Tahlequah Daily Press

May 13, 2013

Birds of a feather

By ROB W. ANDERSON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Americans are growing increasingly concerned about where their food comes from, and what methods are used in its production.

In Cherokee County, a number of people these days are raising chickens, both for eggs and meat. According to Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service 4-H Educator Carl Wallace, the local trend is growing.

“We’ve seen a real increase in people raising their own chickens for eggs,” said Wallace. “People are moving to an organic preference, and if you’re feeding the birds yourself, you known what they’re eating, and know what you’re eating.”

According to Wallace, to supply eggs for an average family, about six to 10 hens are needed, along with a pen and house for their nesting boxes.”

“A person needs a house about 5 feet by 8 feet for the hens to lay inn,” said Wallace. “The pen needed to accommodate that size house, and enough room for the hens to move around, would be about 20 feet by 20 feet. A lot of people will let their chickens out of the house during the morning and early afternoon after they lay their eggs, usually from around late morning until noon or 1 p.m.”

Wallace said unless city ordinances have changed recently, it’s perfectly legal to raise chickens within the city limits.

“If you buy chicks, it varies as to when they will start laying eggs, and can depend on the breed,” said Wallace. “It usually takes about six months, and hens will lay an egg a day. They’ll do that for roughly four to five months on a regular basis, as long as the weather is good. After they get to be about 2 years old, they start skipping, so the second season, if you’re not breeding hens, you’ll need to get new chicks.”

Wallace said aging hens can be butchered, and are referred to as “dumpling chickens,” meaning the meat is better if its softened in some, usually by boiling.

“Some breeds are raised solely for meat, like Cornishes,” said Wallace. “You still don’t need a big pen, but to help them grow, you need to make sure they have good air flow. All chickens need lots of air, fresh water and plenty of good feed. It’s important to keep the water clean.”

Wallace said while raising chickens is not particularly costly, it’s not always cost-effective.

“But people enjoy the idea of raising farm-fresh eggs,” said Wallace. “A bag of laying pellet feeds is about $16 to $18, but for  six to 10 hens, that will last a good while.”

Keys residents Everett and Teresa Gullett have raised chickens off and on throughout their marriage.

“To be honest, we’re used to having animals, and since we don’t have dogs anymore, we thought chickens would be easy to take care of,” said Teresa. “And we have the added benefit of getting eggs.”

The Gulletts own 24 birds, including roosters and hens.

“I only wanted one rooster and six hens, but Everett decided to get a variety so we could have different kinds of eggs,” she said. “We don’t raise them as a business, but to provide eggs for our family. We just enjoy raising animals.”

Gullett said they are on their first round of hens, and expects once they age out, a few of them will be butchered for meat. She also thinks they will probably hatch eggs, but will supplement the brood with new chicks, too.

“Building the pen was the hardest part of the work,” said Teresa. “But Everett has it looking like the Ritz-Carlton. He doesn’t do anything halfway. He took care to make sure hawks and owls can’t get to them. He’s built an elaborate roost, so that each hen has its own little nesting  box. He’s sprinkled sawdust on the floor. Any chicken would be proud to live in that house.”

Teresa said they provide feed and scratch – a mixture of seed grains – for the hens to eat.

“But at some point, they need to get out in the yard and get to grass,” said Teresa. “I’ve been taking them the clippings from the lawn and my flower beds. It’s so funny to watch them, because they scratch in the clippings for worms. If a hen finds one, the others chase it around the pen, trying to get to that worm. I may need to supplement their food with grubs, because they really go for bugs and worms.”

Hulbert smallholder Ron Reeves and his wife own about 40 chickens, which are allowed to roam about his property.

“Our chickens are free-range,” said Reeves. “They’re allowed to go out [of their house], move around and find food on their own. They have access to bugs, grass and exercise. I have a fence around the property, and at night they come into a roosting area, which has a little door so they can come and go as they please.”

Reeves said the chicks are taught early on to stay near home.

“When they’re chicks and you’re raising them, you feed them in the house area. They naturally come back to it,” he said.

 

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