Anne Mazar: Raising backyard chickens

Anne Mazar

Eating locally grown and raised food can be healthy for you, good for the environment and delicious to eat. And what could be more local than your own backyard?

I buy "Peg's Eggs" from my neighbor Peggy Veal. The eggs are fresh, unlike the average store-bought eggs that can be months old. The richness of Peg's Eggs lifts my recipes up several notches in flavor. Studies have shown that pasture-raised chicken eggs are more nutritious.

When I buy my eggs, I can see the chickens clucking and cackling contently around the yard. This is in stark contrast to the factory farm –– which provides the majority of our eggs and meat –– where live chicks are tossed into the garbage if they are not perfect.

The ones they keep live are often in confined, miserable conditions requiring antibiotics for the chickens and providing the breeding ground for salmonella bacteria, which can cause severe food poisoning in humans. Visit for more on this topic.

Peggy Veal and Alan Kolbe decided to have chickens when they bought their property in Mendon, Mass. Their yard had ticks. Veal remembered when she lived in Mississippi that the chickens ate the ticks, providing the hens with essential protein.

They bought a dozen chickens, which kept the ticks at bay, and they had scrumptious eggs. A hen, in her peak, will produce about three eggs every four days. Now they have 40 chickens, sell the eggs and share the joy of raising the chicks and chickens with their grandchildren. It reminds Veal of the days when she collected eggs and fed chickens with her grandmother.

Spring is in the air, and the spring chickens have hatched. What do you need to get started? Veal says it is a responsibility. Every day, eggs are collected. In the morning, the chickens need to be let out of the hen house and put back in at night. If you go away, arrangements need to be made for their care.

You will need an area that can be kept at 90 degrees for about four to five weeks to raise the chicks until they have their feathers. Also necessary is a hen house and a fenced-in area to protect them from predators like hawks, owls, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and dogs. Some people put a wire mesh across the top for more protection. You will need to provide clean water and feed, and buy the chicks already inoculated or feed them medicated grain. Providing more light during the winter will keep up the egg production.

The hens can also be let out into your yard and garden if you are around. Veal notes that if they are left out in the yard all day, they will make a mess of your landscape plants and are at risk from predators. However, they love grubs, beetles and other pests. Moveable fences can allow the chickens to work on different areas of the yard, providing fertilizer and insect removal.

Roosters are not needed in order for the hens to lay eggs. But when you purchase an order of chicks, usually a few roosters sneak through since it is hard to determine their gender when they are small. The roosters provide a warning call when a predator is around and help to protect the hens. They also mate with the hens, which can fertilize the eggs, but a chick will not develop unless an effort is made to keep the egg warm.

Veal says it is a good idea to talk with your neighbors and local Board of Health before buying chickens. Make sure to follow your town's regulations.

Kolbe says that the chickens are smarter than people think, and they have personalities. Veal finds the bustling flow of the chickens very calming.

To learn more, a hands-on, informative magazine is Backyard Poultry, and a helpful website is

If you are unable to have your own chickens, try to buy your eggs locally from a small farm. If you buy them at a store, visit to see ratings on organic eggs.

Anne Mazar is an environmental advocate and a member of the Mendon Land Use Committee in Massachusetts.