Taoseños talk tips for raising backyard chickens

By Cindy Brown
For The Taos News
Posted 2/9/18

I first became aware that many people in Taos raise chickens when my new neighbors broughttheir birds over from their previous house. They built the chicken pen up against our shared fence, which …

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Taoseños talk tips for raising backyard chickens

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I first became aware that many people in Taos raise chickens when my new neighbors broughttheir birds over from their previous house. They built the chicken pen up against our shared fence, which concerned me because my dog had never been around live chickens. I was worried he would dig under the fence to meet his new fowl friends. He was indeed very interested in the chickens and spent hours staring at the fence and trying to put his nose under it.

I put railroad ties up against the fence to keep him from digging or getting too close to the chickens. All went well, until one day I came home and sensed something was not quite right. I went into the backyard before the dog, and sure enough, three little chicks were happily exploring. Luckily, they were hidden behind some old fence posts, and I was able to get my dog to go into the house before he spotted his chick friends in the yard.

I called my neighbor and after a bit of chasing she was able to round up the chickens and take them back to her yard safely. She explained that this was the first day for the little chickens to be let out of their special protective cage, and they found their way under a tiny gap in the fence. Since then, the chicken pen has been moved farther  away from the fence, and there have been no more chicken escapes.

Why chickens?

Taoseños love to raise chickens for their meat and eggs and sometimes to sell the eggs for supplemental income. Others see raising chickens as an educational opportunity for their kids. MacLaren Scott keeps chickens and turkeys for both eggs and meat and also for the experience and education for her daughter. Her Facebook page Back Porch Farm has some adorable videos of chickens, turkeys and kids. Megan Bowers Avina, a fourth-grade teacher at Taos Integrated School of the Arts said, “I hatch my own chickens’ eggs – I have a bunch of hens and a rooster in my fourth-grade classroom each spring during our life cycles unit.”

Where to get chickens locally

In addition to hatching eggs from their own chickens, people in Taos get chicks from their neighbors, local suppliers, at flea markets, and through mail order or some combination. As Winona Vasquez said “We have purchased, hatched and acquired some of our chickens for free.”

In Taos, Blue Sky Pet and Feed Supply and Taos Tack and Pet Supply are favorite places to purchase chickens that are appropriate for our climate. Ann Ware, owner of Blue Sky, says that she starts to get her chicks in right before Easter, which will be the last week of March this year.  “We order hearty breeds that lay colorful eggs from reliable hatcheries,” said Ware. “They are all healthy.” Soon she will post a list of chicks so that people can see when specific breeds are scheduled to arrive.

At Taos Tack, the chicks usually start to arrive in mid-March and deliveries continue until June. “We specialize in dual purpose chickens – those that lay eggs and also are good to eat,” said feedstore owner Tom Garcia said.

They sell more than 1,000 chickens a year, including breeds such as Buff Orpingtons, Ameraucanas, Rhode Island Reds, along with more exotic breeds such as the black and golden sex-linked chickens in which the genders are different colors making them easier to identify at birth.

Country Farm Supply in Española is another place for purchasing chickens nearby. Peñasco farmer Kristen Davenport Katz described the scene this way: “At Country Farm Supply they have this horribly stinky bird room for months each spring. It’s hot in there and stinks to high heaven, but they have tons of types of baby birds, chickens mostly, but also turkeys, geese, and ducks.”

Mail order

People in Taos report good experiences mail ordering from several hatcheries, including Privett Hatchery in Portales. They’ve been around since 1960. Ron Monsour of Frost Farm in Rinconada gets his chickens from Privett and ducks from Metzer Farms in Vermont.

Murray McMurray of Iowa has standard as well as more exotic breeds available. Cee Bearden gets her poultry from Backyard Chickens. When the chicks arrive in the spring, the post office calls right away to let her know the chicks have arrived.

Love of chickens

Bearden has been raising chickens for about five years. She wanted to be greener in her life, raising some of her own food. A friend gave her three chickens and so began her love affair with chickens and a turkey named Oscar.

Unfortunately, Oscar is no longer part of the flock. He took a liking to a particular chicken he had saved from being attacked by a raccoon, fox, coyote or other predator that was getting into the chicken pen through a hole in the fence. As Bearden described it, “Oscar began to have his way with her.” When this situation expanded to include all the chickens in the flock, Bearden worried about the fragile chickens and reluctantly gave Oscar to a friend. Oscar and a female turkey named Silver are now a happy couple.

Bearden said, “I come by my chicken passion honestly.” Her grandfather, R. L. Baker, raised chickens in Maynard, Arkansas and was recognized as being the top egg producer in the state in 1925. Bearden’s love of chickens is evident throughout her house, where there is a chicken painting and a rooster kitchen clock on display.

Bearden’s current flock includes an array of different breeds and a stunning chicken named Phyllis Diller, a Gold Laced Top Hat Polish that sports an exotic feathery crest. Summarizing the experience of raising chickens, Bearden said simply, “Chickens make life fun.”

For more information
BLUE SKY PET AND FEED SUPPLY: 214 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, (575) 758-1841
TAOS TACK AND PET SUPPLY: 710 Paseo del Pueblo Sur #20, (575) 737-9798
COUNTRY FARM SUPPLY: 229 N. Riverside Drive, Espanola (505) 753-4500
PRIVETT HATCHERY: privetthatchery.com
METZER FARMS: metzerfarms.com
BACKYARD CHICKENS: backyardchickens.com
MURRAY MCMURRAY: mcmurrayhatchery.com

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