Michael Jusko, owner of Bennie’s Feed Barn (45a Main St, Bedford Hills 914-666-2368; www.benniesfeed.com), burst out laughing when I asked if he’d seen an increase in the number of Westchesterites raising chickens since he started his company in 2005. “The business just exploded in 2008, and it’s still growing,” he says. “People are looking for a simpler life and find they enjoy raising chickens. And once they discover how much better the eggs taste, they’ll never go back to the A&P.”
But it is not a hobby for the faint of heart. Robyn Field of Ossining started in 2006 and soon learned that “henpecked” wasn’t just an expression but a reality of life in the coop. There are thorny issues, like what to do with an ornery rooster or a hen that no longer lays eggs. Field lets “her girls” live out their lives in the coop after they’ve stopped producing, but an attack rooster she had was a different story. “I couldn’t keep it, and I couldn’t kill it. I finally took it to the butcher, in tears,” she recalls. That sentiment is common, as chickens can quickly become like pets. “When you watch them over a period of time, you find they have tremendous personalities,” Field says.
If you want to join the chicken-coop club, here are some things to keep in mind:
Keep it Legal: Don’t count your chickens before first checking your town ordinances. “Each community has its own rules, regulations, and restrictions,” Jusko says.
Safety First: Predators come from all directions: Foxes, coyotes, and possums will try to dig under the fence, and hawks will attack from above. The outdoor run requires a roof and wire fencing. What does all this safety cost? “Good isn’t cheap, and cheap isn’t good,” Jusko says. “A good coop can cost up to $1,000, but it will last a long time.”
Size Matters: “You need at least 2 square feet per bird of both indoor and outdoor space,” Field says. “It is easiest to have a structure that you can walk into for gathering the eggs and cleaning.”
Do the Math: You’ll need two hens to feed a family of four; each hen can lay about five eggs a week, starting at 10 months old.
Chicken Feed: Yep, it’s as cheap as you probably would’ve guessed: $35 for a 50-pound bag of organic food, which is about a month’s supply for Field’s flock of eight.