Backyard chickens — from food source to family pet

By Evan Sernoffsky

Some people have dogs, some people have cats and some people have chickens — that’s right, chickens.

Backyard chickens are one of the most popular new fads in the sustainability movement, but some families are finding that their chickens are making better pets than food sources.

Renee Hart has three chickens in her backyard: Midnight, Daisy and Sunlight. Her yard dips down a steep incline that is overgrown with assorted waist-high shrubs where the chickens find refuge and play with her dogs. “My dog Pollo plays with the chickens and that surprises a lot of people,” Hart said. “Most people think that a dog would try to eat a chicken.”

The birds have turned into somewhat of a neighborhood phenomenon. “The kids who come up to the fence really love them,” said Hart, who lives right behind Eugene Waldorf School in south Eugene. “They will throw bits of food and play with the chickens. I was amazed at how social these birds can be.”

Food may be a driving force behind a chicken’s behavior, but according to Hart, there are many responses that have nothing to do with being fed. “They even come when I call them,” she said. “They will sit and coo in my arms when I hold them. They are remarkably attentive birds.”

“The initial reason people get chickens is for food and sustainable gardening, but then they get attached and they become more of a pet than a food source,” said Ben McKechnie, owner of The Chicken Gardener, a local chicken coop manufacturer.

Thanks to the influx in backyard coops, McKechnie’s business has taken off. “We started one year ago and now we can hardly keep up. It is the winter right now and we are booked with orders for more than a month,” he said.

Business is also brisk at the Eugene Backyard Farmer, a local feed store for backyard chickens. “I would estimate that there are more than 1,000 families with backyard coops in the area,” owner Bill Bezuk said. “They are adorable birds. They are charming and have individual personalities.”

“Some people that have chickens don’t even eat the eggs. They give them to neighbors and friends,” Bezuk said. “The chickens are more like a member of the family.”

In the past year the local food movement has taken off in Eugene. Bezuk has noticed people’s concern about growing food organically and ethically. “A lot of people want to farm their own food but don’t have the means of a full-scale farm,” he said. “This is a way of bringing the country into your backyard.”

In the backyard of their house on Lincoln Street in Eugene, Brett Harding and Melissa Crehan have two ragged looking chickens. Woodsie, the older of the two, has more feathers on her feet than on her head and instead of walking she stumbles sideways. “That one doesn’t really do much of anything,” said Harding, while pointing to Woodsie and laughing. “We just keep them around because we have grown so attached. How can you get rid of something so cute?”

Their dog Bessie, a Pug in her twilight years, has grown fond of the chickens and sits patiently while the birds roam their yard for bits of food.

Now that the chicken craze has fully caught on, others are finding new ways to capitalize on these new pets. “There is a company that makes diapers for chickens,” McKechnie said. “I know a woman that actually keeps her chickens in the house with her.”

You can get diapers for your chickens online at chickendiapers.com.

This article originally appeared here.

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About evan1983

Evan Sernoffsky is a freelance journalist in Sacramento, California.
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