The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 24, 2013

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Adventure in backyard chicken farming begins

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

PITTSBURG, Kan. — I am sitting on the floor of my bathroom next to a cardboard box filled with pine shavings and warmed by a 250-watt red bulb, once again celebrating motherhood. More or less.

I have wanted chickens for as long as I can remember — since my early childhood days of exploring probably the best chicken coop ever built. It was on my grandmother’s eight acres in Duquesne. My great-grandmother had chickens, too, and by all accounts she often preferred their company to that of other humans when her mood wasn’t one to be messed with.

They were boot-wearing women who knew how to swing an ax and tend a garden, and I always admired them. But they did it out of sheer necessity — for the daily table. We’re doing it because we prefer both the idea and the nutritional content of farm-raised eggs, and because we want our children to have the experience.

It helps that we’re critter people. For 10 years, I’ve hosted aquariums of turtles and skinks and hermit crabs and hamsters in my kitchen, my dining room, my living room. We’ve raised baby mallards, and we enjoy the Canada geese on our wetland out back.

When it comes to chickens, however, we’re complete newbies. So I acquired a stack of books, browsed blogs and other online resources, and began seeking out others with experience in backyard flocks.

Luckily there are plenty in the Pittsburg area.

Veterinarians Micky and Mary Sue Painter, who have a large backyard flock, gave me a tour of their coop and answered a thousand questions. Delia Lister, the Nature Reach director, assured me that it’s well worth the investment of time and infrastructure, as long as I choose the heaviest gauge wire so as to stave off predators like the raccoons and foxes that often visit our two acres.

“You’ll love it,” she guaranteed of chicken farming, with her characteristic smile.

Numerous others who turned out at Blue Ribbon Farm & Home on Friday morning to meet the Heartland Hatchery man with his boxes of chicks offered their suggestions as to the best breeds and what to expect in terms of egg production.

Nakia Oehme, who works there, was a wealth of information, and he said we could call any time with questions.

Jason and Tammy Grotheer and their two girls were there, too, but just to do reconnaissance — they won’t get theirs until the chick guy returns on March 15. It will be nice to be starting our adventure at roughly the same time as a family we know, as then we can commiserate if something goes wrong and celebrate when something goes right.

I told Delia that perhaps we should consider starting an urban chicken farmer club, which could meet occasionally at the Pittsburg Public Library to swap stories and tips, and perhaps tour each other’s coops to gain ideas and inspiration.

But now, I must get back to watching our chicks, named in honor of the day we got them — George Washington’s birthday. The Rhode Island Red is Georgia, and the Cinnamon Queen is Martha. Or is it the other way around? I’m still learning which is which. I do know that the Black Sex-link is Dolly (Madison) and the Ameraucana is Washington — which has a 50-50 chance of turning out to be a rooster.

You can follow their progress at andrastefanoni.blogspot.com

Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.