By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Believe it or not, chickens make pretty good babysitters.
That may be a slight exaggeration, but they can entertain a one-year-old long enough for Mom to get some work done, according to Alexe van Beuren.
The Wagner Street resident is among a growing number of people who are raising backyard chickens as a way to provide fresh eggs for their families.
And, van Beuren said of her flock of a dozen fowl, “They are fun.”
She described placing her one-year-old son, Caspian, on a blanket and pouring some dry cereal on the ground in a circle around him. The chickens gathered to eat the cereal.
Babies have a short attention span, said van Beuren. But, Caspian was fascinated by the chickens circling around him and she was able to complete some chores nearby.
Currently the flock is providing five or six eggs a day, plenty for her family of four. Any extras are sold at van Beuren’s downtown business, the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery.
The chickens practically take care of themselves, she added. Her husband, Kagan Coughlin, built a coop from scraps leftover from refurbishing their house.
The flock goes into the coop in the evening and the door is secured. There is a wire enclosure on the coop called a run that allows the chickens to go outside, but still be protected.
“Raising poultry for egg production has become increasingly popular during the last few years,” said Danny Thornton, a poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“With the current economic situation, a lot of people are hoping to save money on food by raising their own birds for egg production,” he added
Thornton said raising a small flock can be relatively simple if owners are willing to put in the work to get started, and keep the birds healthy and well-fed.
“Don’t skimp on feed. Poultry need to have a balanced corn and soybean based diet with calcium phosphorus,” he said. “They don’t need extensive veterinary care or vaccinations, but they should always be vaccinated for fowl pox.”
Thornton said chickens can serve as more than just a food source to their owners. “What I find people enjoy most about these backyard flocks is that they can serve as a great hobby.”
Thornton said many retirees across the state enjoy keeping their own birds. Parents find backyard flocks are a good way to teach their children about responsibility.
“It is a good opportunity for children to learn about poultry and the care they need,” he said. “Kids can be put in charge of feeding the chickens, cleaning the coop and collecting eggs.”
Chickens range in color and size, some with large, fluffy crests and others with bright red feathers. Some people purchase chickens based on the traits certain breeds have. Some breeds have been described as good layers while others are said to be protective and maternal.
One of the common traits that van Beuren has observed firsthand with her hens is their stubbornness. They like to lay their eggs in the same location every time, she said.
Two of her hens are attempting to share the same nest, one sitting atop the other.