MONTROSE, Colo. (AP) – Maybe it’s the flavor of fresh eggs, or maybe it’s knowing where they came from. Whatever the reason, the popularity of “backyard” chickens is growing.

There are standard egg-laying chickens and larger growing chickens for eating. Some chickens grow faster than others, while some are better in colder temperatures. Some eat lots of food, others shouldn’t have much at all. And some are just nice to look at.

“There are all sorts of reasons why people pick out what they want,” said Jean Distel of Producer’s Co-op in Montrose.

Distel has been helping customers order the right chicks for a “long time,” and before that, had raised them growing up on her family’s farm.

This year, the Co-op and Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply stores have seen an increase in chick sales to city residents. The hot commodity are egg-laying chickens, Distel said, because new owners don’t always want to hassle with butchering (and a most of the time, they get too attached to their new feathery friends).

Andrea Gray-Hoover is one of those residents.

Three years ago, the Hoover family got the “product” of their daughter’s “chicken-hatching experiment.” The family found they enjoyed having chickens in their backyard. They even got the neighbors hooked, and at one time, both adjacent neighbors also had chickens.

She now has a flock of seven who lay about five to six eggs a day during the warmer months. And a supplement is given to the chickens during the winter so that egg production says fairly regular.

Hoover said the egg are higher in protein and antioxidants then store-bought eggs, and have a wonderful flavor for baking.

The Hoover family — as well as hundreds of others in the city — can have chickens because the city code is fairly vague when addressing poultry within its limits. The code touches on poultry running at large, which is prohibited, but nothing about the number a person can own, said Acting City Manager Scott Sellers in an email.

Nor does the code address having a rooster within city limits, however, roosters could be restricted under the city’s noise ordinances.

Although Montrose’s codes are fairly relaxed, some Colorado cities have changed their codes to address the growing desire for backyard chickens.

“In terms of statewide … backyard production and gardening is becoming more popular and tacked onto that is chickens,” said Trent Hollister, CSU area 4-H and youth extension development agent for the Tri River Area.

He said that extension offices across the state are getting more request for information on raising backyard chickens.

This prevalence in “small-scale ag production” in urban environments started on the Front Range with many farm-to-table initiatives, he said.

And with growing popularity, came more rules. Some cities restrict the number of chickens, charge a licensing fee and/or ban roosters, according to the Colorado Poultry Association website.

Hollister said there are three perceptions, which he believes drives people toward local foods: locally bought means the moneys stays in the community, there is an awareness of where it came from, and local means fresh. Those who are able to get their morning meal from the backyard will tell you that it beats “store bought” any day.

But it’s not just fresh eggs. Chicken waste is considered good fertilizer and chickens love to eat weeds and bugs. They’ll eat kitchen scraps and feed is fairly inexpensive, as is the cost of a chicken — under $3. And they’re quite comical to watch as well.

“I think we are seeing a change,” Distel said. “It used to be more of a family-farm operation, now more people in town are taking the opportunity to raise chickens.”

– By Kati O’Hare, Montrose Daily Press

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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