360 West October 2011 : Page 102
FoodForThought City Chicks Elizabeth Samudio, with a Cochin rooster perched on her shoulder, says both he and his mate fit the breed’s reputation for being sweet and gentle, making them great pets. 102 October 2011 www.360westmagazine.com
Food For Thought
Laura Samuel Meyn
Urban farmers give them names and feed them organic lettuce. The payoff is delicious: fresh eggs available a few steps from the kitchen.
There’s nothing new about the sound of soft clucking or the sight of a small brown egg nestled in a bed of hay. But when that scene plays out daily in urban backyards around North Texas, from Arlington to tony Westover Hills, it’s part of the growing trend of city chickens.
Urban-dwelling poultry owners will tell you that their hens are far quieter than dogs and surprisingly easy to take care of. While not every city is so accommodating, Fort Worth allows residents on a typical lot to keep up to 12 hens in a pen or coop — and two roosters (unless they get on the neighbors’ nerves).
A chicken’s biggest danger, whether city or country, is being eaten: Everyone wants a bite. There are household dogs and cats. There are raccoons, possums, snakes, foxes and coyotes. And from above, hawks that swoop down in some bird-on-bird violence worthy of Animal Planet.
But many city and suburban residents see protecting their quirky broods as a small price for fresh eggs (up to five a week per Chicken) and the satisfaction of a step toward self-sustenance. There are the grownup farm kids who miss rural life; there are the locavores who want to know exactly where their food comes from; and there are those with green thumbs who see keeping chickens as an extension of vegetable gardening.
Farm life, revisited
Linda Templin grew up on a 200-acre farm in Frisco; her family raised chickens, sheep and cows. Living in a house near the center of Arlington with a family of her own, Linda felt a little sad contemplating a childhood so different from the one she’d known. “Raising three boys in town, I wanted them to have a little bit of a farm experience,” she says.
It was the offer of a coop that set her thoughts in motion. “How can you turn down a free chicken cage?” she laughs. And so the family got a rooster And six hens.
That was 12 years ago, when Linda’s sons were still school age, and before the city of Arlington outlawed roosters. She currently has only one chicken, Mario, a black-and-white hen given the ill-fitting name by children from Linda’s Sunday school class. Once a prolific egg layer, Mario stopped producing during the summer heat wave. With the coop shored up against predators, Linda plans to get a few more hens this fall.
“There is something organic about just being a little back to nature,” she says. “I like getting my hands dirty; I work in the yard a lot.”
Linda considers Mario a pet and occasionally treats her to watermelon, in addition to keeping her out of the stewpot. While keeping a hen is no big deal to this former farm girl, she knows her backyard setup is a little unusual for town life.
“She certainly is a conversation piece,” Linda says.
Live and learn with the chickens
Elizabeth Samudio, an exuberant personality whose enthusiasm for all things sustainable is catching, started keeping chickens when she was home-schooling her children many years ago. “It was such a natural fit for education,” she says. “Letting the children raise them, handle them, it was wonderful.” While visitors to her South Hills home in Fort Worth were surprised 15 years ago to see a backyard coop, several left inspired enough to start keeping chickens of their own.
It’s a pattern that has continued at her Southside business, Elizabeth Anna’s Old World Garden, where Elizabeth serves as adviser to customers and friends. In addition to its gardening side, her business sells natural chicken feed and hosts classes on keeping backyard chickens and ducks, occasionally with chicks up for adoption. On the grounds, her two pet pit bulls coexist with a couple of roosters and a flock of free-range heritage hens.
“They cock their heads, scratch about,” she says. “It’s meditative, watching all their movements.” Elizabeth says keeping chickens has positive ripple effects. “Chicken manure is wonderful for lawn and garden,” she says. “They do help with bugs, too — mosquitoes and flies — I put them in my vegetable garden this year.”
And, of course, there are the eggs, which look and taste superior to the store-bought kind. “The yolks are sunflower yellow; the whites are fluffy. They stand up when you break them, full of protein and goodness.”
She calls them “the girls” — Golda, Coco, Blondie and Pip-squeak — and they roam the backyard of Joni LaRoux’s Arlington Heights home in Fort Worth, where she also keeps honeybees. Her hens are Ameraucanas, which Lay pretty eggs in shades of blue, green and peachy tan.
“Everybody used to keep chickens,” says Joni. “I think a lot of us are hankering for a return to simpler times.”
Joni, a longtime member of the Organic Garden Club of Fort Worth, says that tending the earth in a simple and healthful way is one of her greatest aspirations. It was on a trip to a feed store one day when she made the leap from gardening to keeping chickens, telling herself “Today’s the day: I’m growing my own eggs from now on.” Among the bits of wisdom she’s gathered since then: Cedar bedding mixed in with hay helps repel mosquitoes, fleas, lice and mites; chickens can get chicken pox (there’s evidence in Golda’s gnarled feet); ceramic eggs in the nesting box promote egg production (but raccoons still will steal fake eggs); and the pecking order is for real. It’s not always seniors on top, but it is at Joni’s house, where Golda, a chatterbox, rules the roost.
While the chickens’ daytime wandering means that they eat grass, bugs and seeds, this group isn’t just foraging: Joni has been known to give them shredded green cabbage, romaine lettuce, melon, apples, popcorn or raisins. And every morning when she stirs up the chickens’ “cereal” — yogurt and mixed grains — they come running. “They’re delightful,” she says.
Eggs for all and all for eggs
When 25-year-old Rachel Wilkes was ready to buy a house in Fort Worth three years ago, she was drawn to Fairmount’s spirit of cooperation among neighbors. That spirit came in handy when Rachel, who has planted most of her lawn as a vegetable garden and has worked on refurbishing her 1922 bungalow, decided she wanted to keep chickens.
A woman in the neighborhood helped Rachel build a coop from recycled materials. Then came the two chickens, Betty and Mary, raised by a friend’s daughter. When the chickens’ true personalities emerged, Rachel renamed them. “Jailbreak likes to make a run for it at any opportunity, while Jailbait follows in her shadows.”
Rachel appreciates the chickens’ role in composting food scraps, and she enjoys the eggs, but they’re also pets. “They greet you when you come home,” she says. “You can hold them; they’re comical little creatures, very goofy.” Rachel picks up Jailbreak, gently swinging her from side to side, her bony feet splayed, her soft clucking continuing. Rachel has found keeping chickens so easy that she recently added two ducks to the mix. “I work a lot, and kept both a garden and chickens on my own,” she says. Now, with a like-minded roommate, it’s even easier.
Rachel lends a hand to others as part of Elizabeth Anna’s Two Hands Urban Gardener group, which participates in volunteer garden projects. And true to the neighborhood spirit, Rachel enjoys sharing the eggs with the neighbor who helped build the coop — and hosting her for quiche dinners.
Check with your municipality if you’re interested in raising backyard chickens. And checking with the neighbors doesn’t hurt, either. Here are some local resources for help getting started.
Elizabeth Anna’s Old World Garden 2825 Eighth Ave., Fort Worth. 817-922-0930; www.elizabethanna.net
Marshall Grain Co. 2224 E. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth, 817-536-5636; and 3525 William D. Tate Ave., Grapevine. 817-416-6600; www.marshallgrain.com
The Cowtown Backyard Poultry Meetup Group www.meetup.com/The-Cowtown-Chickens-Meetup-Group/
Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Food+For+Thought/848913/82945/article.html.