Here a Chick, There a Chick, Everywhere a Chick, Chick

By Tracey Moro / Photography by Jamie Libstaff

Raising a pet from a very young age teaches responsibility. You must care for it, provide shelter, food and bathe it. As it grows you make sure it has what it needs, enough space to run around, a place to sleep. And sometimes you show it off to your friends. That’s what these families, who are raising chickens for laying eggs said, only they’ve gotten so much more than just eggs out of raising these feathered friends at their home.

“Our idea was to teach our kids responsibility and that food doesn’t always have to come from the grocery store. With a little hard work, taking care of something can be rewarding,” said Jamie Libstaff, mom to Grant and Grace. “Every morning before school my kids bring food and water to the chickens and bring in the eggs. They can’t wait for me to cook them for breakfast.”

The Libstaffs started with six chicks that were two weeks old but ended up rehoming two that turned out to be roosters. “It’s not super easy but it’s not hard either,” said Libstaff. “We clean the coop every week. The chickens not only supply us with delicious eggs, we enjoy their company.”

When asked what the best part of having chickens was, Libstaff explained easily –“ the eggs! Nothing beats a fresh egg.” However,she explained how much they love watching them explore the yard and how they’re great pest control. “They eat all bugs including mosquitoes and ticks. Our neighbors love them too,” Libstaff said. “It’s important to us that the kids are outside, learning how to take care of the chickens and the garden. I believe that it will help them grow up to be more productive members of society.”

The Farkas family, moved from Warren to Richmond for a “better life” and to be out in the country. With two children to help out with chores they felt raising chickens – and turkeys and ducks – was an investment that would come back to them. “We eat better. We have a big garden and we freeze a lot. We haven’t bought store eggs in years,” said Laszlo Farkas. He said his 25 chickens sometimes bring in as many as 20 eggs a day. With six acres the Farkas’ have plenty of space for everything. “It’s not a big deal. Not a lot of care to clean and feed them. We put our muscle and mind together. It’s more work, but we appreciate it.”

Do It Yourself

Having chickens is easy and springtime is the time to start says Manager Ken VanArsdale of the Richmond Family Farm and Home store. “Easter seems to be the kickoff, but we start selling chicks in early March,” said VanArsdale. “Our chicks arrive one day old. They come through the mail.”

VanArsdale explained how you can start chicks out in a box in your garage or utility room, with a heat lamp, food and water. The heat must be 95 degrees for the first two weeks and can drop five degrees each week until the temp matches the outside. After four weeks they need a cover so they don’t fly away. The chicks will be fully feathered by eight to 10 weeks and can then keep themselves insulated.

By 25 weeks old, depending on the flock and bird, you can sometimes get four to six eggs a week from each chicken and they will continue to do that for two to three years with the amounts changing with the seasons.

He explained a small coop is all you need to get started and he recommended at least an acre for the chickens to roam.

The coop will need straw bedding, pine shavings, a heat lamp in the winter, nesting boxes the size of a milk crate, and a perch for roosting. He also recommends having power in the coop for light and to keep the water from freezing.

One of the best ways to learn about raising chickens is through the Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) 4-H program in Macomb County. That is what Dan and Deneen Dillingham did with their two daughters when they decided to raise chickens. “My youngest was four years old when my husband suggested we get chickens. I told him he was crazy,” said Deneen. More than 10 years later she loves raising chickens and has recently retired from her position of Poultry Leader for the School Section 4-H Club, the oldest 4-H club in Macomb County. “My friend was the leader when my daughters got involved. After she quit, they asked me to do it, so I did.”

Comparing her position to a Girl Scout leader, Deneen led meetings with youth ages five to 19 teaching them about poultry birds. Each student would pick a project (animal) to raise and show at the Armada Fair. “They would learn bathing, feather patterns, handling, the anatomy, and how to display the bird for judging,” added Deneen.

Deneen’s daughters Anna and Sarah have both shown chickens and learned all about the process of laying eggs. “I chose the poultry since I was younger and couldn’t do the bigger animals,” said Sarah. “You can tell what color eggs they lay by their ear color.”

“They need 12 hours of sunlight a day to lay an egg,” Deneen added. “We keep a light on all the time in their coop during the winter.”

“Like any herd, each chicken has a personality, and some are naturally friendly, others curious. And we’ve given them names.” added Dan.

Most importantly, continued Dan, “They don’t need a rooster to lay eggs. But having a rooster helps keep the ladies together cause they know he will protect them.”

Spending years participating in 4-H inspired Sarah to use her passion for raising animals in a career someday. “I’m going to Michigan State University to study Animal Science after I graduate this year. I don’t know yet, where it will lead me, but I know I want to be working with animals in my career,” said Sarah. Growing up with chickens, and now a goat and cows, Sarah can’t imagine life without having chickens. “It’s healthier because we know what we feed them. And we are more aware of what we are eating. We are making better decisions on what we eat too.”

Having been involved as a family for years in 4-H the Dillinghams feel it has enriched their life together. “What we love is watching the kids talk (at the fair) and educate other kids on what they’ve learned,” said Dan.

According to Seth Martin, 4-H program coordinator for Macomb County, 4-H served more than 10,000 youth last year through 4-H clubs, one time workshops, camps, health and nutrition activities, and natural resource education. “We had 637 of those youth enrolled in 4-H clubs. We have a great partnership with the Armada Agricultural Society, which helps showcase our youth at their fair,” said Martin. “At the Armada Fair (last year) we had 188 poultry fair entries. We also had two elementary schools participate in embryology this year.

Macomb has more than 30 4-H clubs in the county.

4-H clubs give youth a chance to explore different activities and project areas. They teach leadership skills and responsibility. “We use a learn-by-doing approach that allows kids to learn from their success and failures not a classroom setting but actually doing activities,” said Martin. “One of our main goals is to teach youth life skills through their 4-H project.”

Spring is the time to get involved with a Macomb County 4-H Club. If you’re interested contact Michigan State University Extension Program Coordinator Seth Martin at (586) 783-8163 or Elizabeth Duran (586) 469-6090.

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