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Archive for February, 2009

Does the old adage “If one is good, two is better” really apply to chickens?  With the relevant modifications that apply to our house the saying would be “If four chickens are good, then certainly eleven are better”.  That’s right, eleven.   Just shy of a dozen (due to a shipping error that left two chicks behind) chickens who should all be pumping out eggs come mid-summer.  Stay tuned for future posts outlining all kinds of creative uses for the ovi.


Our first four chickens came to us as full grown, productive fowl.   This new batch came to use fresh from the egg – literally.  Although the hatchery was kind enough to remove any leftover shell fragments, they shipped the chicks to us at the tender age of one.  As in one day.   Visualize a box of marshmallow peeps that really are peeping and you start getting an idea of how small they were upon arrival.

And if getting hens via Priority Mail isn’t enough to boggle the mind, consider the life of the young rooster chicks.  When you order your hens online (yeah, just like the grandparents did!) there is a disclaimer stating that they may send some roosters in the box as well to keep the hens warm.   But don’t worry, the roosters will be clearly marked so as not to be confused with the hens.

Let’s just take a minute to think through that again.  We ordered nine hens.  The box we got had seven hens and ten roosters (we’ll forgive the shipping department’s bad math for the moment).  The roosters all had purple dye on their heads to identify them – not exactly in the same league as a Scarlett A, pink triangle or gold star – but an identifier of their outcast status nonetheless.  The dye makes sense since you can’t exactly put a brand on them nor is there an obvious sign of gender.  This is all good and fine, and somewhat weird, until you step back an realize that to the hatchery, the roosters are the equivalent of a production by-product.  Stranger still, they realized that this waste product can be pawned off on the customers as “packing material”.   Think about it.  We didn’t want roosters, and neither does anyone else since they make too much noise and you can’t have them in the city limits.  The hatchery would be up to their eyeballs in roosters in no time so off they go with the hens.

Fortunately for us, we found someone who actually wanted, and could have, baby roosters.  After Junior said his good-byes to the boys we delivered them to their new home.  That leaves us with seven chicks that grow remarkably fast.

The new hens have taken up residency in their temporary home which resides in the house.  They’ll be there until they get all their feathers (about 6 weeks) and then they move to the new Gucci-coop.  Three or four months later the eggs should start coming and coming and coming.

Four is good, eleven should be better, but twenty-one was clearly too many.

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I recently posted a query on our neighborhood yahoo group to see if there were other chicken owners who might be interested in pooling resources to find organic chicken feed at a reasonable price. While most interested parties were very supportive of the concept of backyard chickens, one neighbor had a very strong opposing viewpoint. With his permission, I have recreated the dialogue here on dinkswithkids. Consider this my attempt at opening the conversation to a wider audience.

For the most part, the exchange was civil. (At least I thought it was, until the end when I was pretty much accused of encouraging a dangerous, potentially lethal hobby that would be the doom of mankind and chickens. OK….I exaggerate. It’s my blog. I am allowed to.)

You will note, though, that I let Jim have the last word. Despite the aforementioned accusation and a couple of blatant falsehoods (CA has NOT banned all backyard poultry flocks, for example.) I had promised the group that my last post would be my last on the subject, and it was. So….here is the conversation, as it took place on our neighborhood yahoo board, in its entirety. It is lengthy….so consider yourselves warned!

MaryBeth

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From: On Behalf Of MaryBeth
Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 9:39 AM

Subject: backyard chickens

Hi all…..

Some of you may know that we adopted chickens in December. Well, we love them (and their eggs) so much that we are going to expand our flock in the spring. I have heard from some of you that others in the ‘hood are interested in starting their own backyard chicken flocks. If there is interest, we could save a lot of money (particularly on shipping) by pooling our orders for day-old chicks and organic feed.

I will likely purchase my new set of chicks in mid-to-late February from Ideal Poultry (http://www.ideal-poultry.com/). I will make a feed purchase (organic: http://www.bluestemorganic.com/CHICKEN.html , unless someone has a local source for organic) 2-3 weeks earlier to ensure that all is in place for the arrival of the chicks.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in the whole backyard chicken experience, please let me know. I am still new to this, but am more than willing to share what I have learned!

MaryBeth

On Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 1:09 PM, Jim wrote:

Do these backyard chicken flocks include roosters?

On Behalf Of MaryBeth
Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 2:47 PM
Subject: Re: backyard roosters?
Absolutely not. While Boulder does allow chickens, Roosters would almost certainly violate Boulder noise ordinances. Most hen owners keep the girls in their coop at night to protect from predators. The added benefit is that they will make almost no noise during sleeping hours. Wish I could say that about some of the neighborhood dogs! MaryBeth

On Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 5:15 PM, Jim wrote:

Yes barking dogs are a nuisance, and boy do they bark like crazy at the predators who come prowling around the chicken coops.

What about avian flu and other diseases that may be transmitted?

What about the prolific amount of waste chickens produce and the rodents and flies this could attract?

What impact will this have on property values? I can see prospective buyers being deterred because they do not want to entertain guests on their back patios to the accompaniment of hens cackling. I have to admit I never envisioned myself living in a neighborhood with backyard chicken coops. I’m all for sustainability, but I’m wondering if this makes sense on such a decentralized basis. Would it make more sense in the context of community supported agriculture or coops? Each individual cannot be self-sufficient (Jeremiah Johnson excepted), but we can work toward our community being self-sustainable.

On Behalf Of MaryBeth
Sent: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 10:04 AM
Subject: Re: backyard chicken coops bad for property values?

Jim,

The concerns that you raise have been raised time and time again in communities that have had to work, or are currently working to change ordinances to allow backyard chickens. Longmont is a perfect example. As important as these community-wide discussions are, my family examined each of these questions (and more) on a personal level before we made the decision to have chickens.

Yes, barking dogs are a nuisance, particularly during sleeping hours. Irresponsible pet owners who allow their dogs to bark unchecked all night should be held accountable for the nuisance they cause.

Avian flu? Chickens are birds. So are the flocks of geese that congregate near every office park and playground in Boulder. So are the cute little chickadees and sparrows that flock to backyard bird feeders all over Boulder. Backyard chickens that are contained to a set area are far less likely to spread avian flu than the wild birds that drop poop in your back yard on a daily basis. If Avian Flu spreads, at least chickens can be culled if necessary. What do you propose we do with wild birds?

Waste. If I were planning 30 birds in my backyard, I would really worry about the waste. From 8? Just enough to supply compost for my garden. And at least 2 of my neighbors have offered to take whatever poop I can give them for their own composts. “Some people’s trash…..”

Property values: Hard to address since this is a very personal issue. A more likely impact to property values than a few backyard chicks is whether neighboring properties are well maintained, from both the structural and the landscaping perspectives. This is a real issue in South Boulder with the large number of rental properties in the area.

Sustainability: I take my food seriously and am as big an advocate for community sustainability as you will likely see in these parts. I fully support local farmers. In fact I buy all of my meats, veggies, and dairy from Colorado farmers and ranchers. I belong to both a veggie CSA and the Windsor Dairy Co-Op, neither of which could reliably supply me with even a dozen eggs per month, never mind the 1-2 dozen per week that my family uses. My belief is that if my local farm partners cannot supply me with an essential, I will supply it myself if feasible. It is exactly why I keep chickens and tend my own supplemental garden. Encouraging community sustainability is not enough…..I believe every family has a right, if not a responsibility, to be an active participant in its food procurement.

MaryBeth

On Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 9:19 PM, Jim wrote:
Mary Beth,

Thanks for the info. It sounds like you seriously considered some of the negatives. I still have a few questions.

As you say, theoretically any bird species can carry a disease that could jump to humans. However, domestic birds that are raised by humans have a much greater possibility of infecting humans because of the close contact. When they are raised on an industrial or even small farm scale safety precautions are taken, and they are regulated by government agencies. If our residential areas become permeated with chicken coops, that will not be possible.

Governments in North America and Europe have grown increasingly worried about the possibility of a global epidemic of bird flu. Every commercial flock of poultry is tested for avian influenza to ensure that no birds afflicted with it enter the food supply. This food safety program has limited the exposure of our food supply to the virus. Most cases of bird flu have been linked to exposure to wild birds that are carrying the virus. Putting more birds outside in backyard pens where they are exposed to wild birds will only increase the risk of bird flu becoming a public health concern. The poultry industry has gone to great lengths to ensure the public’s health. Who will be monitoring backyard chicken coops to ensure our health?

I have no doubt that people like you would run your chicken coops in a safe, clean way that doesn’t disturb your neighbors. However, as you point out, much of Boulder is blighted with poorly maintained rental properties. Some people who live on such properties would not be as careful to monitor the safety and environmental conditions attendant to backyard poultry.

Is it worth exploring whether there are better alternatives like an egg co-op? You mentioned that you get much of your food from CSA operations. Could one of them be persuaded to supply eggs? Perhaps delivery could be coordinated with milk delivery.

I strongly disagree that everyone has an unlimited right to produce their own food. Why not let people have backyard dairies or slaughterhouses? Obviously, the freedom to produce food has to be balanced against the health and safety of the community like anything else. I suspect that eliminating agricultural activities from residential areas was the original impetus behind zoning. Allowing backyard chicken coops is a step backward in the progress that has been made in creating clean, safe, quiet neighborhoods for our families.

Jim

From: sobotalk On Behalf Of MaryBeth
Sent: Friday, January 30, 2009 9:25 AM
To:
Subject: Re: [SoboTalk] backyard chicken coops are bad for property values and a threat to the safety of our families

Jim,

I’ll try to be brief.

First, I do not believe that industrial poultry farms have taken even NEAR adequate precautions against food borne pathogens. Their idea of precautions generally means isolation of the chickens from the outside world. It is abundantly clear from the constant use of antibiotics in commercial (non-organic) flocks that those precautions do not work. They certainly will not work in the event of a highly infectious disease such as Avian Influenza . In fact, many poultry experts (other than those paid by Purdue) hypothesize that commercial poultry operations, with their insanely crowded conditions and reliance on pharmaceuticals to “keep the balance”, will be decimated long before backyard flocks.

Further, the government, and their woefully inadequate regulations, will have little impact on preventing the spread of AI in factory farms. At testing rates that run around 0.02% to 0.002%, either 1) entire flocks will be dead or 2) infected meat and eggs will have already be in the hands of a very large percentage of the population before any alarm is sounded. At that point, my isolated flock of backyard chickens will likely still be safe, productive, and influenza-free. Government agencies today regulate all commercial food production yet in the last few years we have had massive amounts of contaminated food (spinach, ground beef and now peanut-based products to name just a few) delivered to grocery stores and restaurants. In a large number of these incidents, the alarm was not sounded by testing results but by ill consumers. Until the government gets serious about protecting our food supply I find it hard to believe that they would be able to contain something as fast moving and contagious as AI.

As for chicken/egg co-ops, I have tried to source eggs from local farmers and failed. In one case, the flock was attacked by a predator and most of the laying hens destroyed. In another, the co-op got their eggs from a third party, and discovered to their dismay that the chickens were not being raised to the high standards set by the co-op. Both sources turned out to be unreliable sources of eggs. Ask anybody in Boulder if they have found a reliable source of free-range, organic eggs, and you will find that the percentage is quite low. Part of the problem is that to satisfy the great demand that exists in our community would almost certainly require the kind of large-scale production that so many of us find abhorrent.

Finally, I never said that ordinary citizens should have an UNLIMITED right to produce all of their own food, only that which is feasible. I, too, agree that the ordinary citizen is ill equipped to run a slaughterhouse in his backyard. However, raising chickens for eggs is about as far from running a slaughterhouse as raising tomatoes. In fact, the people who crafted our zoning laws probably recognized that — which is why it is perfectly legal to raise backyard chickens.

All of this said, this will be my last post in defense of backyard chickens. There are plenty of resources available on the web for those who are interested in both sides of this debate.

If, however, there are neighbors interested in starting their own flocks, please feel free to contact me offline. So far, I have had 6 interested parties. I will plan a meeting for one evening to see if we might be able to work together to source our chicken/feed needs, and to discuss just what is involved in safely raising our flocks.

MaryBeth

REPLY FROM JIM:

I am not that concerned about any existing coops, including yours. My concern is that if this fad is promoted unchallenged on neighborhood discussion groups or anywhere else, it would increase the density of backyard coops and thereby raise the risk of all the problems.

In addition, I’m concerned about people getting burned on this. Many residential breeder markets have come and gone , such as ostrich, chinchilla, Vietnamese potbelly pigs, etc. Usually the average person gets burned and only the suppliers benefit. This fad is being promoted by chick hatcheries and sellers of equipment (like the designer, modular backyard coops). Residential zoning laws that allows chickens were adopted before the disease problems became an issue. In the future, our zoning ordinances may prohibit chickens, as they already do in some communities in Colorado. People should consider this before laying out the capital for a backyard chicken operation.

I recently spoke to a Colorado Department of Agriculture Veterinarian who increased my concerns. Did you know that all backyard chicken coops were banned in California because of the threat they created to the commercial poultry industry in that state? The experts there felt that the lack of regulation of backyard coops was the reason a poultry disease was spread throughout the state.

You raise the issue of inadequate regulation of commercial operations. Doesn’t that just make unregulated backyard coops even more dangerous? The health experts in Indonesia, China, and California evidently have reached this conclusion. You complain about commercial operations confining chickens indoors, but isn’t that precisely what is needed to insulate them from diseases carried by wild birds, e.g. avian influenza which is carried by wild water fowl? If government regulation of commercial operations is inadequate, that indicates the need for better regulation not less regulation like there is with backyard coops. Backyard coops would not be safe in the event of an avian flu epidemic. Based on what has happened in China, Indonesia, and California, backyard coops exposed to wild birds would be precisely where the epidemic starts!

Again, I suggest that your efforts to promote this dangerous and controversial fad in our community could be channeled much more productively into forming an egg co-op with a local CSA operation. Even if all the latent demand can’t be met, I think it is likely that the demand from people who care enough to consider backyard coops could be met precluding all these problems.

Jim

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So….what do YOU all think of backyard chickens?

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