The underlying theme of this column is “What goes around … comes back.” While visiting with family recently I learned that backyard chicken ranching is a thriving phenomenon in some of the more affluent sections of Dallas. More about that later, but first a reminiscence, more like a family joke. One of my uncles was among the first people hired by Dow Chemical Co. when they began building their new plant in Freeport during the early 1940s. He was asked to report for work even before the new buildings were complete, as Dow wanted some of its workers to know the new facilities from the ground up.
Around the time I was born, he and his family moved from the hamlet of New Baden to the newly built planned community of Lake Jackson (designed by a son of the founder of Dow). In good Okie fashion, riding on top of their car were two chicken coops, well stocked with birds. Having grown up in the country and then learned to feed her family on a schoolteacher’s poor salary, my aunt was accustomed to raising some of their food in the backyard. She assumed it could continue in their new location.
However, it soon became obvious that nobody else in Lake Jackson had the same expectation. So the coops had to go, but not until the family consumed their contents — although long after their appetite for chicken was gone.
Now back to present-day urban chicken ranching — for eggs rather than drumsticks. On the internet I found a Dallas mom’s blog that warns against thinking of chickens as just another idyllic pet. For her family, the experience with three pullets was a “wild ride of hard work, a few tears and big squeals at the first egg in the nesting box.”
Forget chickens happily roaming the yard; you’re going to need a large coop, attached chicken run, special feed and containers, water dispensers, nesting pads to keep hens comfortable and eggs clean, oyster shell to ensure harder eggshells, and maybe even soil additives to protect your chickens from bugs, mites and other pests. If you plan on bringing them indoors, better make some diapers.
The blog also recommends a couple of places to get your baby chicks or adolescents (pullets) and supplies, such as Trinity Haymarket, specializing in non-GMO and organic feeds as well as other needs of the backyard chicken rancher. They also sponsor a chicken coop tour of North Oak Cliff each November.
Urban Chicken Ranching Inc. of Dallas has a webpage with a directory of their services, such as delivering feed and bedding or providing a sitter to check on your birds when you are out of town. Once a day will cost you $25, and twice a day is $40.
Obviously chicken ranching is an expensive hobby, but one friend who does it enjoys several benefits: “1) my chickens relax me and I find them very comforting (they are cheaper than counseling); 2) I love the fresh eggs and they taste so much better than store bought eggs; 3) they keep the bugs out of my yard and I love that because I spend as much time as I can outside.”
As a source he recommends ChickenvilleUSA, located about 5 minutes from Terrell: They not only sell healthy chicks, pullets, and hens but are happy to share their insights about chicken raising.
Sherman is a chicken-friendly town, as long as you have no more than ten and keep them confined. My memories of the chickens we raised on our farm are pretty hazy, and it’s not a vision I want to recreate in my backyard. Besides, our house is too close to wild woods populated with varmints that would have no trouble raiding a chicken coop. So far they have had no interest in the tomatoes and potatoes I cultivate, so that will satisfy my farming instincts.
Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches senior citizens how to write their life stories. A new class begins at Grayson College on March 8. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org