A study of the 150 most populated U.S. cities shows that 93 percent of them allow something in common, a recent CBS News article said. One might think that would have something to do with transportation or maybe backyard pools, but it is not. It is chickens. That 93 percent allow chickens to be kept in backyards.
Keeping the feathered friends out back is apparently a trend from the tech world of the west coast to almost every other part of the nation. Keeping chickens is — if not a national pass time — a stress relief trend.
In Fannin County, a local judge said her interest in the activity started in her youth but materialized in her children’s childhood.
“My interest in chickens started when I was young, and my parents had chickens,” said Laurie Blake, judge of the 336th state district court in Fannin County. “Taking action on my interest happened when my son, who was then 13 years of age, saw grandpa’s chickens and decided he wanted chickens! That was 7 years ago, and he is away at college, yet the chickens remain!”
To be fair though, the Blakes actually live on a farm and not in a subdivision.
While there are dozens of websites devoted to telling people how to start their backyard broods, the Blake family looked closer to home for advice. Blake said she has done a lot of reading on the subject of chickens, but a lot of what her family has learned has been through trial and error.
“First, we had our son ask grandpa for advice,” she said. “Then we ordered our first batch of baby chicks! We opted to try the “variety” pack and received a wide range of chicks.”
And those little birds, believe it or not, were delivered by the U.S. mail.
When they first arrived, the baby chicks weren’t coop ready.
“The chicks are housed in a small area with a heat lamp and fed and watered regularly,” Blake said. “Within a few weeks, they were ready to move to the coop!”
Blake chickens aren’t only a homegrown pass-time, they live in a home built coop.
“My husband thought it would be fun for him and our son to build a chicken coop,” she said. “So they gathered scrap wood which was left over from other projects, and found a wooden door. What they built was a good ‘first effort.’ Within a week, a major rainstorm and wind, leveled the building and the chicks were strewn around.”
Unfortunately, not all of that first group of chickens survived the experience.
“It was a hard lesson for our son to learn,” Blake said.
Since the family needed shelter for their remaining feathered friends quickly, Blake said they purchased a dogrun with a cover on it.
“Within a week or so, I spotted a cute structure that would be a perfect coop and purchased it!,” she explained. “My children liked the coop so much, they thought it would be a great place to play! Well, until the chickens moved in! This coop is still standing and used today.”
The chickens were an interesting backyard addition, but her son was more intent on making money than just adding the family’s pet quota.
So after the storm decimated the new flock, Blake and her son ordered more chicks including some egg layers.
“We researched which chickens were good egg layers and would produce the soonest. Hens don’t lay eggs until they are four to five months old. We were also more informed and limited the number of roosters we ordered! A return on investment was going to be sometime in the future.” She said.
To get to the egg selling part of the plan even more quickly, she and her son went to Trade Days in Bonham and purchased several hens.
“One was a different breed than the others and smaller. We named her Penny. She was the kind of chicken that would walk onto a hand outstretched on the ground, so you could pick her up. She was a pet. But as a general rule, holding and or petting a chicken is stressful for the bird,” Blake explained.
Blake said keeping chickens, once they are raised, doesn’t take a great deal of time — “Just enough to open the coop in the morning and ensure they are fed and watered. During the day, eggs are collected. At night, the coop is closed to ensure vermin are kept out and the chickens are safe.”
She said having a big dog also helps protect the chickens helps. Of course, first the dog has to grow up enough to know not to chase the chickens and pull out their feathers. Their dog Cooper is very protective of their hens now that he is older.
Watching their little flock grow and change has been interesting and fun, Blake said.
“Chickens have a social system enforced by the pecking order. Chickens observe people and know who is coming to feed them! Because we live on a farm, our chickens leave the coop during the day and roam around eating insects. Chickens reduce grasshopper and cricket populations. They have a routine and are fun to watch. Additionally, when I’m working in the garden or flowerbeds, a couple of the hens like to work close by to eat any grub worms I may turn up.”
While their flock is down from a high of one hundred hens to about 24, Blake said most of that has been due to mother nature.
“We’ve never butchered out hens,” she said, noting it is hard to eat a chicken one knows well.
She said officially, the hens were their son’s business, but in practice, the chickens were a project the entire family participated in at some point over the past seven years.
Even now, with their son away at college, Blake and her husband Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Blake, are embarking on a coop improvement project.
“He is making a hen-sized door that will open when the sun rises and close at sunset. He loves technology and is seizing an opportunity to implement the electronic, light sensing door!,” she said.