Cambrian: Opinion

Mountain Musings: Hens in the hills

Remember all those Westerns that used to be on TV? Every time a cowboy or an outlaw rode up to a homestead there would always be several chickens in the yard. They’d squawk and scatter when the horses ran through the middle of them. The woman of the house would often have an apron full of eggs or she’d be frying up a few for guests. Occasionally she’d have culled and butchered one from the flock.

Nowadays fewer and fewer folks are familiar with that lifestyle. And even though life in these Santa Lucia Mountains, the backcountry of Cambria, lends itself to such, most of us would have to admit it’s a whole lot easier — and in all likelihood more practical — to go to the market and buy a carton of eggs or cellophane wrapped chicken than to do it yourself.

If the thought of raising backyard chickens, especially for “home-grown” eggs appeals to you, there are things to consider. First would be county regulations. In an area zoned residential multi-family, chickens are not allowed. For residential single family zones it’s one hen per 500 square feet of site, but no roosters are allowed except in situations where the site is greater than two acres surrounded by properties with equal or greater than acreage. If the site is zoned residential suburban or residential rural, citizens are allowed one chicken per 500 square feet of the site.

Another factor to consider is housing and its maintenance. Laying hens attract hawks, bobcats, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, and stray neighborhood dogs. Given opportunity all the above will gladly make a meal of your “girls” and/or their eggs. Aviaries with wire on the top and sides aren’t secure enough. Hungry animals dig their way in unless wire or some sort of barrier (mine is corrugated metal) goes down into the ground a couple feet. To build a predator proof coop you’d need plans similar to that of Fort Knox complete with troops to guard the place.

Still, as tight as you believe your coop has been constructed — if there’s an opening big enough for a ground squirrel you can forget about fresh eggs and you can count on a bigger feed bill. These cute little rascals can turn into a big problem. With access to eggs and layer pellets they multiply rapidly.

That being said, there are few food products that are as beneficial for you as fresh eggs from your own chickens. To be the keeper of happy hens is to feed your body and nourish your soul.

Michele Oksen (overtheridge@sbcglobal.net) lives in Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range.

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