If you’ve put together a delicious, organic garden, replete with heirloom veggies, funky varieties of fruits and berries and an assortment of herbs and spices, here’s a way to kick your home grown game into high gear. Chickens.I
March is the month when the little peeps start arriving at Jax Mercantile (Lafayette) and Murdoch’s Ranch and Homes Supply (Longmont).
The baby chicks are easy to raise, don’t require oppressive amounts of care and are content to live in a relatively small footprint of your yard. In fact, with some simple assemblage of wood and chicken wire, the grown girls make fantastic garden tillers and fertilizers.
But best of all, the eggs they produce are divine. There is no comparison with store-bought eggs; even the organic, free-range types. You can see the difference and your first omelet will convince your taste buds that you’ve entered another culinary universe. Keeping your own chickens will not only make you a breakfast snob — restaurant-bought egg dishes will forever be missing something — but you’ll relish whipping up your own mayonnaise, hollandaise, soufflés and crème brûlée.
The cost is relatively cheap. A decent quality coop will set you back $200-300 dollars, a heat lamp another $20 (to keep the little fluff balls warm early on), feed and water container another $12. But even a weekend warrior carpenter can put together a functional coop with $50 in materials from ReSource and a couple of hours time. Besides, it’ll feel good to see your cordless drill, circular saw, hammer and tape measure realize a higher calling than hanging pictures.
Starting out with 2-3 birds will meet the egg demands of most couples, unless you and your spouse eat eggs daily and do a lot of baking. When they start laying at about five to six months of age, you can expect about an egg per day per bird when they hit their stride. If you have extras, believe me, they’re easy to get rid of! Production drops way off, and often ceases completely, in the winter months, unless you keep a light on for them and keep their coop toasty warm.
For beginners Murdoch’s holds free “Chicken Chats” every couple of weeks at their Longmont store and Jax has similar events; just check their respective websites — murdochs.com and jaxmercantile.com — for days and times. Plus, there are resources galore on the Internet and each store has immensely helpful sales folks that can answer all your questions. Starting in mid-March, each store carries about 12-16 different breeds of bird, in addition to baby ducks, geese and turkeys. And if you think your own chicken eggs are tasty, duck eggs and home grown turkeys are amazing.
With some chicken breeds, you can buy chicks that have been “sexed,” giving you reasonable assurance that you’re getting females. Keeping hens in Boulder County cities and towns is legal, but roosters are not due to their daily crowing. And no, you don’t need a rooster around for the girls to lay eggs; they’ll do that regardless, they just won’t be fertilized.
If you’re serious about your food and want to raise your culinary game considerably, a handful of backyard chickens is just what you need.