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Apr 022010
 

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

Raising chickens has become Kathy Bonham’s passion. She and her husband Mike grew up with chickens as kids in Iowa, but since marrying at the age of 18, the couple hadn’t been around farm animals in many years.

Kathy Bonham's growing flock

Kathy Bonham's growing flock

After moving to Missouri a year ago, they decided to start a  “chickens for eggs” enterprise. It seemed like a good idea now that their five children were grown and their new home was situated on four acres.

Because she hadn’t been around chickens for so long, Bonham started researching the project. “I initially wanted to raise chickens for the eggs,” she says.

Many home chicken farmers get into the business to raise their own cage-free, vegetarian-fed, Omega oil-rich eggs, which have been shown to be nutritionally superior to commercial eggs from chickens raised in industrial settings.

“The eggs from your own chickens taste so much better than store-bought eggs,” Bonham says. “People at work buy eggs from us. They say they’ll never go back to store-bought.”

She says once she got into her research project, her motivation for raising chickens changed. “I decided I wanted to help with the preservation of the Heritage breed, which are on the endangered species list.”

She started with chicks. “I’d been told to get twice as many as we wanted because half of them would die,” she says, so she bought about 45 chickens. They all survived. The Bonhams now have more than 200. “We are not keeping them all,” she is quick to say. “We are helping get some chickens started for other families.”

In the course of her research, Bonham discovered BackYardChickens.com.

“I became addicted,” she said.

BackYardChickens.com, for the uninitiated, is the Bible for chicken breeders everywhere. Started in 1999, the website gained some popularity, but it really took off when it was re-launched in 2007 by business consultant Rob Ludlow, who co-authored Raising Chickens for Dummies.

Using his experience with online businesses, Ludlow energized the site with information on building chicken coops, chicken breeds, hatching eggs, incubators, feeding chickens and chicken predators. Ads that pertain to all things chicken as well as some truck ads are part of the site.

“I was adamant that the site needs to maintain itself financially,” says Ludlow. Hosting a website is expensive, he says. Anyone can view the site, but loyal followers have the option to become “golden-feather members,” an upgrade that includes a financial commitment. Rob estimates the site has about 50,000 members from around the world.

BackYardChickens.com also features an online store that sells chicken-raising products as well as T-shirts and bumper stickers. The site’s message board has proven very popular, uniting chicken breeders from all over by sharing info daily on the best ways to raise chickens. “Despite their differences all members of our community respect each other and get along,” Ludlow says.

A recent exchange:

Question from “New Egg”: Hi, Everyone! I have a head of cabbage left over from St. Patty’s day and would like to share it with my flock. What’s the best way to do this? Should I cook it? Leave it raw? Break it up in pieces? Don’t want it to go to waste, and I’ve had my fill for this year.

Reply from “Chicken Obsessed”: Hang it by a piece of string just out of reach and watch for fun. Lol. Mine love it and I get a real kick out of watching them play ball.

Tatertot (Photo: Steffanie

Tatertot (Photo: Steffanie Schaeffer)

In many cases, chicken breeders are not only raising chickens for eggs, but as pets, too.

Steffanie Schaeffer of Martinez, Ca., got started raising chickens two years ago with the intent of getting eggs. The birds quickly became pets. “My boyfriend and his son were doing it first and it seemed like a lot of fun. It was hard to resist.” She now has three chickens: Tatertot, Gwen, and Lola.