The Herald-Mail interviewed four Washington County families that raise chickens for food and hobby.
- David Gray Sr. and his son, David Gray Jr., keep three chickens on their quarter-acre lot in Boonsboro.
- Deb IntVeldt keeps nine chickens on her 1.25 acre lot on Beaver Creek Road.
- Susan Simonson and her family keep about 30 chickens on a 5-acre hobby farm on Beaver Creek Road.
- Bob and Kristin Garrett keep seven chickens on their 10-acre property near Fairplay.
Q: What appeals to you about raising chickens?
A: "We like the idea of our children knowing that things came from hard work and animals, rather than the grocery store, and we just wanted them to have that experience," Simonson said.
IntVeldt, a master gardener, said her interest in chickens stemmed from a desire to have more control over her food supply.
"I grow a lot, and it just seemed like a logical next step, to provide some of my own protein," she said.
The quality of farm-fresh eggs appealed to all of the chicken farmers.
"Store-bought eggs from caged hens are usually very yellow and the yolks are very flat, which is because they're older," Simonson said. "A farm fresh egg has a very circular yolk that stands up in a nice ball and it's much oranger."
The Garretts said reading about how commercial chickens are kept — packed into a small space where they live and die — reinforced their desire to keep their own chickens.
"They're just egg-laying machines," Kristin Garrett said of commercial chickens.
Raising backyard chickens is not a money-making proposition, chicken raisers agreed.
"You could probably buy eggs for less than it costs to feed your chickens, but they bring you joy in so many other ways," Bob Garrett said. "Just being with them, learning about them, watching them."
"The little hens are so sweet and endearing and amusing, and there's something very ... calming about watching them do their thing," Kristin Garrett said.
Q: What kind of shelter and pen do they need?
A: The chicken house should have 1 square foot of floor space per bird, plus nest boxes and roosts, University of Maryland Extension Educator Jeff Semler said. They should also have an outside run where they can get outside and scratch the ground, he said. 5 feet by 5 feet is an adequate run size for most residential situations, he said.
The Grays built their 4-foot-by-6-foot chicken coop from plywood and shingles. It has a roughly 12-foot-by-12-foot run surrounded by a 6-foot-high fence.