chickens.
Wait. What? Turn the backyard into a barnyard?
Yes, kind of.
It appears urban and suburban chicken farming is becoming a thing. Whether it’s a fad or a bona-fide trend remains to be seen, but a publication called Backyard Poultry has 44,000 subscribers; the website has over 15,000 members; and in the well-kept, fenced-in backyard of Roseville residents Toby and Jen Thorp, there are currently nine more reasons to think people may be flocking to something new.
To suggest Toby first balked at the idea is an understatement. “I didn’t want them at all,” he says. But wife Jen thought differently. “Jen’s always loved animals and gardening,” Toby says, “so she thought it would be a great way for our kids to learn the work involved in raising chickens for eggs. I’m still not sure exactly how and when she changed my mind. She’s crafty like that.”
They contacted the Placer 4H embryology center, which provides eggs and incubators. June Stewart, recently retired 4H representative for Placer County, helped develop the outreach program. She says they started with two incubators, which were loaned almost exclusively to schools, and usually chicks were returned after hatching. Now, she says, they have 150 incubators that go to schools and private residences alike and since zoning ordinances in many communities have changed to allow a limited number of backyard fowl, “we hardly see any chicks come back.” She says chickens “are fun and make wonderful companions,” but strongly recommends the inexperienced take a class through their local 4H chapter before taking the plunge. Also, check local community ordinances: Limits on the number of birds vary, and there are other rules and restrictions.
Toby fully expected they’d turn their chicks back in. What happened? He laughs. “I fell for the little cluckers.” I visited their suburban backyard on a warm evening in May. The coop is actually a modified child’s wooden playhouse. Glance in a window and you’ll see a tidy interior with perches and hay spread across the floor. There are three egg-laying boxes where, when production is up, Toby and Jen collect about five eggs a day. What they don’t use, they give to family and friends. “Who else can say their pets feed them?” Toby asks. Does he actually consider them pets? “Well, we named them all. It’s also sad when we lose one, so...yeah.”
Connected to the coop is a low, tin-roofed run with ample room for the birds to peck about and preen. I was surprised at the lack of any...odors, and there are few bugs. Thorp says chickens are clean animals anyway, but the hay gets changed once a week and the water, daily. Waste is composted for their garden, which explains why their tomato plants all look like small trees. (Stewart says she lets her chickens into her garden sometimes to chow on pests.) Other than that, the Thorps say the birds are low maintenance. Average monthly costs? About $20. The other surprising thing is how quiet they are. For obvious reasons, roosters within city limits are still quite illegal. Hens don’t need a man around anyhow—the eggs come no matter what. As for the neighbors, Toby says he’s gotten no complaints. In fact, the next-door neighbors come over to feed them. “We kick down the occasional dozen eggs though,” Toby smiles, “just to keep them happy.”
If you think you’d like to give suburban egg ranching a try, do a little civic due diligence and check into your county’s 4H program. But, careful: You might just fall for the little cluckers.

Find more of Tom's Takes here, and make sure to catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1 or follow Tom on Twitter @kncitom.