Whether homegrown eggs are used to feed your growing brood or you like some friendly pets that actually produce something edible, backyard chickens are becoming more commonplace in Connecticut.
“Having your own chickens doesn’t take a lot of time,” says Laura Lenhard, who lives in Huntington, Conn. “I work ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night,” she says, referring to cleaning the coop and collecting eggs.
Lenhard and her husband live on about two acres and so there is plenty of space for a chicken coop and the dozen of chickens she is raising. “I have four growing kids and can they eat, so I do look at this economically.”
The Lenhard family can easily consume about three-dozen eggs per week, she says. The average cost of a dozen non-organic store eggs in the first quarter of 2011 was $1.62, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. By comparison, the average price for a dozen “cage-free” eggs was $3.20; nearly double the price of regular eggs. TheUnited States Department of Agriculture says egg prices remain high and are now 22.8 percent above last October’s prices.
Part of the price increase may be due to a reduction in commercial table egg-laying hens in the United States. California, a large egg producing state, has banned caged egg production. By 2015, egg producers can no longer use cramped cages to harvest eggs.
Next year, overall food prices are expected to stabilize but are still projected to be slightly above the historical average of the past two decades. “The all-food CPI is projected to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent over 2011 levels, with food-at-home prices increasing 3 to 4 percent and food-away-from-home prices increasing 2 to 3 percent,” according to the USDA.
In addition to saving a over $12 a week in buying organic eggs, Lenhard says eggs, organic eggs in particular, are an excellent source of nutrients and vitamins. Nutritionists say the egg is a great source of protein and has less cholesterol than meats and that organic eggs are higher in Omega-3s.
While these are all good reasons to get some egg-laying chickens, Lenhard says she and her family are trying to get away from factory-produced food. “We are all so disconnected from our food, not like our grandparents,” she says. “They lived in Bridgeport and had chickens in their backyard.”
One of the best resources, besides comparing notes with neighbors in her neighborhood, who also have backyard chickens, is backyardchickens.com, Lenhard says. Online communities such as this help educate consumers to pick the right kind of chicken, taking into account the climate. “I wanted my chickens to be hardy because we live in a colder climate,” she says.
Buckeye chickens, for instance, were developed to withstand the cold Ohio winters. It’s an American chicken breed developed by Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio. Other breeds are known for their parental skills.
The Cochin breed, for instance, make good parents, Lenhard explains. “The chicks can ride on their backs.” They are also known for their sweet personalities and many people raise them as pets. “My chickens, which I don’t eat, make wonderful pets and they all have names and distinct personalities.”
Lenhard has a rooster to keep an eye on her chickens. “There are hawks and foxes and they are very protective and they are not a nuisance like some people think. Check with your neighbors before you get a rooster. We have no problems.”
As the light recedes during the winter months, chickens produce fewer eggs, she says. Chickens need up to 12 hours of light per day if they are to lay eggs daily. “We use natural light and so during the winter time they lay fewer eggs. They will live longer because they will be less stressed producing eggs.”
Taken care off, Lenhard expects her chickens to live up to 16 years, longer than her kids may be at home.
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Kathleen Kiley has been a journalist for 20 years. She began her career writing for Investment Dealers’ Digest, reporting on mergers and acquisitions. She has written for national business magazines and The New York Times. Kathleen, along with a team of international business journalists, launched a news site for KPMG, one of the big-four accounting and advisory firms in 2000, where she covered consumer markets. Kathleen became interested in reporting on organic farming after writing a story about how a group of women (The Fairfield Organic Teaching Farm) made it their crusade to create an organic teaching farming in Fairfield. She will be writing a column on organic farming every other Thursday. Kathleen LaBella will write her CtEatWell column on alternating Thursday. You can reach Kathy at email@example.com and check out her new web site (a work in progress like everyones) at www.organicfarmingct.com
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