chickens

Suburban Chickens: Sustainability at Work in My Home

by Mindy Lemoine, Region 3

As a child, I hung out at my grandparents’ farm outside of Ville Platte, LA, where they had chickens, pigs, cows, guinea fowl, a garden, a smokehouse, fruit trees, etc. Now, my house sits on about 1/64th of an acre just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. And just as my grandparents did, every morning I put on my barn coat and walk about 30 steps to feed my two chickens.

Chicken

The chickens, Marshmallow and Speedy, live in a coop tucked discreetly behind my garage. Since the spring, my hens have provided me with one or two eggs daily: sage green from Marshmallow and speckled brown from Speedy.

How did a former country kid, who grew up to be a scientist living in the suburbs, start keeping chickens? As a child, I loved to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. While living outside of Philadelphia, one day my nephew offered me his hens because he was moving and had no place to keep them. I jumped at the opportunity to return to my farm roots and put more of my sustainability views into practice. I was fortunate: thanks to an enlightened elected official who was a fellow chicken lover, my township allowed residents to keep chickens.

The space behind my garage had a nice 6×18-foot fenced-in area that was perfect for keeping my girls safe.

Aside from the fresh eggs, one of the delights of owning suburban chickens is that neighbors and their children stop by to visit my hens.

Because of my work at EPA, I know the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills. My hens know something about that, too, because they get excited about the old rice, carrot peelings, food scraps, toast crusts, etc., that I feed to them.

The food scraps that the chickens don’t eat, and other things like coffee grounds and egg shells, are a great addition to my compost pile. The hens help out with the compost as well: their droppings provide a rich source of nutrients that will eventually help nourish my garden. Compost reduces the amount of fertilizer, weed killer and water that my garden needs – a model of sustainability!

The hens are part of the family, and the next generation has arrived. I have four adorable fuzzy baby chicks peeping under a heat lamp in my basement! But as a mom, the best thing about owning chickens is pictures of my son and his friends with chickens sitting on their heads!

About the author: Mindy Lemoine is a Life Scientist and Pollution Prevention Coordinator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. A native of Opelousas, Louisiana, Mindy grew up rambling in the woods and fields with her siblings and developed an abiding curiosity about what might be living in that ditch. She holds an MS in Geography from Louisiana State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Running Around With Chickens

By Amy Miller

My family bought eight chickens. The good news is they are all hens. The odds of getting a rooster when you go out to buy hens are one in 10 so we were off to a good start. We got the four Buff Orpingtons and four Americaunas because my 9-year-old son loves tractors, animals and especially birds. Too bad he doesn’t love eggs. And too bad I grew up in the 17th floor penthouse before urban chickens were trendy.

No matter. I am a romantic and I live in Maine now.

So my cartoonist husband designed a cartoony coop and his strong and handy brother built it. I used my new power tools and some neighborhood men to build the pen. And voila. Chickens outside our paint-chipped in-town Victorian.

Of course now the facts of fowl care are coming out. Chickens cost more to feed and house than the eggs we would have bought. Between the price of feed, wire, and initial coop investment. You can expect to spend as much as $8 a dozen, depending on your feed and infrastructure. But selling or bartering with eggs can change the equation. They only lay during lighter months, and even though the chickens supposedly don’t need much care, there are the hidden demands.

Like what? Like the chickens dig in the dirt, constantly, so a buried fence is no longer buried after a month. And sometimes chickens peck at each other till they bleed and have to be separated. And oh yes, you better cover the top of the pen because even though chickens don’t really fly, hawks can come down for a meal. And God forbid you let the chickens out to play, you can bet a frisky neighborhood dog will wander by.

And raising your own eggs reduces the cost of fuel for shipping, improves life for the birds, gives you a connection to the source of your food and lets you feel at least partly self-sufficient.

I have no regrets. Because now I have somewhere to throw my apple cores, mushy grapes and overgrown bean plants. I have birds that cluck when they hear me coming. And my son has his very own mini 4-H club.
And soon I will get beautiful white eggs from the Buffs, blue Easter-like eggs from the Americaunas and fluffy omelets tastier than I’ve ever had.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.