I have a 10-4 buddy named Jeanne. She’s a super sassy stay-at-home mom with an adoring husband, an equally precocious nine-year-old, a useful PhD in theater theory, more food allergies than you can count and a knitting fetish.
Oh. And four chickens.
Yes, that’s right, Jeanne and Co. raise egg-laying chickens in their backyard.
Her merry gang of cluck-cluckers — Clover, Billina, Lulu and Peep – each produce one egg a day in the height of summer. “How much they lay is determined by how much light they get,” writes Jeanne. “So summer equals lots of eggs. Spring means many eggs. Fall, some eggs. Winter, hardly any eggs. I think commercial lots train lights on them all day. Sad.”
Four eggs a day translates into 28 eggs per week for her family of three, far more than they can eat, so Jeanne often shares the bounty with friends.
Inspired by another local family in Seattle, Jeanne and her husband embarked on their backyard adventure more than six years ago, when their daughter, El, was just a toddler. These days, El is in charge of the daily egg collection.
I asked Jeanne to explain the backyard set up: “We feed our chickens organic feed, supplemented by kitchen scraps. And they are often allowed to wander around the back yard (free-ranging in the true sense), where they eat weeds, grass and bugs. All of this veggie matter in their diet leads to incredibly large and orange yolks.”
She went on to describe the look: “If you break a fresh egg side-by-side with a store-bought egg, you immediately see the differences. The fresh egg has a large, orange yolk that sits high up on the egg white. And, I have found the fresh eggs’ shells to be thicker and harder to crack.”
And the feel: “The taste is also different — creamier and more flavorful than what you get at the store. The yolk isn’t as sulfur-y. I’m so used to fresh eggs now that I can’t even remember what a store-bought egg tastes like. I like eating them because I know exactly how the chickens are raised and what they eat. No worries about badly treated chickens eating funky feed.”
Jeanne is among a growing group of urban farmsteaders who are taking egg production into their own hands. Just last month, the Today show aired a segment on backyard chickenry in Brooklyn and at a school in the Bronx:
In the blogosphere, wannabe chickeners are flocking to Urban Chickens, a one-stop resource for how-to-hen-it-up and updates on backyard poultry legislation across the country. Its Facebook Fan page is 2,216 members strong.
Atlanta, Ga.–based farmsteader Andy Schneider, aka The Chicken Whisperer, is a one-man chicken band, with a Facebook Fan page, blog and Internet radio show. If you’ve ever wondered about the ins and outs of building your own chicken coop, Andy’s the man.