Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2021

Chickens in Our Neighborhood

By S. Xiah Kragie, Mónica O’Malley de Castillo, Kate Meaker, Sarah Stecher, and Sara Agu

One of the storylines of the pandemic is families flocking to get their own backyard chickens.  But raising chickens has been an increasingly common pastime in urban and suburban households, even prepandemic.  Our five NFCCA families are just a few of the millions of households in the U.S. and hundreds in Montgomery Country that have had backyard chickens.

Aurelia holds ‘Frida Kahlo.’

Since the Kragie-Bates backyard is visible from the sidewalk, they have had the joy of sharing their little flock with passersby, meeting “chicken fans” and answering questions from the chicken-curious since October 2020.  But there are actually many families in the neighborhood with chickens!  Here are a few of the most common questions we have heard and some answers from a few of us chicken owners.

A few common chicken terms to get us started:

Why Chickens?

Safe inside the O’Castillo coop.

They’re affectionate little creatures and they produce eggs!  “We actually chose to move to this neighborhood seven years ago because we knew it was chicken-friendly (and didn’t have a restrictive HOA),” said Xiah. “Being home during the pandemic and wanting any excuse to be outside helped us finally make it happen.”

“Eggs!  We weren’t sure what was going to happen with grocery stores in March of last year, so what better time to move forward?” said Mónica.

Santiago and Flappy

“My daughter took care of a cow at Accokeek Colonial Farm in 4H,” said Kate.  “She couldn’t do that during Covid.  My sister raised chickens in 4H with my nieces and she offered us some to try out.  We are hooked.  We started with two adults then added two pullets.”

“It was for the learning experience,” said Sarah.  “We took in two chicks for a CSA farmer who had a litter of kittens, a batch of new chicks, and insufficient space inside for both.”

The Kragie-Bates chickens scratch in the snow.

“We loved the idea of ‘free’ eggs!” said Sara, “although, not so ‘free’ once you add up the startup and maintenance costs, but still very worth it!  It’s been a great family hobby to share and a learning experience for our toddler, who helps collect the eggs and tend to the flock.”

How Many Eggs Do You Get?

Did You Raise Them From Chicks?  Where Do You Get Your Chickens?

What is Your ‘Coop’?  Is it Heated?

Six Welsummers and Hy-Line Browns each lay an egg a day.

“Our coop and run are all ordered online from Omlet,” said Xiah. “They were expensive but they are easy to clean, quick to assemble, and predator-resistant.  The coop is mobile and can be easily moved around the yard.”

Mónica, Kate, and Sarah all built their own coops and runs.  “It was a lot of work,” said Mónica, “but it’s strong and pretty, and handmade!”  Kate and her family used leftover fence material.

None of them have heaters.  “Depending on your breed,” counsels Mónica, “you most likely won’t need a heater for your chickens; they like to snuggle together in the coop when they get cold.”

The O’Castillo Flock

How Do You Protect from Predators?

After losing chickens (once an entire flock) to foxes and racoons, they all only let the chickens out when they’re around.  The coops have strong foundations and roofs (against hawks).

Do They Smell?

“Like all animals, chickens come with their own perfume, mainly because they poop.  A lot!” said Mónica.  But “if their manure is on an absorbent surface, it does not smell much,” added Sarah.

Using sand, wood shavings, or sawdust on the run dries out all the poop and makes it easy to clean up or rake over, which makes for great compost for gardening.

What Do The Chickens Eat?

You knew this one was coming:  “Chicken feed!”  Omega-enriched feed makes for bright orange yolks, said Mónica.  Hens also forage for insects, slugs, worms, crickets, grubs, mealworms, and green plants.  “Cicadas have been incredibly delicious and supplanted all other foods,” said Xiah.  They also eat most table scraps.

Anything Surprising About Keeping Chickens?

[This article was truncated in the printed newsletter.  Click on any photograph to see a larger image.]   ■

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