Story by Hannah Ball; video by Tim Jagielo
Raising chickens in backyards is becoming more and more popular.
On Michiganradio.org, Taylor Reid, founder of beginningfarmers.org with a Ph.D in Community, Food and Agriculture studies, said the increase in backyard chicken-raising comes from the growing demand for fresh, locally grown food. This coincides with the growing popularity of farmers markets and community gardens.
If you want to raise chickens in your backyard, there are a few things you need to know beforehand.
Having enough space isn’t the only requirement. First, you need to make sure your local municipality allows chickens where you live. Next, consider the equipment and other things you’ll need, such as a coop, possibly a fence, hay, chicken food, and other expenses.
Village of Holly resident Kirk Cross has had chickens on his farmhouse property on and off for about 16 years. He currently has four.
“We have them primarily for the eggs, but it also teaches the kids about responsibility and helps them learn that food doesn’t start at a grocery store, you buy it there,” he said.
The animals don’t take up a lot of space, and they live in a coop Cross bought. He said Tractor Supply Company and Family Farm and Home have reasonable prices.
“You need a safe place to house them. They can be victims of raccoons, hawks, foxes, etc.,” he said. He added that they will also need feed and water, and a nesting box for them to lay the eggs in.
Take precautions to stay healthy and safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns chicken owners that the birds may carry salmonella. From 2006 to 2014, the CDC recorded 53 confirmed cases of salmonella from live contact with poultry, which resulted in 2,600 illnesses, 387 hospitalizations, and five deaths. In 2014 to 2015, the United States experienced the largest animal disease outbreak with the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak.
Diseases can be spread by fecal matter. The CDC has recommendations to avoid spreading diseases (see sidebar).
“Just like when after you pet a dog or cat, washing your hands never hurts,” Cross said. “All animals have a certain level of being unsanitary, but like with any pet, you have to take care of them and clean up after them.
“Also, fresh eggs are about 100 times better than store bought. I should also note, that you do not save money by raising your own chickens for eggs or even meat, but it’s still worth it,” he said.
Aaron Decker, who lives in the city of Fenton with his family, said they got chickens because they wanted their children to see where eggs came from.
“We’re kind of removed from the food process,” he said. They also wanted their kids to learn responsibility by taking care of the animals. They also liked that chickens help keep the bug population down, because they eat ticks and mosquitoes.
Before getting chickens, Decker said to make sure they will be protected because there is a lot of wildlife around Fenton. They lost a few chickens to weasels in the beginning. He said if the coop is on the ground, make sure to burry some wire because some animals will dig underground to get to the chickens.
Talking to your neighbors beforehand is important. Tell them all the information you can, including the benefits of fresh eggs and consider sharing with your neighbors. Tell them that hens aren’t noisy, only roosters are, and that you will keep the animals in your yard.
“We did talk to them. They were all for it,” Decker said, adding that he hasn’t heard any complaints from their neighbors, but that they enjoy the fresh eggs.
“They don’t smell, they don’t make noise. The only chickens that really make noise are the roosters. That’s not a bad idea to not have roosters. But chickens are such easy animals to take care of, especially if you take good care of them.”