Brevard 4-H features popular Poultry Project
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Chickens…they’re not just for farms anymore. Poultry has arrived in the backyard as chickens have joined the ranks of suburban pets.
At the recent and massive Global Pet Expo in Orlando, the pet industry showcased the latest and greatest of a $69 billion industry. Among the products, upscale chicken coops and accessories such as natty chicken harnesses that allow you to walk your fowl in fair style reveal that chickens are sizzling hot these days.
One of the most popular programs offered by Brevard County 4-H is the Poultry Project, and most of the kids participating in it live in the “burbs” with its tiny backyards. Space may be at a premium, but they make room for the birds because they’re interesting and have unique personalities.
“Chickens are very popular with the kids,” said Brevard 4-H agent Andrea Lazzari.
Each year, the kids, who range in age from five-year-olds to seniors in high school, can purchase six chicks of egg-laying breeds such as this year’s New Hampshire Reds. They raise the birds at home or in the community coop by the Equine Center at Wickham Park, and in March their brood goes up for auction, at times for serious bucks.
This year’s top moneymaking chicken, for example, brought $240, which, you have to admit, is not chicken feed. These hens are not destined for the fryer, but rather will hopefully spend long, productive lives as egg-layers for other suburban chicken keepers.
The 4-H Youth Fair and Market Poultry Auction culminates the chicken-raising project, but many kids have chickens they keep as their own pets. Some have been successful bids from previous auctions, but not all.
Eleven-year-old Hannah Wagner raised six New Hampshire Reds this year, three of which went up for market auction. The other three were given to friends interested in fresh eggs. At her backyard in Palm Bay, Hannah keeps the four prize bantams she often shows. For Easter, the family had dozens of tiny eggs to color, thanks to the diminutive fowl.
Next year, Hannah will be joined in the Poultry Project by her brother, five-year-old Cooper. Their mother, Katie Roth, is pleased with her children’s interest in the birds.
“The birds are easy to keep and fun to have,” she said. “Many people in our neighborhood keep chickens.”
For kids, chickens teach important lessons in responsibility and self-sufficiency. Participants in the Poultry Project are required to keep records of cost and time investment, so the students also learn a little about financial management.
For adults, raising poultry can be a zen-like activity that reminds of simpler times.
However, if you are planning to join Hannah and Cooper in the world of chickens, don’t count your chickens before they are hatched and do due diligence, because chickens are still verboten in some areas of Brevard. Homeowners’ associations are notorious for refusing to have the pitter patter of chicken feet in their neighborhoods.
The eggs may taste better than those you purchase at the grocery store, but they don’t come cheap. A baby chick can cost as little as a dollar or two, but that is just the beginning.
Harris Corporation engineer Matt Erway, whose daughters raise chickens in his Palm Bay backyard, spends north of $30 on the organic chicken feed the four hens consume in a month. Add the dried mealworms treats and the feeding costs mount.
Then there is the coop. Of course, you can cobble up a handmade nest for your chicks, but resisting the charms of coops such as Ware Pet Products’ Chicken Chateau, with its country chic style, can be tough.
Online retailers such as Walmart, Hayneedle and Wayfair now routinely carry upscale coops, some of which, like the Advantek Rooftop Garden ($394.19 at Walmart) allow space for growing chickens as well as fresh veggies.
Chickens don’t take long to go from tiny peeps to serious egg-layers. By about six months, the eggs begin to appear. With a fowl foursome such as Erway’s, you can expect a supply of two or three eggs a day.
However, by age four, the chickens begin to slack off in egg production and eventually stop altogether. They can live for several more years, but you should be prepared to bankroll their golden years and not expect anything in return.
Professional chicken growers such as Andrew Malone of Funky Chicken Farm in West Melbourne do not get attached to their poultry and change them every three years or so. He recommends replacement instead of adding chickens since hens establish a pecking order that could result in serious fights and stress amongst the flock.
However, replacement usually entails selling or giving the older hens to someone looking for ingredients for chicken noodle soup, so if you are of the ilk who bonds quickly with animals, you might be in for some heartbreak, for as any fan of chickens know, the engaging creatures can easily sashay their way into your heart.
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