November 21, 2014

All about animals: Families flocking to raise chickens

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Four-year-old Millie Frazee runs around her South Brownell Road yard, trying—this time unsuccessfully—to catch hen Tallulah, as her mother, Eve, and 11-year-old sister, Anna, look on.  (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Four-year-old Millie Frazee runs around her South Brownell Road yard, trying—this time unsuccessfully—to catch hen Tallulah, as her mother, Eve, and 11-year-old sister, Anna, look on. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

August 1, 2013

When Eve Frazee and her family were looking to relocate from their urban Connecticut home to Williston a year and a half ago, she had something unusual on her mind: raising chickens.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do forever,” Frazee said. “When we were house hunting, it was always in the back of my mind.”

Frazee said she wanted her family to “experience some element of raising food. “Something so my kids could connect where food comes from.”

Now, three chickens—each a different color and breed—hunt for food in their South Brownell yard each day, under the watchful eyes of her children.

The Frazee family is far from alone.

“I think it has become kind of the ‘it’ thing to have in your backyard,” Frazee said.

Local stores say they have seen a definite increase in the number and variety of people buying chicks in the spring.

Guy’s Farm and Yard sold about 2,000 chicks in the spring out of its Williston location alone, plus approximately 400 young turkeys, called poults.

“I’ve seen a huge increase,” said Kate Pank-Day, sales associate at Guy’s, who also noted that chicken feed sales have surged. “I think more people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from, and eggs and chicken are a staple in a lot of diets.”

Dina Marcotte, a manager at Depot Home and Garden in Essex, said the store sold about 1,000 chicks this spring.

“It’s definitely more of a thing to have a few chickens in your backyard,” she said.

People have long lived with chickens, as evidenced by their frequent appearance in our sayings. Pecking order, cooped up, henpecked, nest egg, mother hen, chickening out, ruling the roost, bad egg—just a sampling of the chicken-influenced language.

Lynn Blevins, who also has llamas and goats at her North Williston home, started her flock—now 10 strong—with a rooster that had been abandoned and picked up by the Humane Society. She and her husband brought the rooster—dubbed Feathers—home so their children could experience smaller animals.

They acquired an older hen, Fiona, as a companion for Feathers, then got eight chicks in the spring.

“Just watching their behavior is fascinating,” she said. “They have much more of a personality than I had realized chickens had.”

Frazee also said the chickens have distinct personalities, as well as their own places in the pecking order.

“They’re all so different,” Frazee said. “It’s really fun to watch.”

Frazee and her children (her husband is the lone chicken disliker in the family) have also enjoyed experimenting with the chickens’ favorite treats. Greek yogurt seems to be the forerunner.

“They’re definitely more pets than anything,” Frazee said.

Her youngest, Millie, 4, has especially taken to the chickens. She was thrilled to find the first two pullet eggs, laid over the weekend.

“She just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Millie is always first to put on what she calls her “farmer girl boots” and let the chickens out to forage—what’s known in the Frazee family as “chicken recess.”

Anna, 11, also likes tending the chickens.

“They’re cute and funny,” she said. “They’ve just got such personalities.”

Blevins said her chickens have also reached a somewhat pet-like status, even replacing her children on the family’s last Christmas card.

“They can capture your heart,” she said. “You do crazy things like put them on your Christmas card.”

KEEPING CHICKENS

Meat and laying chicks are available online and at local stores in the spring, usually when they are one or two days old. Kate Pank-Day of Guy’s Farm and Yard in Williston said new chicken keepers will need to stock up on a few essentials before taking their chicks home.

Chicks need a heat lamp and an enclosed place to stay until they are well-feathered, as well as starter food. Once they grow older, they need a predator-proof coop with somewhere to roost and nesting boxes. Chickens should also have a run, though some opt to let them roam free. Chickens need access to food and water 24/7.

Williston requires a lot size of at least one acre to keep livestock in the village and residential zoning districts, but does not have any restrictions in the agricultural zoning district.

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