How to Raise Chickens and Roosters in the Hudson Valley, NY
Raising chickens is becoming a popular practice in the Valley. Here’s the story behind one family’s backyard barnyard
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Home on the farm: Traster’s fancy “McCoop” is the new home of her six hens. Building the coop cost more than $1,000
Photographs courtesy of Tina Traster
Before we got chickens I dreamed of being able to let the birds run free by day (provided I supervised them and chased away hawks). The first week they were home I realized they’d quickly be lunch for a wily stray cat and my neighbor’s hound dog. That put an end to my Old McDonald free-range fantasy.
The fussing and worrying is one thing. But the biggest kick in the head has been the expense. Keeping chickens ain’t cheap. Our circumstances remind me of William Alexander’s book The $64 Tomato. He set out to have a kitchen garden on his Dutchess County property; by the time he paid for high water bills, electric fences, animal traps, and pesticides, he figured each heirloom tomato he grew cost him $64.
According to my most up-to-date ledger, in 18 months we have spent more than $3,500 to rear our chickens. That breaks down to $15 for each dozen eggs we’ve yielded. Which is four times what it would cost to buy fancy, organic, free-range eggs at the health-food store.
“I break even by selling the eggs to friends,” says Melissa Bogen, who lives with her partner Les and 25 chickens on a semirural property in Chester. The couple spends about $70 per month on feed and supplies, and sells about three dozen eggs a week, for $5 a dozen. “If I didn’t sell eggs, it would be a losing proposition,” she says.
It’s like anything in life — having kids, buying an old house — you just don’t know where the money goes. Unless you get out pen and paper and calculate the costs. So I did.
Before the chickens arrived we ordered a premade wooden coop with a six-by-four-foot triangular attached run from a chicken guy in Michigan that cost us $1,100. Initial supplies cost another $350. So far, $1,450.
Last winter, we were worried about the cold, so my husband fashioned temporary Plexiglas panels to fit into sections of the run to shield the birds from wind and snow. That cost $120. Then we bought an electric heating pad for inside the coop and an electric waterer so their water wouldn’t freeze. Cha-ching: another $70. On top of all this, monthly expenses for their food, including organic pellets ($26 per 50-pound bag), oyster grit, dried meal worms (because you can’t always get the real thing), and Swiss chard costs about $35 a month.
One of Traster’s six hens
Then there are the inevitable “issues” — like one poor little chick who was almost done in by her peers. (That’s the one we presciently named Miracle.) By the time we realized how badly the other five were cannibalizing her, she was near death. We brought her inside to live with us for three months and nursed her back to health. My husband then built a solo coop for her using scraps of lumber and chicken wire. But bottles of Rooster Booster vitamins, which is more expensive than Neosporin, added up. Say another $40.
Last summer a raccoon was hell-bent on tunneling under our run. With time on his crafty and agile little hands, he’d spend the night digging, though he never made it inside. We added fortifications to the coop and run. One afternoon I even chased a bear cub away from the coop. Who said bears are herbivores?
“It’s time for a bigger, safer coop,” I told my husband.
Thus began the endeavor known around here as “The McCoop.” We spent weeks building a 312-square-foot enclosure on a grassy hill, expanding the chickens’ space more than tenfold. An impressive structure painted farmhouse red and sage green, the coop resembles a see-through barn, with a partial wooden roof, a wooden door, and a little window that looks like the one in The Wizard of Oz from which Dorothy and gang are first turned away from the Emerald City. The lumber, paint, boxes of staples, chicken wire, plastic netting, hasps and lag bolts added up to a whopping $1,200.
If I knew then what I know now, would I have gone to Big Jim’s farm that day in June? I think so. I love watching my chicks strut around in their palatial quarters while I strut around in my kitchen. And when my husband comes in from the coop, his Wellies covered in mud, eggs in a basket, I remember that day when I looked at the six hens in the back of our SUV, and I think, “Yes, this really is our life.”