Judy DeHaas never thought she'd spend her mornings gathering eggs. As a photojournalist for the Denver Post, the Denver resident hatched an unexpected passion for backyard chicken farming when she met a local urban homesteading guru, Sundari Kraft of Heirloom Gardens. Kraft's multi-plot urban farm cleaves close to local terroir, narrowing its focus from Community Supported Agriculture to Neighborhood Supported Agriculture, reasoning that shareholders should be able to walk - not drive - to pick up their allotment of food.
Visiting Kraft's home to work on a story, DeHaas was struck by the lack of fuss and mess she'd been led to associate with urban chicken faming. "You're inundated with propaganda about what you have to have to farm eggs, " she says. "It was amazing how easy it was. Not out of control at all. You just have to feed them good food and keep them warm. You don't have to have a rooster, and you don't have to walk them like dogs."
When she's away from home, friends pitch in. In exchange for feeding the chickens the organic or all-natural chicken feed and tending to egg harvesting, the chicken sitters have free roaming privileges through DeHaas' organic vegetable garden.
Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge of Beekman 1802 Farm agree with DeHaas about the unexpected ease of small-scale chicken farming and recommend it to anyone with a backyard. Vigilance, they say, is key for both preventing salmonella and other infections, and keeping the hens constantly laying eggs.
Says Kilmer-Purcell, "There are no precautions other than gathering the eggs every day and using them quickly. Eggs must be gathered regularly, or the hens will become 'broody.' If there are too many eggs in a nest, they will begin setting on them to hatch them – and stop laying any more."
"Maintenance is simple, simply provide a small coop with nesting boxes, a feeder, and waterer. Fresh water must be provided every day. The floor can be covered with shavings and should be cleaned out every couple of weeks - or coarse sand, which acts like kitty litter, which can be scooped daily. The smell is negligible if the coop is kept clean, especially if chickens are allowed to roam the yard during the day."
And it's inexpensive, to boot. "Chickens are very efficient – especially free range, where they can find a great deal of their protein from insects. They will return to coop on their own at night and cost pennies to buy as chicks."
Don't have a yard where chicken can hunt and peck for insects? No problem. The Eglu company makes design-forward, urban-friendly chicken houses so even city slickers with a postage-stamp sized lawn or balcony can get cracking on harvesting eggs at home.
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