April 19, 2014 11:00:00 PM
For years, the approach of Easter meant to trip to the local co-op or feed store to buy an Easter Chick.
In recent years, however, the practice of buying live chicks as Easter gifts has fallen into disfavor in some quarters.
The Humane Society of the United States discourages people from acquiring live chicks and rabbits as Easter gifts.
Chicks and rabbits are among the most-surrendered pets in the weeks after Easter, according to the national group, which says often the animals are simply turned out to fend for themselves, which almost always turns out to be a death sentence for the animal.
"Rabbits and chickens can make wonderful companions, but those adorable babies grow up quickly into adults that will need proper socialization, care and companionship for many years," said Inga Fricke, The HSUS' director of sheltering and pet care issues, said in a recent press release.
While the practice of buying chicks for Easter may be waning, the chick business overall is booming for an entirely different reason: fresh eggs.
According to a story in Wall Street Journal last fall more and more people are keeping their own chickens, especially in cities. Rob Ludlow, who runs the popular site backyardchickens.com, says the trend "continues to grow like crazy," with membership recently topping 222,000.
Fresh eggs are a huge motivating factor in the trend.
"There's just no comparison,'' said Debbie Lawrence, who began her experiment with raising chickens three years ago. "The eggs I get from my hens just have so much more flavor than the ones you buy in the grocery store. I've gotten to the point that I won't eat eggs in a restaurant. I'm spoiled, I guess."
As a child, Lawrence, who owns Bloomers Nursery on Caledonia-Steens Road, remembered the chickens her grandmother kept. But her decision to try her hand at keeping chickens, was not driven by nostalgia or a sentimental urge. She wanted the eggs.
After some research, Lawrence chose five breeds that seemed best-suited to the climate in Caledonia and ordered two hens of each breed -- Columbian Wyandotte, Barred Plymouth Rock, White Barred Rock, Ameraucana and Welsummer.
She also ordered a rooster, but it died sooner after arrival.
"My husband said he just couldn't take living with 10 females," Lawrence quipped. (Note to city slickers: You you need a rooster to get chicks, but you don't need one to get eggs. "
"Anyway, it's just he girls now," Lawrence said.
While Lawrence's initial motive in acquiring the chicks was for the practical purpose of supplying eggs, she confesses that the "girls" have quickly become equal parts family, pet and entertainment. They have names -- Thelma and Louise, Lois and Lola, Beyonce and Shelby, etc.
"I just love to sit out here in the late afternoons and watch them," she says. "They make so many noises, almost like they are talking to each other. They have a hierarchy, too, and since they grew up together, everyone knows her place. I just find them so entertaining, better than TV. They all know me. They come running to the fence when they see me. Of course, I am pretty bad about spoiling them."
Her brood produces six-to-eight eggs per day, which come in an assortment of pastel shades of blue, green, yellow and beige. "They're Easter Eggs you don't have to paint," Lawrence notes wryly.
Lawrence's hens are not of the free-range variety, mainly because there are plenty of free-range dogs sand free-range automobiles that would mean a quick end to the enterprise.
Instead, she and her husband Larry have used part of an old barn to build an impressive chicken complex complete with a large chicken run and a large indoor roost and laying area.
After three years of raising laying hens, Lawrence is convinced almost anyone can keep chickens.
"It's not at all expensive -- at least it doesn't have to be unless you go crazy -- and it doesn't require a lot of time," she said "I probably spend an hour a day and that's pushing it because I spend at much time talking to them and watching them as I am doing things."
She noted that there are some basic necessities.
First, don't get more chicks than you have room for. Lawrence said overcrowding, often leads to disease and death. Chickens need room to move about and need a clean, well-kept environment. They need a good supply of fresh water and you have to protect them from the hot, hot weather. We have a fun we turn on in the summer to keep the air circulating.
She also said its best to purchase your chicks from a supplier since most of the chicks you find at co-ops and feed stores are separated by gender. As a chick, the gender is hard to determine.
"Unless you don't care if you're getting a hen or a rooster, you're much better off ordering from a supplier."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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