Backyard chickens laying golden eggs for some Mass. residents

BOSTON — With long lines outside grocery stores and empty meat displays inside, having enough food is a growing concern for many families. Instead of sitting back and worrying about how the coronavirus is impacting the food supply, some people are taking matters into their own hands and raising chickens so they can have a dependable supply of eggs.

“I think there is a question for people of a certain amount of control,” said Tia Pinney, a senior naturalist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society. “We’re just in a totally unknown area, with no idea of what’s happening.”

Pinney isn’t surprised that a search for more control has made chickens more popular.

“I think that eggs and chickens are unique in their accessibility, in terms of our food supply," she said. "You know, people aren’t going to think about raising a cow...you can collect all the eggs you want, and there you go, you’re good.”

The Saleeba family has been raising chickens for the past couple of years right in their suburban backyard.

“It doesn’t take much space to raise chickens,” aside from the initial expense of a few hundred dollars to build a coop, said Steve Saleeba. "You want to make sure it’s sealed off to predators, to coyotes, foxes, and weasels,” he said.

Pinney says getting the coop right is the first big challenge, and then after that, the chickens aren’t much of a bother. “Actually they’re not a lot of work," she said. "You do need to pay attention to them, but chickens are on-demand feeders, which means you just keep food available for them.”

How you feed chickens -- choosing between standard versus organic feed -- will determine whether you’re spending more or less on eggs over time. But for Pinney, fresh eggs do have one big advantage.

“From a culinary point of view, fresh eggs are spectacular,” she said. “Fresh eggs are decidedly different," especially if your chickens are eating well.

Believe it or not, Pinney says chickens can also become part of the family.

“They will get to know you. They will become very much a pet," she said. "They’ll recognize you and you will recognize them...so you can have a relationship with a chicken.”

Saleeba says his kids get a great lesson about nature every day, and that his chickens make him popular in the neighborhood.

“We give a lot of our eggs away to neighbors, which is not necessarily cost-efficient, but it makes us a lot of friends in the neighborhood," he said.

Another benefit to having chickens: a voracious appetite for bugs.

Most communities require a permit to raise chickens and restrictions by town vary. The state’s website is a good place to start sorting out what’s required.

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