Some may have noticed that there’s a whole lot of clucking going on.
Backyard chicken farming is a growing trend. Whether it’s someone who likes the self-sufficiency of having their own fresh eggs or they just enjoy owning these quirky birds, more and more coops are popping up around Aiken County.
Susan Mouw is one of those residents who loves her chickens and the fresh eggs that they supply her with daily.
“If you’ve never tasted a fresh egg, you need to try it,” she said. “It’s night and day. The yolk is richer, yellower – it’s just different.”
Mouw and her husband, Barry, have owned these farm fowl since early 2011 after going to Weeks Farm and Garden Supply and walking out with around 18 little chicks.
The Mouws started out with Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. Now, they have a more diverse group of chickens, including Wheaten Ameraucana, Blue Laced Red Wyandotts and Coronation Sussex breeds.
There are hundreds of different breeds of chickens, according to Lynn Edwards, another avid backyard chicken farmer. Some breeds are louder than others, so it’s beneficial to do research if someone doesn’t want a lot of noise to come with their chickens, Edwards said.
Another fun fact about chicken breeds is that their eggs come in different colors. For example, Ameraucana’s lay green or blue eggs, and cuckoo marans produce deep cocoa-colored eggs.
Mouw said Easter eggers or chickens that lay a variety of colored eggs at one time derives from a mix of Ameraucana or Araucana with any other breed. The eggs come out cream, blue and even a pinkish hue.
Chickens also have personality, Mouw said. When she approaches their coop, her chickens come running toward her. When she first got them, she’d sit a chair outside and watch what many fowl lovers call “Chicken TV” because they are considered to be very entertaining creatures. They would hop onto her lap and even her shoulder – she said it’s hard not to get attached to them.
And, sometimes, they can be a bit too curious, like the one chicken that plucked a diamond stud out of Mouw’s ear.
Her Ameraucauna rooster is quite the gentleman, Mouw added, saying that he’ll cluck to the other chickens to let them know when food comes. Edwards’ rooster, Louie, helps his hens build nests.
Wes Funderberg, who has a few chickens, agrees that they are a wonderful addition to one’s home.
“They’re so easy to keep,” said Funderberg. “They all have their own individual personalities. You start to know your chickens. Everyday I go and get my eggs, and I say ‘thank you.’”
Chickens typically live for four to five years, and they slow down or stop laying usually during their second or third year, Mouw said.
Edwards said she gets about three dozen or more a week from her eight hens, and they typically lay every 26 hours. She added that, if it’s too cold or too warm, laying will slow or stop.
So, how does one get started if they decide that they want to join in this new “hen-sation?”
Mouw said it’s good to talk to your neighbors before getting chickens and, even better, to share a few eggs with them, especially if you have a rooster – nature’s alarm clock – who crows at the break of dawn.
Mouw said to do some research – visit websites like www.backyardchickens.com – to get information on how to build a coop, how to care for the chickens and more.
As for a habitat, a chicken pen should be 10 square feet per bird, Mouw said. Pellets, straws and pine shavings can be placed in the pens; do not use cedar shavings because it’s toxic to chickens, Mouw said.
Some people get a bit creative with their chicken houses. Theresa King’s coop looks more like an upscale barn, painted green with little chickens cut out of the shutters that she sawed out herself. The flooring is linoleum; she also put in some french doors and even installed some chandeliers, which offers the chickens the minimum 14 hours of light they need to lay eggs when they aren’t outside chasing grasshoppers.
King’s friends said she went over the top with her coop, but she said her chickens seem pretty happy in their fancy little home.
“I just thought I would do something fun and whimsical,” she said. “Go wherever your mind takes you and build something that you enjoy looking at.”
If one decides to let their chickens free range, make sure the property is secured by a fence to deter predators, like coyotes. Also, make sure that there are areas for the chickens to hide. Build stands or have trees and bushes in the yard for chickens to escape to if a predator is present.
Mouw said she feeds her chickens pellet food, a three-grain scratch made of corn, wheat and oats, berries and even some oyster shell for some extra calcium to strengthen egg shells. Always have a supply of fresh water.
Lastly, if you want to raise chicks, Mouw said there are two ways to do it – either the natural way with a broody hen, which will lay on any egg even if it isn’t her own or invest in an incubator, Mouw said.
Mouw said that hobby farmers are becoming a big thing, in general. The Hobby Farmers Association of the CSRA, a nonprofit organization, was recently established, and Mouw is the acting secretary. Groups like that can help someone start a backyard chicken farm, raise a few goats or plant a garden.
“It’s taken off like wildfire,” Mouw said. “I have been amazed by the number of people who are interested in chickens and going back to the basics – fresh vegetables, milk and eggs. This is going on nationwide.”
For more information on this organization or to inquire about backyard chicken farming, visit www.hobbyfarmersassociation.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (706) 631-5564.
Amy Banton is the Aiken City beat reporter for the Aiken Standard. She’s a native of Rustburg, Va. and a graduate of Randolph Macon Woman’s College.