Recently there has been a surge in interest in eating locally grown foods and farm products. While visiting the local farmer’s markets and the roadside stands that are spread across the county is a great start, nothing is more local than growing or raising your own food.
Besides the satisfaction of doing it yourself, you will also gain an understanding of how difficult it is for farmers to consistently provide us with a high-quality, nutritious food supply. Having a backyard garden is sometimes just the first step in our quest to become agricultural do-it-yourselfers. If you are thinking about raising livestock, you might consider one of the most common and widespread domesticated animals in the world, the chicken.
The chicken has been domesticated and raised for eggs, meat and feathers for thousands of years. Originally from the tropical regions of Asia, the chicken has spread all over the world and has been bred into a multitude of different breeds. Chickens in modern agricultural operations bear little resemblance to the original.
Modern breeding programs have created meat breeds that grow incredibly fast for meat production or egg layers that consistently lay large eggs. What these modern breeds sometimes lack however is the beauty, personality and multipurpose qualities of the older heritage breeds of the past.
What many backyard chicken growers are looking for is a connection to the past, perhaps a memory of chickens from their childhood. From tiny bantams to large birds like the Jersey Giant, there is a chicken for just about anyone.
My interest in chickens began when I joined 4-H as a youth. Raising and showing chickens at the county fair was a good way to start learning the life lessons of responsibility and hard work. More recently, my wife obtained about a dozen chickens from a friend and renewed my interest in these intriguing birds.
Since we live out in the country, we are able to let them free range during the day and lock them in their coop only at night for protection. While not everyone wants chickens walking about their lawn and driveway, it is quite amusing to see them come running when called to eat. There’s also nothing more satisfying than checking the nest box and finding the still warm eggs.
In my opinion, fresh eggs from your own chickens just look and taste better than what you can get at the grocery store.
Choosing a breed of chicken is like choosing a flavor of ice cream. The choices are seemingly endless. You have all seen or received the ubiquitous seed catalogs, but did you know that chickens have them too?
Numerous hatcheries put out catalogs and have web sites offering a wide variety of rare or heritage breeds. Every spring, you can also find chicks locally at some farm and garden stores as well as local breeders. By browsing the Internet and local newspapers in the springtime, you will often find ads for locally raised chicks.
If you don’t know what breed of chicken you want, pick up a magazine. There are several magazines and websites dedicated to raising backyard poultry.
If you are considering raising chickens this coming spring, Cornell Cooperative Extension will be holding a Backyard Chicken Workshop on Tuesday Feb. 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Clinton County Extension Office. We will be discussing how to select a chicken breed, housing, feeding, local ordinances, health care and basic chicken husbandry.
For more information or to register, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Clinton County at 561-7450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450.