Having chickens in your backyard isn’t uncommon in the Lowell area. After all, the community is home to the Kent County Youth Fair and has a rich faming history. However, raising chickens can be especially appealing right now as people look for sources of local food and new activities to help pass the time at home.
For the Newsted family, chickens have been a way of life for nearly three years. Stacey Newsted first became interested in raising chickens after moving to Lowell about 10 years ago. However, it wasn’t until she and her husband Aric had their family firmly established that they would take the leap.
“I wanted something that the kids and I could do together while learning the importance of what goes into your food and what you get out of it,” Newsted says. Today, she’s found that something in her 16 laying hens and one rooster. The flock is tended with the help of 3-year old William, 6-year old Abraham and 8-year old Emmy, whom the couple have dubbed their “chicken whisperer.”
Backyard Chicken Basics
Some families raise chickens as a source of meat while others only want eggs. A rooster isn’t required for hens to lay eggs, but one is, of course, essential if you’d like to raise baby chicks.
At the Newsted house, chickens currently are valued more for their eggs than their meat. “The Ladies,” as the hens are called by the family, are typically in their prime laying years for the first two to three years of life. Depending on the breed, chickens may lay an egg a day or five a week. Newsted notes some chickens, such as those found on poultry farms, are bred to produce more eggs.
Egg-laying usually slows down in the winter, and chickens go through an annual molt in which they stop laying entirely. “This is the natural way of their bodies resetting,” Newsted says. For the maximum number of eggs, chickens do best when they’ve had at least 12 hours of sunlight. During the winter months, the Newsteds keep a light on in the coop for 10 hours a day to help maintain a regular flow of eggs.
As chickens age, their egg production slows and may even stop. At that point, some people may dispose of their chickens. However, Newsted says she has other plans: “None of my Ladies have reached the end yet, but once they do, I will let them live a glamorous life here in my yard!”
Raising Chickens: A Family Affair
Everyone at the Newsted house pitches in to help with the chickens and garden. “Every morning, once William wakes up, he puts his boots on, runs to the coop and throws them their scratch,” Stacey Newsted says. Meanwhile, Abraham helps tend the garden and enjoys harvesting the crop. Emmy is particularly fond of the chickens and spends lot of time giving them treats and collecting their eggs.
“[The] best part of having my own chickens would be the happiness they bring us,” Newsted says. “We love them, [and] they do have their own personalities.”
From late spring to the fall, the chickens have free reign of the Newsted yard from sunup to sundown. During the night, the chickens are closed up in a coop to protect them from predators. While most of the family’s flock were purchased at Tractor Supply Co, several of their chickens, including their rooster, were hatched at home.
Beyond being a fun addition to the family, the Newsted chickens provide eggs that are used to supplement their meals. “One night a week, we do a huge smorgasbord breakfast dinner,” Newsted says. She adds that farm fresh eggs are often lower in cholesterol and higher in nutrients such as Vitamin A and Vitamin E than mass produced eggs. Plus, many people think they simply taste better than what’s available at the supermarket.
In addition to keeping eggs for themselves, the family has regular customers who buy eggs bi-weekly. “Business has been really good, and we don’t have very much left over,” Newsted says.
Overall, raising chickens can be hard work, but Newsted believes the rewards are worth the effort. “Something we have learned since having chickens is that fresh food doesn’t just show up in a store,” she explains. “There’s a lot sweat and tears put into freshness.”