What Are You…Chicken?

We have a hook-up for some really good organic stuff. We get it on the DL, since it’s not legal to cultivate it where we live.

We have a hook-up for some really good organic stuff.  We get it on the DL, since it’s not legal to cultivate it where we live – even though it’s been proven time and time again to be better for you than the mass-marketed, who-knows-what’s-been-added-to-it product that’s available from big business.

I’ve found the goods are wonderful just cooked up straight or incorporated into brownies.

Yeup.  Nothing’s better than fresh, free range eggs.

The “front” for our covert ova ops is a nearby barnyard zoo that my sister, Kristin (pictured here), has been managing for a few years.  They keep a myriad of fun fauna there- alpacas, pigs, donkeys, horses, cows, goats, corn snakes, rabbits, peacocks, foxes…and yes, chickens. 

About a year ago, after watching Food, Inc., we asked Kristin what she did with the eggs from her hens.

“We pitch ‘em.”  She replied.

That just seemed like a travesty, so we asked if we could have them.

“Seriously?” she asked. “I never really know how long any given egg has been laying around – no pun intended.”

I told her we were risk takers, and that we knew a few tried-and-true methods to determine the freshness of an egg.  Besides, I added, given some of the salmonella outbreaks from factory poultry, her clean coop was a healthier bet. 

We’ve been enjoying Kristin’s contraband cache ever since.

So when the came about in Crystal Lake, I turned to the only chicken expert I knew for answers:

J (Jules): Do you think that a 1/10th of an acre, or your typical suburban backyard, is big enough to keep chickens?

K (Kristin): Obviously that depends on how many chickens you’re talking about, but yeah, 4-8 chickens would have more than enough space in a backyard.

J: What do chickens need to survive the winter?

K: They’ll need a good coop with a well-built hen house.  You’ll need to make sure they’re fed daily, have a light bulb or other heat source, and fresh, unfrozen, water.  They’re pretty good about keeping warm, but they can get frostbite on their feet and heads if you’re not careful.

J: So, it’s like keeping a dog outside in a doghouse?

K:  Kind of – although chickens aren’t as domesticated as dogs, so they do better outside year-round than dogs.

J: What’s louder – a dog or a chicken?

K: Dogs.  Definitely.  Our roosters can get noisy, and it’s a myth that they only crow at dawn.  But the hens, even at their loudest, barely make a peep, and only when they lay an egg.  They’re very proud of themselves.

J: But don’t you need roosters to have eggs?

K:  Nope.  Hens will lay eggs without roosters, they just won’t be fertilized.  If you want to hatch chicks, yeah, you’ll need a rooster.  But for eggs only, no rooster required.  The eggs most people get from the store aren’t fertilized.

J: What about rats/vermin?

K:  I’d be more worried about raccoons – so you’ll need good fencing.  And you’ll need to keep the coop clean, collect your eggs daily, secure the food.  It’s the same with any pet, but where other pets only give you love, chickens give you love and eggs.

J:  Love and eggs – that’d be a great band name.

K: There’s probably a song there.

After talking to Kristin, I committed myself to help legalize backyard chickens in McHenry County.  Following a recent screening of , a local group and website, www.mcbackyardchickens.org, was created to help raise awareness and support the right to “grow your own,” as it were. 

Next week, on Tuesday, August 16th, a vote will be held in Crystal Lake to modify the ordinance prohibiting residents from raising chickens in their own backyards.  It would allow for 4-6 laying hens only- no "noisy" roosters.  The City Council has posted a survey on their website for input.  All McHenry County residents’ opinions will be considered, so please fill one out and email or fax it in, or attend the meeting on the 16th.

I hope to see Crystal Lake, and all other towns in McHenry County, join with Chicago, Arlington Heights, Evanston, West Dundee, Naperville, and hundreds of other municipalities in providing their residents the opportunity to raise fresh, local, organic food in their own backyards.  Our heritage is agriculture.  Why are we chicken of chickens?

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