Text and Photos by Amy Fewell
I was always the person who complained about having to vacuum up dog hair in the spring, so the fact that I was so concerned about a lost chicken that morning was preposterous. As I lay there in bed, I could hear my husband snickering to himself. I rolled my eyes and laid as quietly as possible. “Shhh,” I said. He replied, “I don’t hear a rooster in the backyard this morning,” snickering again, “it’s a good thing we only paid a few dollars for him, it’s a shame he ran away the very day we bought him. I only wish we could have eaten him rather than letting a fox get him.” I wasn’t going to lose hope just yet. I shooed him away with my hand one more time, reminding him to be quiet, all while being appalled at the fact that he would even mention my rooster being on his dinner plate. That deserved a punch and another eye roll, but I digressed.
You see, we had just bought a beautiful Easter Egger (yes, Easter Egger) rooster the morning before, but before putting him in the coop the previous evening, he escaped into our neighbors woods. I thought for sure that he was a goner, but I dare not let my husband know my concerns.
But then, it happened—that beautiful crow. That beautifully, loud, glorious, full throated crow came roaring in through our bedroom window. I hopped out of bed and ran to the front yard, never once caring that I was in a rather inappropriate night gown with tattered slippers and unshaven legs. But none of that mattered, because there he was—Henry had come home. Little did I know that this is how our lives in our little subdivision would continue to be now that we had taken on backyard chickens. In a nightgown, slippers, and on a frigid morning in Rixeyville—that’s where it all began. I was officially a crazy chicken lady, in more ways than one.
Choosing to raise backyard chickens
My husband and I had tossed around the idea of raising backyard chickens for well over a year, but in October of 2013, we decided to take the next step into our new adventure. We built our coop from my husband’s own plans. We inherited two hens from a friend who had to unexpectedly move, and we were well on our way to fresh eggs from the backyard every morning.
Backyard chicken “farming” has become quite popular over the past few years. The fact is, it’s easy, inexpensive, and just about anyone can do it. Whether you live in a subdivision or in the country, people choose to raise chickens for many different reasons. My husband and I chose to start raising backyard chickens as a way to become a little more self-sufficient. We are also well aware of the commercialization of today’s food industry and prefer to know where our meat and food really does come from. It’s a shame that even grocery store “organic” and “free range” labels are full of lies and false advertising.
We are adamant about teaching our child how to take care of and provide for himself, and to overcome the mindset that so many children and adults have now days – the mindset that meat comes from a grocery store, and you’re abnormal if you choose to raise it on your own.
Ultimately, we chose to raise backyard chickens for eggs and meat, and while that is our main objective, it has turned into so much more. In many cases, several of these beautiful birds have become like pets—following us around the yard and greeting us with happy clucks when we get home.
Learning about Chickens
Not only do you have the joy of fresh eggs and cheap entertainment, but along with backyard chickens comes fellow crazy backyard chicken lovers. I must admit, when the chickens came, my life was completely opened up to this amazing new underground world of backyard fowl and poultry addicts.
I found websites upon websites of local people who thoroughly enjoy their simple lifestyle—from us simple folk to the more luxurious, we all had the love of our chickens in common. I found helpful websites such as www.backyardchickens.com, www.petchickensofvirginia.com, and several Facebook groups as well including Amissville’s own Chicken Chat and This and That at Buc-a-Buc Farm. These websites are places for people to chat about their chickens—to ask medical questions when they have a sick bird, to find out how large a chicken run needs to be, or to ask any other questions they may have – which came first, the chicken or the egg? We even have photo contests, like the one I’m involved in right now. The winner receives,…you guessed it, more chickens!
The good, the bad and the ugly
Before I knew it, we had 5 chickens. Then 10, then 15, and we’re well on our way to 20 or 25 at this point. Plus the ones I put in the incubator this morning. I’ve lost count between the snuggles and the runny noses….and I’m not talking about my toddler son.
Taking care of backyard chickens is fun and gratifying, but there’s also a not-so-glorious side as well. Chickens can get sick, break a wing, or be attacked by predators such as a fox, raccoons, or the neighbor’s dog. And there aren’t too many vets in the area that can confidently say that they are experienced with “pet chickens.” Many times, you’re left to do the research and doctoring on your own—being extra cautious when administering medicine (if you choose to) or cleaning wounds. Of course, if you’re a burly mountain man like my husband, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy when I talk about taking chickens to the veterinarian. Sometimes things just happen, and there’s nothing you can do but allow nature to take its course.
The expense of a coop is something to take into consideration, which we did. We found that by working with a local hardware store, we were able to purchase our materials and lumber for a fraction of what a very small coop costs at the co-op. We were still able to support a local business while doing the labor on our own, for about $1,000 to $2,000 less than a pre-built coop.
The lifestyle of backyard chickens
All in all, backyard chickens are a pleasure and eventually a lifestyle that you learn to live. They provide us with fresh eggs and meat, as well as entertainment, and they don’t take up much space. They can easily fit on a half-acre or a hundred acres – they aren’t picky as long as they have free range. They are easy to care for and don’t require much work—if you can take care of a dog, then you can take care of chickens. I am told that chickens are the gateway to every other farm animal, and I believe it.
I love my chickens and the simplicity they bring into my life. But be forewarned—if you ever do decide to raise backyard chickens, you may want to have your boots and overalls next to the front door for those frigid mornings when the rooster decides to come back home.
If you would like more information on chicken coop design plans and building, please contact Fewells Lawn Care & Maintenance for more information: fewellslawncare(at)hotmail.com, or 540-718-7918.
About the Author:
Amy Fewell resides in Rixeyville, Va with her husband Mark and their son, Junior. Along with managing her homestead, she owns her own photography business and is also the Managing for The Piedmont Virginian magazine. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-827-8285.