Chickens in the backyard??

As you may know, last year I began my quest to eat more local, humanely/sustainably produced foods.  I had been buying organic/all natural meat and produce from Meijer, which I thought was a good thing.  Then I read "This Organic Life" by Joan Dye Gussow.  I thought I was reading a book about gardening.  Instead, it almost completely revolutionized the way I think about my food.  In her witty, pragmatic style, Joan points out how convoluted America's food production system really is, while also offering an alternative: locally produced foods, purchased in season. 

The book really resonated with me, and I started applying its principles in the best way I could.  For nearly a full year, I've bought all my produce (excepting pineapples, Clementine oranges, bananas, and a few heads of romaine lettuce) from our local farmer's market.  I "put up" produce for the off-season as well, freezing beans, broccoli, corn, peas, carrots, peaches, blueberries, and several types of peppers.  I canned peaches, scratch-made pasta sauce, and applesauce.  I buy chicken and eggs from a local farm that free-ranges its birds and doesn't use hormones or antibiotics.  Beef and pork have been a little more difficult, but I settled for buying in bulk from a small, local butcher.  Not all the meat is locally produced, but at least I'm helping a small business, and the quality is MUCH higher than that of supermarket meat.  There's really no comparison.

Aside from the warm, fuzzy feeling I get from helping out local small farmers, it's been fun to really know where my food comes from.  If I go to the market during the week, it's much less crowded and I have to opportunity to talk to the farmers who grow my food.  One even saved some peppers for me after he appeared to have sold out, since he knew I'd been coming for them every week.  You can't get that at Wal-Mart!

This year I want to take it a step further.  I'm going to plant a small garden (in a different location after last year's dismal failure!) and buy two laying hens.  Part of me wonders if I've gone completely batty.  The other (larger) part is excited by the idea of producing my own food right here in my yard. 

I haven't worked out all the details just yet, but I have found a local farmer who is willing to sell me winter-hardy, laying hens for under $10 each.  They should lay about 8-10 eggs per week between the two of them, which is plenty for me to split with my mom or neighbors.  I've also bought plans for a chicken coop, which Shayne and I are going to build.  A friend from work offered up some scrap metal roofing and wire fencing, so our costs should be pretty minimal.  We'll get started once the weather warms up.

As far as the house goes...  Umm, well... yeah.  It'll happen eventually I guess.


Anonymous said...

We're doing all the same things....our farmer across the street let us plant some rows in his large garden last year - this year, he's planting only in his back yard (he's 87), so we've built container boxes and for the first time ever, grew winter veggies! In a week or two, we're getting 4 hens to start with.....its an exciting fullfilling thing to produce for yourself isn't it?

Karen C said...

Whee, all my houseblogger friends are getting poultry too!

I took up gardening last year, after giving up on a community plot some years back (okra still haunts my nightmares), and had pretty good success with square-foot gardening, though like you I had some shade issues. My pest issues consisted of snails, which is what led to the ducks (and you have to watch out, poultry will eat more of your garden than wildlife, given half a chance). So yeah, it's addicting.

I highly recommend raised-bed/square foot gardening, and The Bountiful Container (SFG is closer to container gardening than to conventional, and tBC is even better than Mel's SFG book on succession planting).

Also remember that the overhead on a larger flock is pretty much the same as that on a smaller; we have seven hens and a drake, and get seven eggs a day for about the same amount of work as one or two would be, plus we get to bribe our neighbors with free eggs. Backyard poultry is legal here, but if neighbors don't want them around, they can make it *very* not worthwhile. They're happier with more, too.