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5 Things I Learned About Raising Chickens

By SHELBY PRATT

As part of my decision to eat clean and know where my food comes from, I decided last year to raise chickens for eggs.

Fond memories of staying at my grandparents' farm for the summer and going out with grandpa in the morning to get fresh eggs may have colored the reality of the work that lay ahead. Here are the things I learned as a first-time chicken owner:

1. Different breeds need different care. I researched chicken breeds to find ones that would best fit what I wanted. (KFC is not a breed of chicken, by the way.) I discovered that some chickens would need to be kept warm during colder temperatures. That swayed the vote toward hardier breeds, such as the Ameraucanas and Australorps, which thrive in my region without extra measures taken to keep them warm during winter months.

Chicken foraging

One of my chickens, foraging for bugs. (Photo by Brandon Pratt)

2. Rules, rules and more rules. Depending on where you live, you may find there are ordinances regarding livestock and some that are specifically created for city-dwelling chickens. Be sure to check for your area because these regulations can vary wildly. In our town, there are no roosters allowed, a maximum of six hens and the coop or run must not be within a certain distance of a neighbor's house. (I may have driven my neighbors a bit nuts with all of my measuring of spaces between my house and theirs to be sure I wasn't going to get a fine later.)

[Read More: The Problem With “Cage-Free” Eggs]

3. Everyone wants to eat chickens: The neighbor's dog, opossums, raccoons -- even our cats took a swipe at them. The raccoons were the most tenacious; they figured out how to unlock a simple latch hook. What was once a beautiful chicken coop turned into a prop piece for a Mad Max film. I had plywood blocking one door and scrap metal piled on top of the roof to hold the door down.

A friend even had hawks fly into the open run and terrorize her flock. As a temporary fix, she used police tape with old DVDs strung up in zigzags across the run as a barrier against any aerial attacks.

4. Chickens make you more sociable. I'm the only person in my neighborhood who has chickens, which has drawn some attention, but not in the ways I expected. I'll get a knock at the door from someone to let me know my flock is now residing in the holly tree across the alley and can they help get them back to safety?

This leads to conversations about summers spent on farms as kids while we coax the birds out of trees. One neighbor loves to sit and watch them eat the vegetable scraps she brings over as treats. She told me about living in France as a young woman and how she loved gathering fresh eggs in the morning. My little flock has led to me meeting people I wouldn't have otherwise.

Roosting

This is not OK. (Photo by Brandon Pratt)

5. Fresh eggs taste nothing like store-bought eggs. It was surprising to crack open the first egg my girls laid and see the vibrant orange yolk. The eggs we bought at the store were a watery, pale yellow.

I've also found that cooking with them is a treat. The consistency of the yolk is rich and buttery; the whites fluffier.

It isn't possible for everyone to have backyard chickens, so if you're looking for a similar experience with fresh eggs, check your local food co-op or farmer's market.

Chicken breakfast

Makes breakfast more interesting. (Photo by Brandon Pratt)

--Shelby

Readers -- Do you or someone you know raise chickens? Have you ever had farm-fresh eggs? Did you notice a difference between fresh eggs and store-bought eggs? Would you raise your own chickens if you could? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Shelby Pratt is a mom to three teenage boys and a 3-year-old girl who wants to train dragons when she grows up. When not playing board games, Shelby likes to watch sci-fi films and is still sad that Firefly was canceled. Her favorite foods are cheese, dark chocolate and fresh sourdough breads.  

Connect with Shelby on Facebook and Twitter.

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