Shawnee resident Don Gibson, who has raised chickens for years, said there’s no comparison between a homegrown egg with a rich, yellow yolk and one that is purchased at the store.
The popularity of raising backyard chickens for fresh eggs seems to be on the rise for many, and Gibson has noticed his favorite pastime has turned into a growing trend.
“The chicken craze going on right now is at an all-time high,” he said, adding many people are choosing backyard flocks to harvest the fresh, natural eggs.
Gibson said home grown eggs provide the best nutrition as store-bought eggs often come from commercially raised hens that are fed steroids and antibiotics, he said.
“That can’t be good for you,” Gibson said, adding a home flock will produce natural eggs that taste much better.
“My chickens have no medications, no steroids” he said, adding, they’re “Old, country chickens.”
Gibson said anyone who compares a store-bought egg to a fresh egg would clearly be able to see and taste the difference in the yellow yolks.
With just a few hens of their own, a family can have a basket of eggs ready to collect and cook.
And because keeping backyard chickens is becoming a growing trend nationwide, many cities have chosen to review or ease ordinances, Gibson said, with Norman leading that trend in this area.
While those who live in rural and mostly agricultural areas should have no worries about keeping chickens, those who live in or near city limit areas should first refer to ordinances in their area before taking on a flock.
In Shawnee, backyard chickens are not allowed unless the residence is in an agricultural-zoned area.
Shawnee City Planner Justin Erickson said while chickens aren’t allowed without that specific zoning, the planning commission has recently been looking at city codes to see if there’s some flexibility.
Erickson said most of the agricultural-zoned areas where chickens would be allowed are on the outskirts of town, but there also are some residences inside the city limits with 5-or-10 acre lots.
But for most residences with average yards on city blocks, such as homes on Broadway Street, for example, he said keeping fowl isn’t allowed. But the planning commission may further address this issue in the future, he said.
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“There’s some interest in having flexibility there and to allow people to have chickens on even smaller lots,” Erickson said.
As Shawnee city code reads now, no person can keep any domestic fowl unless they live in an agricultural-zoned area. Those who can have them must keep coops or chicken houses clean and those must be kept 20 feet from any residence and 50 feet from any roadway.
In Tecumseh, City Manager Jimmy Stokes said those wanting to keep chickens also must live on property that is zoned for agricultural purposes.
Those unsure of zoning in their specific area or wanting more information about ordinances should contact their local city hall.
While many starting out with a flock might get young chicks, those wanting to raise a flock of hens should make sure to request pullets, which are female, while chicks sold as straight-runs are a gamble because they could be male or female. A rooster isn’t needed for a hen to lay eggs.
Chicks need a little extra care, such as a brooder light for warmth as they grow. But with good feed and nutrition, the pullets will grow up and start producing eggs in about 20 to 22 weeks.
Gibson, who also shows chickens at poultry shows as a hobby, keeps chickens for a laying flock to enjoy the fresh eggs they provide, while some that are kept as meat flock end up in the freezer for family dinners.
Whether raising a small flock of hens for the fresh eggs or for harvesting meat, there are countless breeds of chickens from which to choose, but there are many that can be dual-purpose birds.
Gibson said he likes to keep the Heritage breed of chickens, but he also has Buckeye and Welsummer breeds, indicating the Welsummer breed is his favorite.
For a small home flock, common hens kept for egg production are the Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock breeds, Gibson said.
A good laying hen can produce about 275 to 300 eggs each year, Gibson said, so a flock of about four could provide plenty of eggs to feed a family.
Just like any animal, chickens have basic needs, such as the right food along with plenty of fresh water.
With it being summertime, Gibson said he gives fresh water each day, along with electrolytes that he likes to call “Chicken Gatorade.” He also cuts down on the grain fed in the summer to keep chicken from being overheated.
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And just like any animal, they also need shelter, including a roost and a nest to lay eggs. He also keeps crushed oyster shells out for his hens, which helps them produce healthy, stronger-shelled eggs.
While someone could build their own chicken house or coop, Gibson said “chicken tractors,” which are basically portable chicken coops, are popular right now. They’re just about the right size for a small backyard flock.
While it’s important to provide shelter for the chickens, fowl also need to roam and forage. Chickens, while serving a purpose of producing eggs, are beneficial at keeping bugs at bay. As they scratch the ground in search of the perfect bug to supplement their diet, they’ll keep a yard free of many nuisance insects.
Chickens also can be peculiar and fascinating creatures to watch and raise.
“It’s fun,” Gibson said.