Backyard chickens trend comes to Dripping Springs

A very large Brahma Light Rooster awaiting judges at the recent Fancy Feathers Chicken Show.  CENTURY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN PACHECO       

By: 
Alice Adams

 

What began as a silent underground movement in cities such as Boston, Massachusetts and Madison, Wisconsin, has winged its way across the country, coming home to roost in unsuspecting locales that include Dripping Springs and surrounding communities.

If you hadn’t guessed, this trend is the “urban chicken” movement and more residents in and around our fair city are enjoying fresh eggs daily, gathered from coops in their backyards.

Unofficial estimates, not counting small farms, are in the neighborhood of one million flocks (not individual chicks or hens) populating backyards around the U.S.; and the number is growing.

Many homeowners, cities, counties and states have eliminated backyard chicken bans and are now allowing chickens in America’s backyards as a result of aggressive grassroots campaigning and popular demand.

Like many suburban areas, the backyard chicken trend in Dripping Springs has been significant. “We get about 400 chicks every Monday,” said a spokesman at Tractor Supply on Highway 290. “By Friday, we’ve sold them all with some customers coming from Austin.”

This is a big uptick in the chick business over last year in Dripping, which could be attributed to folks moving here, buying homes on larger lots or small acreages and wanting to take advantage of the community’s not-so-buttoned-up lifestyle and laid-back “agri-tudes.”

Most Tractor Supply customers buy 6-12 chicks, but some will purchase the chicks in multiple dozens and others – especially moms and their toddlers – just stop in to watch the chicks playing, eating or sleeping in their temporary enclosure.

“Typically, folks getting started raising chicks spend a minimum of $250 and that includes a coop, food, chicks, water and food containers and a heat lamp for cool weather,” the spokesman said. 

Pullets, what female chicks are called until they lay their first egg at about 20 weeks of age, are the hot sellers at Tractor Supply. What is the advantage of pullets you ask? They don’t need roosters to produce eggs.

Although the Dripping Springs store carries meat chickens, too, layers are more popular. “This may be because people just want eggs,” the spokesman offered, “and besides that, pullets are quiet.”

Or it may be more people are taking the “farm-to-table” trend to mean you go to your garden for fresh veggies, stop by the backyard chicken coop for eggs and then go to your kitchen to prepare your next meal…and voila! Farm-to-table!

Make no mistake. Fresh food advocates campaign for a chicken coop in every back yard. But fresh isn’t the only advantage.

Environmentalists say "buying local" (or raising your own food) provides an alternative to sprawling factory farms polluting local ecosystems with significant amounts of animal waste.  Meanwhile, backyard advocates insist chickens raised on a small scale are less likely to carry diseases than factory-farmed poultry. 

“The main challenge in raising chickens, however, is making sure your flock stays healthy and out of the way of predators – like hawks,” said Lucy Elizarraras, the 13-year-old daughter of Lisa and Art Elizarraras who owns Lucy’s Happy Chickens and sells eggs and the chickens she raises. She’s also a member of Fancy Feathers 4-H Club.

This amazing teen’s encyclopedic knowledge of chickens and the various breeds let’s you know how passionate she is about all things chicken.

“I’ve been raising chickens since I was about four,” said the native Californian who moved to the area a year ago. “Back then, my parents wanted to raise their own eggs and I just fell in love with chickens of all breeds.

“Before we moved to Texas, I didn’t have room for many chickens,” she added, “but now we have a farm and I currently have 45 I take care of.”

Lucy’s favorite breed is the D’Uccle (pronounced dew-clay). “I brought two chickens with me from California,” said Lucy. “Unfortunately one didn’t survive, but the second – ‘Buzz-Buzz’ – is doing well and I like to show him competitively.”

The D’Uccle breed, developed by poultry fancier Michel Van Gelder of Uccle, Belgium, is a cross between the Bearded D'Anver with feather-footed bantams in an attempt to get a booted bird with low posture, a compact and asymmetrical body and a full beard. 

“It’s my favorite breed,” said Lucy, “because they are very tame, very easy to train, very laid back, plus they come in so many beautiful colors.”

The home-schooled eighth-grader said she has learned most of what she knows about chickens from books as well as other breeders and those interested in chickens at her 4-H club meetings.

She said raising chickens and building her business has taught her responsibility. “I am the one who makes sure they have enough food and water,” Lucy explained. “I clean the coop, make sure none are sick and let them out to free-range every day unless we’re having bad weather.”

She’s also responsible for counting the chickens each evening, as well as gathering and selling the eggs and chicks through her mom’s Facebook page.

The hardest part of raising chickens? “Overall, chickens easy to maintain,” said Lucy, “but keeping them healthy and safe from predators requires time and knowledge. I mainly raise chickens because I love them and because I think chickens are really cool. Just having them has taught me so much.”

And what is this teen’s favorite entree?

“I have been having a personal debate about that,” Lucy confessed. “Chicken is my favorite meat, but I feel badly when I eat chicken, so I’m torn right now.”

Between chicken chores, school, 4-H and family activities (she has a sister), Lucy likes to draw and enjoys being involved in the fine arts whenever she finds free time. “But chickens are my life,” she said emphatically. “They’re really fun and what I love doing most!”

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