What started with an elementary school project for his daughter, now an upper schooler at Marlborough, has become a seven year relationship with his backyard chickens for Evan Berger, Brookside resident and owner and founder of Go Junk Free America.
And Berger shared his experience farming urban chickens with us, as we have been thinking of acquiring a few (but that’s for another story!).
Berger is the first to admit chickens are a bit of work, but he says the eggs make it all worthwhile. You should know, though, he notes, that you don’t get the eggs right away because the chickens have to mature and – most importantly – you have to make sure you have hens and not roosters. (Apparently, the trick to making sure you end up with hens is to get the birds after they have matured a bit, so it’s easier to tell them apart.) He also highly recommends Chickens Galore, a breeder in Norco (near Chino) as a good source for various breeds of chickens. They’re also good at sexing the chickens so you don’t get roosters.
In their first flock, which Berger’s daughter got as a part of a hatching project in elementary school, the family ended up with two roosters. According to Berger, roosters are entitled chickens — they are quite noisy and it’s really hard to find someone who will take them off your hands. (He eventually found those roosters a farm home that promised the roosters would be there if he came back to visit with his daughter.) Now he’s got another one that he keeps in the garage at night, and so far he says the animal hasn’t been too loud or annoying.
Keeping chickens in their own space is another essential element to having a successful flock, Berger said. He has a coop for his chickens located inside a penned in area. Berger says chickens aren’t picky and you don’t have to invest in anything fancy. He suggested you could even start with a chainlink dog run that’s at least 10×10 feet and put a cover on it.
A covered, penned area keeps the chickens safe from urban predators (who also like to eat chicken feed), and it prevents them from roaming around the yard at will. (Did we mention that chickens are prolific poopers? Chicken dung can be used as fertilizer but it can also be really messy.) However, letting them roam around is another benefit because chickens will eat anything, especially bugs, incuding mosquitos. In fact, according to Berger, chickens will eat everything that moves, including your landscaping, and they really like grass and searching for bugs in the grass. Berger’s dog helps keep the chickens in check so they don’t eat all the ornamental landscaping.
Berger told us he’s learned a lot about chickens over the years, mostly by trial and error. For example, young chickens lay more eggs but they stop in the winter. (Who knew?) Some of Berger’s hens live to be 7 or 8 years old and continue producing eggs, others not so long.
“It’s hard to put a rhyme or reason to it,” said Berger. “The best part are the eggs, they are superior to anything you can get even at the farmers market because you get them so quickly. But it’s not going to help you save money on eggs!”
Still, a small flock of chickens might be just the thing to add to your back yard vegetable garden.
What gorgeous chickens! It brings back memories.
Fun fact: when I was a kid, my aunt kept chickens, and my job one summer was to feed
them. I didn’t know to feed them the eggshells from the kitchen, or didn’t want to,
and over a period of a week they stopped laying — they didn’t have enough calcium!
Less fun fact: there have been outbreaks of salmonella from backyard flocks, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching your chickens… and don’t snuggle or kiss them. See https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/backyardpoultry-05-20/index.html for more safety tips.
Thanks for that article!