Dawn of a new egg

March 4, 2012

Dr. John JonesMany of you, I'm sure, already know this, but in case you don't, I am pleased to announce that we are in the midst of a new revolution, one so powerful that it may change the way we eat and the way we live. And I shall sound the alarm: “The chickens are coming! The chickens are coming!”Chickens? Really? Am I crazy? Well, maybe, but the evidence is overwhelming. On a recent trip to a local farm supply store, I found myself surrounded by a plethora of poultry equipment, including feeders, waterers, and “how-to” books. It was more chicken paraphernalia in one location than I had ever encountered before.And, last October, our wonderful employees treated Bonnie and me to a weekend getaway in Holmes County. There, amongst all the beautiful furniture and other wood creations made by the Amish, were many finely crafted, portable chicken coops. Apparently, there is a good demand for this type of product.Probably the most compelling evidence of this poultry revolution, however, has been my brother-in-law, Gary. Having known him for over 30 years, I can safely say, and I mean no disrespect by this, that he is one of the least agriculturally-minded people I have ever met. Early on, Gary was “a car guy.” Then, when the technology revolution dawned, Gary became “a computer guy.” Now, he is called “Grandpa Chicken” by many of his favorite loved ones.Two years ago, Gary and his wife, Cindy, were stricken with “chicken fever.” They purchased seven chicks from Meyer's Hatchery here in Ohio, and ordered one of those posh poultry palaces.Before Gary and Cindy began their venture, I gave them some old issues of “Backyard Poultry” and a Murray McMurray catalog. Many hatcheries offer nice catalogs, but the Iowa-based Murray McMurray is the gold standard. With hundreds of pictures of birds of various sizes, shapes, and colors, there literally is a chicken for everyone.For their flock, Gary and Cindy selected two Buff Orpingtons, Jody and Buffy, two Americanas, Nuggets and Matilda, and three Welsummers, Mary, Cathy and Pastey-Butt. The last had a bit of a diarrhea problem when she first arrived. Fortunately, she recovered quickly, but the name stuck.Buff Orpingtons are large, gentle chickens that lay brown-shelled eggs. Known as a dual-purpose breed, they make a nice stewing hen once their egg laying days are past. Since Jody and Buffy enjoy being held and petted, that, of course, is a moot point. The Americanas produce green eggs, making every day seem like Easter, and the Welsummers have very attractive brown eggs with dark spots.It is obvious when visiting with them that Gary and Cindy really enjoy their hens. From the quiet, contented demeanor of those hens, I'm quite certain the feelings are mutual. The human-animal bond is not reserved solely for the so-called companion animals. Chickens can bond, too. What has triggered this revolution? The main spark, I believe, has been the media coverage of the many E. Coli and Salmonella food contamination scares the past few years. People now have a real desire to know the source of their food and be assured that it is safe.This is also why backyard vegetable gardening has increased in popularity. And, what better complement to a garden than chickens. Garden waste can be fed to the hens and waste from the hens in turn can feed the garden. Composted chicken manure is one of the best fertilizers available. Forget that old adage “a chicken in every pot.” The new mantra should be “six hens in every backyard.”If you have children, chickens are an excellent way to not only expose them to agriculture, but also teach them the responsibility that goes with keeping and caring for other living things. Chickens make great 4-H projects if the kids are old enough. There really is no project that can be more profitable than a pen of meat chickens. The investment is small, the project lasts seven weeks, and the financial gains can be amazing.But, what if you don't live in the country? Don't despair. Many cities do allow the keeping of chickens. In Delphos, for example, there is no prohibition for a family's own use of the eggs and meat. These products cannot be sold for commercial gain, though. Good neighbor rules also apply — the birds cannot wander about loose, the pens must be kept clean, and the hens humanely housed. Roosters are not banned, per se, but their crowing must not disturb the neighbors.So, if you don't already have those six hens in the backyard, I urge you to get some. Raising chickens can be a rewarding and nutritious experience for you and your family. Join the revolution!Dr. John Jones practices at Delphos Animal Hospital.