Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Free Backyard Chicken Workhop

Learn about raising chickens for eggs and meat in your backyard and in a cooperative at a free information night on Sunday, March 7, 6-7:30 pm, at First Church Unitarian, 19 Foster St., Littleton.

An optional potluck meal will be offered at 5 pm (no signup necessary). Childcare available if requested in advance.

I'll be moderating a panel of five chicken keepers -- Brad Bigelow of Littleton, Denali Delmar of Westford, Alison Kaiser of Littleton, Margaret Miley of Acton -- about how to get started keeping chickens alone or in a co-operative. Learn about chicken shelters, yields, breeds, disease prevention, predators, equipment, vacation care, butchering (it’s not that hard), predators and more.

Notice I didn't call us "experts" :-) I know enough to feed them, keep them alive and gather eggs. I even participated in the butchering at right.

People will be invited to join a community egg co-operative in Littleton to share the work and benefits of raising backyard chickens together, and to join a meat co-operative to raise chickens for meat. Joining a chicken co-op is fun, shares the workload and offers the opportunity for people to learn from each other.

Raising backyard chickens is gaining in popularity across America with the local foods movement. The typical food has been transported 1,500 miles. Eggs from backyard chickens travel a few feet from coop to table and are incredibly delicious, fresh and satisfying to raise and eat. Raising chickens will lower your carbon footprint and make new friends in the community.

This free workshop will provide information and confidence to get started raising backyard eggs and meat on your own and to join a meat and egg co-operative.

The workshop is sponsored by the Green Sanctuary Task Force of First Church Unitarian. Children welcome. Please RSVP if you need free childcare. Come for the potluck before or just the meeting. The public is invited. You do not have to attend the meeting to join a co-op. No registration required for attendance. If you're bringing something for the potluck, just bring it!

For more information contact Susan Tordella, 978-772-3930, or call the church at 978-486-3044.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When the weather outside is frightful

The chickens are not that fond of snow and cold. They're managing in their unheated, unlit hen house and venture out for water that has frozen during the day since mid-December.

Because I have not invested in a water heater, it's my duty to carry out fresh water twice a day or more, depending on how cold it is.

Besides the satisfaction of raising my own absolutely delicious eggs , the next best aspect to keeping chickens is my heightened connection to what's happening outside. I must monitor the weather to determine how often fresh water is needed, or if to move the feed can inside in case of rain. I like to keep the feed outside to encourage them to spend time outside.

Like a farmer, I keep tabs on the weather. It's like having a pet or a child -- they occupy a corner of my radar screen. Like a pet or a child, rewards accompany the responsibilities.

I still haven't decided whether chicken keeping is a long-term avocation.

My son Ian, 25, an organic farmer whose friend raises chickens advised me to "Put a light out in the hen house to increase my yield" during winter, when egg production decreases along sunshine.

It would require cracking a window to run an extension cord or Bob to install an outside outlet and running an extension cord. I'm collecting about two eggs a day, which could double if I illuminated the hen house from 4 am to 6 am.

I have the timer, light and extension cord. I even have Bob. What I don't have yet is the time for Bob to upgrade the technology. Electricity changes farming. I could use it to heat my water. We're managing so far with traditional means.

Increasing my yield is tempting, however, now that all five hens are producing. I do love collecting the eggs and eating them. Raising chickens can always be counted on as party conversation because it's still such a novelty.

More than that is the "chop wood, carry water" reminder that we depend on the earth, weather and animals for our existence, a reality we usually overlook.