Bawk! Backyard Chickening

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Raising your own flock

Every chicken has their own personality. (Photos by Christy Hinko)

The lovable, domesticated chicken finds its roots in ancient history, and according to some researchers, maybe even in prehistoric times, as descendants of dinosaurs. But for as deep of a trace back in time, chickens are growing in popularity today as backyard pets. 

Chickens were domesticated more than 10,000 years ago in Southeast Asia, so it’s no surprise that there is an estimated more than 19 billion worldwide today. They are among the most common pets, which also provide a source of food (meat and eggs).

According to Long Island Agway, businesses like Chestnut Vale Feed in Hicksville and Barn Pet Feed and Supplies in Deer Park say they’ve seen the demand for backyard chicken supplies and feed increase significantly in recent years. This might seem implausible, given that nearly every municipality in Nassau County makes it illegal or requires a special permit to keep the birds as pets within residential zoning. Although many Suffolk flock owners have more lenient parameters with the ancient practice of raising backyard birds, just because you can have chickens, doesn’t mean they’re for everyone.

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Choosing chickens as pets is similar to the decisions you would make for bringing a dog or a cat home, but with far more choices, such as which breed to pick, and variables to take into consideration including shelter, feed, flock management, care and biosecurity…just to name a few.

Each breed produces different results, with the eggs produced dependent upon the disposition of the chicken and how well it reproduces. Looking at the variations between two seemingly similar hens, one might be friendly and social, the other shy and withdrawn and still another may be aggressive and bossy. All of these different personalities play into the pecking order of a flock—determining who will be the boss, who will serve as dinnertime predator watch, who eats first, who eats last, who enters the coop at bedtime in which order. It’s purposeful and instinctively aligned within each flock, necessary for survival and order.

Protecting a flock is critical on Long Island, where everything wants a bite of the bird, including hawks, foxes, owls and raccoons. This requires nearly daily inspection of the coop structure and place where your flock can roam. It’s not the most pleasant discussion to have, but natural prey/predator instincts cannot be controlled. It’s something you have to resolve because the sad reality of having your flock completely wiped out by any one of its predators on any given day is a real possibility.

Chickens Photos by Christy Hinko
They don’t stay little for long.

It’s animal husbandry at its finest and not for the faint of heart. Minus some of the unpleasantness of flock ownership, there is a huge advantage. The egg. The glorious egg. With a 28-hour egg cycle, healthy egg-laying hens of many breeds produce nearly an egg a day on average. This is one of the main reasons for cultivating this domestic relationship because nothing compares to a farm-fresh, day-old laid egg when you know what’s going into your flock’s daily nutrition is going to prove to be the golden egg on the other end.

The difference between a fresh, backyard egg and a month-old (or more) store-bought egg is undeniable. The whites are crystal clear; the yolks are brilliant, rich and golden. And the taste…indescribable.

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