Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sherri Gallentine: Semiurban Chicken Keeping

I have been interested in raising chickens for a long time for many reasons. I love the idea of having fresh eggs at my disposal for cooking and giving away to family and friends. I also remember stories told to me by my grandma about growing up in Arkansas in the 1920s and ’30s and the chickens and big garden that she had as a child; it always sounded great to me. So I read all sorts of books on chickens, including Keep Chickens by Barbara Kilarski and one of my all-time favorites, Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds by Carol Ekarius. It was so much fun to look at all the fabulous birds in the latter book, not just the chickens.

I am fortunate to live in a place that affords me the best of both worlds. I am about 20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles on a good traffic day, but my house is nestled against the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. When I get home from work every evening, I can smell the plants and wildflowers in the area, and I feel like I’m very removed from the city. There are several horses boarded at my place, and there's plenty of room for a big garden and the chicken coop.

I finally took the chicken plunge about seven years ago and bought three poults; later I bought a few chicks from a local feed store, and finally, almost two years ago, I ordered day-old chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery. As promised the chicks arrived at the post office, and that morning at work I whispered to my friend Anne, “I’m picking up my chicks at the post office today,” and she replied “You’re getting checks, big deal”! After I clarified, she was as excited as I was. She too is a big fan of the birds, especially their eggs. That evening after work, I picked up the box of peeping little fluff balls and took them home. My husband, Rich, was on “thermal management” and ensured that the little ones had enough heat to keep them warm but not too much.

My flock now totals 30 laying hens, although I never know which are laying and which are not; I am not that organized. I look forward to feeding my girls every morning — they run to the door of the coop ready for breakfast and hopefully a treat or two. One benefit of keeping chickens is that you can give them most of your leftover food. I don’t compost any produce past its prime; it all goes to the birds. You can also throw any snails or big worms from your tomato plants to the chickens. They go after them as if they were candy.

I’ve tried assorted hobbies over the years, but chicken keeping has been the most entertaining. The birds are fun to watch, their care is minimal, and I get the most wonderful eggs to eat. I like to take eggs as a hostess gift when I am invited over to dinner at friends’ homes, and everyone is always happy to receive them. I also like that idea that raising chickens keeps me connected to a somewhat rural part of my family’s history. Even though I don’t live in the country, I still have my little bit of livestock. I encourage people to keep even just two or three chickens if they have a small space; that would be enough eggs for a small family to enjoy for Sunday breakfast. I also think it is an easy and inexpensive way for kids to learn to take care of an animal. See you around the coop!

Sherri Gallentine is a buyer at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California. Her hobbies (besides chickens) include cooking, embroidery, and reading. Sherri lives in Altadena, California, and will be writing a guest post for Inside Storey once a month. Stay tuned!

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