Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Looking for a new pet? Think chickens.

This column was published in the Bay Area News Group papers on October 14, 2010.

Many people have dogs and cats as pets. Some have chickens.

“We think of them as low maintenance pets,” said Sondra Perry, who with her husband bought three baby chicks eight months ago after removing the grass from their San Ramon backyard to create a garden.

“We got the chickens to help with the bugs and to improve the soil,” she said. “We also liked the idea of having fresh eggs.”

The couple, who grew up around horses but not chickens, kept the chicks indoors for 90 days before moving them outside into a yellow hen house.

Named Mother, Raven and Braveheart, the chickens recently began laying eggs and produce about three eggs every day, one from each chicken.

“The chickens were my husband’s idea,” Perry said. “He likes them and they follow him into the garden waiting for him to overturn something so they can get fresh bugs.”

While the San Ramon couple’s children are grown, Perry said chickens are great for kids.
Susan Case agrees. “Our four-year-old daughter calls our chickens chirpies,” said Case, who lives in Pleasanton. “She helps feed them and checks their water.”

Purchased in March, three of the five chickens are named Ming-Ming, Jello, and Rudolph.

“It’s not that we don't want to name the other two,” Case said, “but their personalities haven't shown yet.”
Case said when the chickens were younger, Ming-Ming, who resembles a cartoon character with the same name, would sit on the handlebars of her daughter’s tricycle as she rode around.

“Surprisingly, that poor chicken held on,” said Case, although Ming-Ming had a “deer-in-the-headlight look” during such excursions.

Along with teaching pet care, Case said the chickens offer an opportunity to teach math and counting.

“My daughter counts the eggs and if they’re in different nesting boxes, we ask her to explain how they add together,” Case said.

While the Case family owns five chickens, six is the limit in Pleasanton, and that’s the number owed by Jana Halle, another Pleasanton resident who teaches middle school and has owned chickens for several years. Her chickens are named Trudy (actually, Trudy-With-An-Attitudy, she explains,) Dottie, Deedee, Dori, Sunny and Shady.

Halle said families with backyard chickens should avoid roosters, which can disturb neighbors when they crow in the early morning. Pet chickens should be hens, and it’s important to pay attention to breed, she said. Bantams are smaller chickens and suitable for a backyard. Bantams include several types, and Halle owns four Wyandottes and two English Game hens.

Halle said some people assume hens can’t lay eggs without a rooster in the house. This isn’t true. The eggs won’t hatch into chicks, but hens still lay eggs, she said.

Because it’s difficult to tell the difference between baby hens and roosters, Halle tells a funny story about watching one of two young Wyandottes develop a prominent comb, what she called a kind of Elvis Presley look.

“I thought maybe I’d purchased a rooster by accident,” she said.

Because she would never kill a chicken, she researched chicken sanctuaries and was ready to drop off her rooster. But before she did, she separated the two maturing Wyandottes overnight and requested they each lay an egg to prove they were hens. In the morning, Halle was relieved to find an egg under each chicken.

Halle, like Perry and Case, recommends chickens as pets, as long as families do their homework and understand the commitment required to properly care for and clean up after the animals.

“I love my chickens,” said Halle.


Violet Carr Moore said...

My mother raised chickens for eggs. She sold or bartered the extra eggs. The cocky bantam rooster was my favorite. His colorful plumes waved as he strutted in the pen with the full-size white Leghorns, the Rhode Island Reds, valuable egg producers, and the mean-spirited speckled Dominicker hens. Fluffy baby chicks were common. They seemed surprised when they grew up and realized they were different breeds.

Jim Ott said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Violet. Seems a lot of people have had chickens at one time or another in their lives. It's nice to know that even in this day when eggs are so easily available in grocery stores that people can still maintain chickens!