It's been a full month since I last posted about the lovely ladies in the RECESS chicken co-op. The weather has chilled, the days have grown shorter, and the hens have truly settled in for the winter months. I'm happy to say it's been a really great month.

a chicken a the feed trough

To quickly recap; we had a bit of trouble with a dog in the first week. A few of the hens were injured, and there were serious concerns that our flock of 13 birds would become 12. Our flock is now holding strong at 14. The injured hens have miraculously recovered and we added a small black rooster. For $5, the little guy was worth his weight in gold. Making up in attitude what he lacks in stature, he has given the hens added confidence that I believe has led to a rise in production.

Considering the cool weather, relocation, and rocky beginning I couldn't be happier with our present results. Egg production has been steadily climbing, with our group averaging 8-10 eggs per day as of this week. We've been feeding the birds a diet of layer pellets, supplemented by occasional treats and table scraps.

Until now, I have been paying as mush as $5 per dozen for cage-free local eggs. With feed cost close to $9 per week, we're pulling a dozen eggs for just under $2. Of course, my sub-$2 dozen ignores our initial hen-house investment ($35 each), and the cost of grown hens ($20 each), but these costs should be easy to recoup over the life of the birds. For my family's investment, our break even point should happen mid-spring, or sooner, depending on the total egg volume we see once the weather improves again.

The shared labor model is looking like another early success. The co-op members have been diligent about egg collection and care, and our hen house has seen a few minor upgrades as we've each approached the facility with different priorities in mind. I personally visit the coop 1.5 days per week, with my "chores" taking about 20 min. to complete. I could shave that down to ten minutes, but in all honesty, I dawdle. Checking in on the chickens is often the highlight of my day.

The intangible rewards of chicken rearing may prove to be the greatest benefit of this experiment. In many ways this low-risk, informal engagement with the traditions of chicken farming has awakened a connection to my food long forgotten. Every egg is a reward, and each small increase in production is tremendously gratifying. Our birds are neither pets, nor are they living, breathing egg factories. They are valuable workers, providing for my table as I provide care and respect for their production and well being. The significance of our symbiosis resonates so deep within in me that I have begun to accept the act of raising livestock as an essential human activity. 

Is my experienced shaped by ignorance, factory-farm induced guilt, or the obvious romanticism associated with backyard chicken farming? Maybe so. Regardless, one thing seems clear as we head into week 6: the neighborhood chicken co-op is feeling very viable as model for localized egg production. Over time, I hope to generate enough data to solidify this hypothesis and establish a functional template for the creation of your own urban chicken cooperative.


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