by Charlene Burgi
The news and other reports recommend that we shop local, be sustainable, buy organic, and eat GMO-free food, but how much of this knowledge is really put into practice by each one of us? More specifically, how much is yours truly doing?
The level of guilt went up a few notches this past month when I was reminded that I could be doing more. Every feed store within a hundred miles prompted us to "Order your chicks now." You can't get much more local than eggs from your own backyard. And so, you guessed it, I caved in and added six more critters to our ever-increasing furred and feathered family.
| Six new Burgi family members
Jack and I are well versed in raising chickens, so this was not a new venture for us. Growing up in Novato, Jack was partial to the Rhode Island Reds. I, on the other hand, started with Leghorns and moved on to other varieties over the years. In the past I had done some research on chickens living in cold country and found Buff Orpingtons to be a very friendly, docile, hardy breed that lays brown eggs. We decided to get three each of the Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons, all of which are currently residing in our heated laundry room until they grow a bit bigger and move to their new coop and (hopefully) predator-proof run.
Besides the benefit of eating farm-fresh eggs and knowing the chicks are living a cage-free life, it is also comforting to know the feed we choose for them is GMO-free organic feed. Once outside, the chicks will also consume insects in the garden and provide manure—the best manure money can buy to enhance the growing conditions of vegetable gardens. (As a side note, if you obtain fresh chicken manure, be certain that the manure has composted for about six months before working it into the garden soil. The nitrogen in poultry manure is hot and will burn your plants.)
| New chick digs
Chicken coops are a study in themselves. There are chicken tractors on wheels that can be moved around the garden to spread the fertilizer equally, or the coop can be moved about to capture the sunlight throughout the year. There are coops that sport green roof gardens with herbs and other vegetation, or designed with exterior-access laying nests for easy-to-collect eggs. Some coops have built-in lighting or key-locked entrances to dissuade predators. Architecturally, the exterior designs can take on the simplest to the most extravagant facades.
The most important aspect to building or buying a coop and a run is assuring safety to a bird that can be a target for such predators as raccoons, weasels, hawks, coyotes, and even dogs. With this concern in mind, Jack and I are in the process of building hog-panel flooring, sides, and roof and securing them together with wire and metal rings. The coop entrances sport keyed locks for added insurance. The coop and run will be placed in an area receiving some shade and sunlight for the chicks' health and wellbeing. The coop and run will also be near the donkey, which will provide added protection from predators.
Have you thought about raising chickens? Be sure to review the ordinances
in your hometown. There may be rules about setting the coop too close to the property lines or the number of chickens allowed. And keep in mind a rooster doesn't only crow at dawn but often can be heard all night long.
I figure the initial investment of coop, run, feeders, water feeders, etc. will pay off once we've collected 500 dozen eggs from these six chicks! The joy of having chickens again, however, is priceless.
Speaking of buying sustainably, a reader brought to my attention that some nursery plants carry tags advising they have been treated with neonicotinoid, a product suspected of contributing to bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). Until further information is available, I might suggest you approach the purchase of these plants with caution.