Backyard nest eggs
Food Chicken coops and fresh eggs are the latest trend in urban farming | Sophia Lee
After a long day, Mike Scott has something to look forward to.
Often he sits back with a glass of wine in his 1920s Spanish-style home, watching eight chickens scuttle and peck around his verdant backyard while the sun sets over the hazy Los Angeles cityscape. The chickens’ routine is oddly comforting.
“It’s not just the children,” Scott said, gazing down at his flock. “The adults get mesmerized while watching the chickens, too.”
Scott, a trim, young-faced former Warner Music Group finance executive, calls chicken-lovers like him “chicken people.” He meets them everywhere he goes, from his daughter’s soccer coach to guests at a dinner party.
The difference between most “chicken people” and Scott is dedication—Scott quit his corporate job four years ago to become a full-time “chicken person.” As founder of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms, he now consults, designs and builds custom garden beds and chicken coops for a living. He recently donated a chicken coop to the Los Angeles Arboretum, and he’s preparing to head a chicken lecture in April.
Raising chickens is no longer just a rural or suburban venture. A significant backyard chicken movement is on the rise in metropolitan cities. Scott’s home in Eagle Rock, a hip, diverse neighborhood northeast of Los Angeles, is just one of the many straddling both idyllic farm life and urban landscape.
On this particular Thursday afternoon, Scott’s backyard teems with life. A neighborhood peacock struts around flaunting his opulent gown and flirting shamelessly with the hens. About 8,000 bees hum around the beehive, the water fountain, and blossoming flowers. A white rabbit named Friday, rescued from the streets, sniffs about a homemade chicken coop, while a couple thousand worms burrow in the soil. Sweet, spicy, and juicy leaves of plum-purple mustard, endives, green onions, parsley and lettuce crown his garden beds.
Scott said he recognizes all his chickens, and not just from their different colored feathers. They all have their own personality. “This is Itty Bitty,” he said, picking up a particularly gentle reddish-brown hen with speckles down her tummy. Itty Bitty nestled patiently in his arms as he gently stroked her back.
They lay different eggs, too. Some are petite and blue, while others are large and chocolate-brown. Scott swears they all taste worlds different from supermarket eggs. (He gave me half a dozen to try, and they do taste better. The yolk is startling gold to the point of orange.)
Scott isn’t the only one making his livelihood out of this growing movement.
In Georgia, Andy Schneider dubs himself the Chicken Whisperer. During his daily radio show, Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer, he discusses and jokes about all things chicken. He’s also an author (of books about chickens) and a national spokesperson for the government’s Bio-Security for Birds Program. Chicken brings home the bacon for his family.
“It was not a business plan, I assure you,” Schneider said. What started out as a hobby “mushroomed” into a business.
Schneider first started rearing chickens as an impulsive college student: he saw some chicks at a store, and brought a baby turkey and two baby chicks home to his college roommates.
“I just thought they were so cool, so cute,” Schneider said. “Back then, the movement wasn’t even starting. They were just pets. They were cool pets.” He was the original chicken hipster—he loved chickens before they became fashionable.
He made the same impulsive buy about a decade later. At the time, Schneider was a health care trainer for corporations. One day after a client’s meeting, he spotted a local seed store. He returned home to his wife in Atlanta cradling baby chicks and ducks in his arms.
The next morning, his wife called out as he left the house, “Why don’t you bring home some more chickens today?”
With his wife’s blessing, their flock burgeoned. The Schneiders’ backyard chickens gained attention. Soon people they knew started asking Schneider for help raising their own flock. As the questions poured in, Schneider realized other people probably needed help too. He started consulting part-time. Two years later, he’s a full-time chicken whisperer.
“There’s a big boom now,” he said of raising backyard chickens. “Now it’s pretty much commonplace.”
He hears the word “therapeutic” a lot from people who explain why they raise chickens. It’s the same word Scott uses.
As a parent, Scott finds chickens a valuable educational tool for his 11-year-old daughter Dahlia. “I want her to learn responsibility for another living creature,” he said. “For example, when she holds a fragile chick in her hands, she learns to be gentle with it.”
Many who raise chickens simply want to know exactly where their food comes from. Instead of buying eggs that traveled 300 miles in a styrofoam carton to a supermarket, they want to walk 30 feet into their own coops. “It doesn’t get more local than your backyard,” Schneider said.
Chicken poop also acts as a natural fertilizer, and chickens serve as pest repellents by lunching on bugs. They also eliminate food waste because they eat almost any leftovers. But backyard chickens have one potential downside: neighborhood rancor.
Worries range from chickens making too much noise to attracting rodents to decreasing property value.
But both Schneider and Scott said all the complaints can be dismissed with factual information. For example, hens only ever let out a few clucks after laying an egg. Roosters are the noise culprits, and they are banned in most cities. No specific statistics prove backyard chickens decrease property value, nor do well-maintained chickens attract pests, the experts said.
“It’s not so much ignorance, but a lack of education,” Schneider said.
People who eventually convert say their chickens have become part of the family, but that doesn’t keep them from occasionally ending up on the dinner table.
Scott doesn’t eat his own chickens because it would traumatize his daughter, but Schneider has no problem “having a nice chicken dinner.” In fact, he likes eating his own chickens because they taste much better.
“It tastes like a chicken should,” he said.
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