SHERIDAN — If you’ve been to a feed store recently, you’ve seen them — the little peeping balls of fuzz in horse troughs that draw you over for a look. Baby chickens and ducks.
There was a time when keeping chickens and ducks was part of any family farm. Fresh eggs were gathered, coops were cleaned and broilers were dispatched, plucked and cooked for dinner. However, as people began populating cities, more people began getting their eggs and cuts of chicken wings, legs and breasts wrapped in plastic from the grocery store rather than the backyard.
But the backyard chicken is coming back. Many cities across the United States are revising or adding ordinances that allow people to keep a few chickens on their city lots.
In Sheridan, Community Service Officer Ray Buhr said that any person or family wanting to take on raising chickens, faces few ordinances from the city.
“You can have as many as you want, as long as they don’t irritate the neighbors,” he said.
The city ordinance requires fowl to be kept on a person’s property and not become a nuisance, either by roaming off the owner’s property, or from noise, as in early morning crowing.
“They have the same law as your dogs and cats, they can’t be running at large,” he explained. “The only real complaints I’ve ever had on chickens is some folks had some Banty roosters that were crowing at four in the morning waking the neighbors.”
Buhr said his main recommendation for anyone wanting to keep chickens in town is to avoid having a rooster and just raise hens. Roosters are not necessary for hens to produce eggs; they are only necessary to produce fertilized eggs, which most chicken owners do not want.
Keeping chickens does require work. They need to be fed daily, either kitchen scraps or commercial feed or a combination of both. They also need fresh water, a safe enclosure where they can roost at night and areas where they can nest and lay their eggs.
In exchange for basic care, they do provide benefits. Obviously, daily eggs are a bonus for those who love a fresh omelet for breakfast, but chickens also help control bugs in gardens, add fertilizer and even help keep weeds in check.
In 2009, the University of Wyoming Sheridan Research and Extension Center was in the midst of a grasshopper invasion of their half-acre vegetable farm. Wishing to maintain the organic nature of the garden, the center rented 26 chickens from a local farmer. What happened next was a surprise.
As later reported in the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources magazine ”Reflections,” “Once released into the garden, the hens immediately were seen eating the grasshoppers and other garden insects. After only one week, there was a drastic visual decrease in the grasshopper population. Ten days later, the grasshopper population decreased to a point the chickens had nibbled on some vegetables. This damage was minute compared with damage from grasshoppers. The hens were fenced out of the main garden and into the tree nursery for 11 days. While there, the chickens reduced the weeds by 90 percent from their pecking and scratching. Not only did chickens save the garden from total destruction by insects, but also eliminated weeds!”
Sheridan resident Christina Lipetzky and her husband raised six hens for three years, until they butchered the birds last fall. She said with just a little preparation and work, the experience of raising chickens in their backyard was rewarding.
“The eggs are the best part and every morning we had fresh eggs,” she said. “As long as you do your part, you get so much back from them.”
“They are pretty clean birds,” she continued. “They don’t need a lot. We made sure they had clean water, food and bedding and they did the rest. The cost benefit was actually quite nice. Their food isn’t very expensive. And we would bring them fruit and vegetable scraps from our kitchen so we were able to recycle our food as well.”
Lipetzky said in the spring and summer months, egg production peaked and she harvested about one egg per hen per day. However, in the winter months as the days get shorter, egg production falls and sometimes ceases. Though you can keep egg production going by providing artificial light, Lipetzky chose to let her hens rest through the winter.
“Do your research,” Lipetzky advised on acquiring chickens. “Just make sure you look into it, what is required, how you want to build a coop, how you want to keep them safe and comfortable. They are pretty low maintenance as long as you are aware of the food and shelter they need. I tell everyone if they’ve got even just a little area of yard they can provide them, they really are so easy to take care of. I think quite a few people would find chickens are quite beneficial.”
Karlie Kinner is brand new to chicken ownership and is currently raising four hens — Dolly, Patsy, Tammy and Reba — named after country-western singers.
“They are really fun,” she said. “I have enjoyed it so far. They are fun to watch and play with. They are not as much work as you would think. You just have to make sure they have clean water and food.”
She purchased her chicks a month ago along with a pre-fabricated coop that she put together.
Two of her chicks were 2 weeks old when she purchased them and the other two were just a couple days old. The chickens won’t begin producing eggs until about 20 weeks of age.
They are currently kept in the coop where she has placed a heat lamp for warmth, but she plans to fence off a portion of her yard this summer where they can roam freely. She noted that raptors and cats sometimes prey on chickens, so her fenced area will have a protective screen on top as well.
“They will be for eggs mostly,” she said about future plans for the hens. “They might turn into soup, but probably just eggs. I have them named, so they will probably stay layers!”