The Chicken and I
|“Some people thought it was a sick dog,” says Paul Brazelton. Nope, it was Stripes, Brazelton’s Bantam rooster.
If you went walking through a certain block in Nokomis neighborhood last year, you might have heard a very funny sound. “Some people thought it was a sick dog,” says Paul Brazelton. Nope, it was Stripes, Brazelton’s Bantam rooster.
“It was awful!” continues Brazelton. “He crowed as soon as the sun hit the sky, and didn’t stop till the sun went down. Sometimes he crowed in the middle of the night. He was super aggressive and chased the hens around the yard. My wife and kids took to carrying a tennis racket through the yard to fend him off. It was a learning experience.”
Stripes has since moved on and now the neighbors want to know where he has gone. Much to the Brazelton’s surprise, the neighbors miss Stripes. “Our next-door neighbor and her daughter used to go out on their back porch in the morning, drink coffee and listen to the rooster crowing.”
Brazelton and his family have had chickens for about a year and a half. It all started with a dozen eggs. “My wife talked with a friend of ours who is a breeder,” explains Brazelton. “He gave us an incubator with 12 eggs and showed us how to use it. So there wasn’t a lot of forethought.”
In fact, the Brazeltons had just moved into their home. They had a couple months to build a coop while the chickens stayed warm inside. But Minneapolis requires a permit for keeping chickens and it has to be signed by your neighbors. “So we had to get a permit right away,” says Brazelton. “We needed 13 neighbors to sign the permit. For most of them, the first time they met us was us knocking on their door with a permit in hand.”
The Brazeltons now have three Cochin/Ameraucana mix Bantam chickens, two Domininques, one Buff Orpington and one Silver Laced Wyandotte. Brazelton spent a couple weekends building a coop in the backyard and the chickens now live there happily. “They have full run of the garden,” he explains. “They do all the weeding and they eat bugs. They also eat most of our kitchen scraps so that has reduced our waste a little bit.” Brazelton cooks a lot so his favorite part about having chickens is all the fresh eggs. “They’re qualitatively different from store-bought, even free range eggs,” he says. But, “they’re the most expensive free eggs you’ll ever have.”
Brazelton explains there is a significant layout of money and time upfront when you decide to keep chickens. “You have to build the coop, buy the chickens. Most people break the bank with the coop. They start off modest and then it gets out of control,” he says. Chickens also need feed, grit, oyster shells (for the calcium) and bedding material. Once established, it’s not too expensive to keep chickens, but there is a lot of work involved.
“It takes about 15 minutes a day to make sure they have food and water,” says Brazelton. The coop also has to be cleaned regularly and there are eggs to collect. Brazelton’s chickens lay an egg a day—so seven a day when all the chickens are laying.
The worst part about having chickens is the winter. “Going outside at minus 30 degrees, managing food and water, it sucks,” says Brazelton. “The chickens handle it well, but I don’t.”
Despite some disadvantages, keeping chickens has been good for the Brazeltons. The chickens are amusing and “a constant source of entertainment” for their daughters. “Our relationship with chickens is different than with dogs,” says Brazelton. “They are an established utility animal. I think it’s positive because kids group animals into two kinds: ‘animals in the wild’ and ‘animals that are my best friend.’ Chickens are in the middle. We don’t eat them, but keeping them gives us perspective. It helps our kids see where food comes from.”
Many see chickens this way, but others, like Mary Britton Clouse, have a different view.
Britton Clouse and her husband founded Chicken Run Rescue and have a flock of 20 foster chickens. She encourages people to see chickens as individual companion animals instead of egg production units and challenges a shift in critical thought about who is ‘food’ and who is ‘pet.’ Britton Clouse says chickens can live up to 15 years, but they reach their peak of productivity at 18 months. After that they produce fewer eggs. Many people get rid of their chickens after this because they don’t want to care for a chicken that isn’t producing. But that is only one issue. Chickens are also sometimes victims of neglect, abuse and abandonment. Chicken Run Rescue helps many birds that aren’t well cared for during winter. “These are tropical birds, regardless of their breed,” says Britton Clouse. “And this is not the tropics. People need to be serious about providing appropriate shelter.”
“Chickens are intelligent, gentle, vivacious individuals who form lifelong emotional bonds with each other and other species,” says Britton Clouse. She recommends that people adopt chickens that need homes, instead of purchasing them from hatcheries or feed stores.
If you are interested in raising chickens and want to know more, Minneapolis Community Education offers a class called Chickens in the City. The class is three hours and is offered twice each session. The class covers applying for a permit, chicken housing, caring for chickens, and avoiding potential problems. The next class will be Tuesday, Nov.18, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call to register (612-668-3100) or check the Minneapolis Community Education website for future classes (http://www.mplscommunityed.com/).
There are also many websites with advice on keeping chickens. A few are: www.backyardchickens.com, www.brittonclouse.com/chickenrunrescue, and www.urbanagrarian.com.
While a heat lamp and well insulated coop may keep your chickens warm throughout the winter, some people have other ideas. “The other day,” recalls Brazelton, “my four-year-old was trying to convince me that she should take her sleeping bag out and sleep with the chickens that night.” That’s one way to help keep them warm!