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For the Batts family, what was originally going to be a months-long 4-H project raising chickens turned out to be a multi-year venture that has grown exponentially.
“There’s a running joke in the backyard chicken community of something called chicken math,” said Beka Batts of Saratoga. “Basically, you start with two chickens, and then all of a sudden you have five chickens, and then you have 20 chickens. And that turns to 30 chickens, and you don’t realize how bad it got until it got that bad.”
Batts will be on hand Jan. 21 when the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County holds an information session on backyard chickens. The event is from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Wilson County Agricultural Center.
To house the family’s growing flock, husband Tommy Batts built a coop in the backyard using plans he had found online.
The 10-by-12-foot building cost about $500 and took three days to complete.
The coop has a set of commercial nesting boxes and a roost from Beka’s family.
“My father used it for his chickens growing up, and he gave it to us,” Beka Batts said. “The roost that we have my grandfather made.”
The coop has a storage room for feed and other supplies, and the chickens have about 80 square feet of area.
FED AND WATERED
“I have enjoyed having the chickens. I help out with most of the stuff,” said daughter Erika, who has participated in 4-H with her show chickens.
“The only difference is when it’s show time, she works a lot more with her chicken so it’s well-behaved,” Tommy Batts said.
Beka Batts said it doesn’t take a lot of time each day to maintain the chickens.
“We make sure that they have food and water every day, and we collect eggs every day,” she aid. “We are fortunate that we can free-range ours so they just kind of play on their own. About every two weeks or so we clean out the coop to make sure it is all clean, but other than that, it’s not a very big time commitment at all.”
Currently, the Batts family’s coop houses 22 chickens, four of which are roosters.
“We have 18 hens and only about 14 of them are laying age, and we get about seven eggs a day,” Beka Batts said.
Erika said the eggs taste better than store-bought ones.
“I think anything you work really hard for tastes better, so anything that you put blood and sweat and tears into just gives a sweeter taste in your mouth than something you just hand money over for,” Beka said. “We have brown egg layers. We have two green egg layers. We have big white eggs and little white eggs. And then sometimes we will get some shades of pink, which is quite interesting.”
Free-ranging chickens can be susceptible to predators.
“We have lost a few to a hawk. We think he just carried them off,” Beka Batts said. “We had what we think was a weasel get into one of our coops and just massacred about 10 of them. That was a really bad morning.”
Erika said it was “heartbreaking.”
“Luckily it left one last 4-H chicken, so I was still able to do the show,” Erika said.
The Battses reinforced the coop using hardware cloth and plywood.
“Chicken wire, although chicken is in its name, is not very strong whatsoever, and a raccoon, possum, weasel can easily stretch it out, bend it to where it can for a hole and get through it,” Erika said.
Ginger Godwin, who lives inside the Wilson city limits, has had varying numbers of backyard chickens for three years and also suffered predation in her flock.
Godwin got started with three pullets, or young hens, given to her by a friend.
“We had them about three days, and my kids went out to see them in the coop before they went to school and apparently did not lock the door securely,” Godwin said.
The family dog killed all three chickens.
“That was really bad. Then I had to tell the kids when they came home from school, which was awful,” Godwin said. “But it is part of the lessons that we learn, and I wanted my kids to have the experience of the chickens and raising the chickens and caring for them and collecting the eggs and feeding them and making sure their water was clean.”
The birds were replaced, and now the dogs can be out with the chickens and they don’t harm them.
Jessica Anderson, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension livestock agent who will be hosting the backyard chicken information session, encourages families to build coops that can withstand would-be predators.
“We have had issues in the county as far as dogs getting into chicken coops as well as coyotes, and cats and raccoons and possums and weasels are notorious for getting into chicken coops,” Anderson said. “Build it high and build it sturdy and make sure that you have allow your entry points covered.”
LAY BY THE RULES
County and city regulations differ with respect to poultry. In the city, for instance, roosters are not permitted. Roosters tend to crow from the early morning hours throughout the day.
Anderson said she hopes the information session will draw interested people who are curious about having their own backyard chickens.
The session will focus on laying hens, housing requirements, safety, nutrition, basic care and city and county ordinances dealing with poultry.
“I think that having chickens in the backyard that are laying eggs might hearken back to some folks with their grandmother’s house or some place in the past where they have had access to home-raised chicken eggs,” Anderson said.
Anderson said a chicken coop is a small project that is accessible to people who live in city limits.
“It is some way of having some sort of livestock without having your goat or your pig or your milk cow,” Anderson said. “They are really great for families that have kids, so that way they can start teaching them at a young age where their food comes from.”