Why Keep Chickens?


In the following post, Bruce Caughran of Oak Park responds to reporter Meredith Morris’ question “Why do a crazy thing like keep chickens in Oak Park?” 
Education led us to the idea of raising chickens.  We grow some small fruit now in our yard and we have had a vegetable patch in the past.  We belong to a CSA farm share and we visit the Farmers Market.  Those things help our children understand the local seasons and the origin of the food they eat.  Chickens add animals to that concept.  We are vegetarian, so we are interested in the eggs and not the meat.  I think it is nice that our children realize that eggs come from our coop and not from a carton.
The eggs themselves are wonderful.  They have a different composition from mass produced eggs.  In the summer, when the birds are eating lots of grass, the yolks are almost orange.  In the winter, when the food is mostly grain, the yolks are more pale.  The eggs “sit up” in the frying pan more when they are cracked.  I do not do a lot of baking, but folks who do think that the eggs are special.  I believe that they taste better but that might just be my appreciation for the hens and for the work that my family put in.
We were pleasantly surprised that the chickens make nice companions.  The first hens we had were raised from chicks (after Jen picked them out for us).  They were quite tame and would perch on my daughter’s shoulders.  The current hens are “rescue hens” from a flock that was being culled.  They are less domesticated and their behavior helps you understand the terms like “bird brained” and “act like a chicken”.  Still each hen has a personality, and it is fun to watch them interact with each other and with the children.  As pets, they require frequent but very brief interaction each day: (1) let them “down” from the roost & give them food and water in the morning; (2) let them out in the yard in the afternoon; (3) feed them in the evening to get them back into the run; (4) raise the ramp at sunset to keep them safe overnight.
You can ask Jen about winter (they do fine).  You can ask about predators, we had a possum get in and one bird got eaten (probably a hawk or owl). Jen is a great resource and I do not know that we would have attempted this without her.  The middle school at Alcuin Montessori made the coop for me and Jen helped with the set-up, provisioning, and education.  She even gave a talk to the class when they delivered the coop to me.
Caughan's Chicken Ark in Oak Park

Caughan’s Chicken Ark in Oak Park

Thanks, Bruce, for your thoughts and experiences!
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