I recently paid a visit to a family friend whose husband owns a local business in Sycamore, and who raises about a dozen hens for eggs. She sells what her family doesn’t eat to friends and neighbors.
When we first arrived she had brought out a bag of table scraps for us to feed to her hens. Inside were tomatoes, carrots, and stale bread. I thought to myself, these are things I have at home right now that I compost, and many others normally throw away! The hens eagerly pecked and scratched at the scraps, making fast work of them. They then continued their usual work of milling around their pen, searching for sprouts, seeds, and insects. I was amazed at how quiet they were, even over the excitement of their special meal. My neighbor’s dog can be heard inside and at the opposite end of our house, comparing that to a dozen of these useful little birds, gently clucking while they enjoyed the afternoon, I wondered again why they were considered a nuisance.
She gardens as well, and chicken manure makes excellent compost. If you go to the store, and look at the back of a bag of commercial fertilizer, chances are chicken manure is in it. Not only does she put out less waste by feeding her hens the table scraps, their waste is perfect for enriching garden soil. I asked her about any concerns she might have over diseases such as avian flu and salmonella, and in her years of keeping hens she’s never had an issue with either, her hens are well kept and incredibly healthy, feeding on a variety of foods and getting lots of exercise in their daily hunt for bugs.
I asked her how her birds do in winter. The days last year they didn’t brave the outdoors were during the blizzard! She has a heat lamp in her coop (a fenced in area inside the barn with a door to the pen), and aside from roosting poles and nest boxes, no other shelter was really needed to keep them warm, since chickens are incredibly cold hardy.
I ended the visit by snapping a few more photos, and then we bought a dozen eggs and drove home. As I made dinner for my boyfriend, I couldn’t help but notice how large some of the eggs were, and how rich the color of the yolk was compared to store bought ones we buy, claiming to be “pastured” and humanely raised. After eating the egg sandwiches, he commented on how good they tasted, that they were better than normal.
Normally we pay 4.50 for a dozen “pastured” eggs from the store. I spent less than half that for eggs from hens I got to feed today. I got to hear them happily clucking to themselves as they ate table scraps. I got to see them do the things they enjoy; and I got to see how happy my friend was in caring for them, and the joy they brought her family.
She also has volunteered to speak with would-be hen owners on proper care for chickens if the hens are allowed in DeKalb, so everyone who wants the same experience she has can have the proper knowledge to get quality eggs from healthy birds.