Why not - Chickens?? Raising Chickens in Cape May County

Posted 3/29/09
By Sandy D'Shore

Cape May County, NJ —These days I am hearing everyone extolling the virtues of planting a victory garden and sharing the latest meatloaf recipe.

Things are tough out there.

I've found one interesting and effective way to cope with cutbacks: I keep chickens.

People’s eyes light up when I mention that I have chickens.

Because I am lucky enough to have rural property, hens, roosters and fresh, home grown eggs are part of my world.

The Accidental Chickens

It all began a few years ago when I went to bring in the mail from my new mailbox. Tottering down the 100 foot gravel driveway wearing my very hi-heeled Manolos, I caught a glimpse of a group of chickens huddled at the edge of the lake across the street.

Later that same winter day, I noticed they were still there. More than a little concerned, I called my neighbor, a cattle farmer, to let him know that his flock had wandered down to the lake and that they looked mighty cold.

”What chickens? “ he chuckled and patiently explained that people would often drop off unwanted animals, mistakenly assuming they would survive the elements. For chickens, those elements included foxes, raccoons, possums, owls, dogs - a virtual host of hungry critters.

Taking matters into my own hands, I donned a coat and fur lined gloves.

Back down the driveway, armed with an opened can of Niblets corn, I recalled the lines I had diligently memorized many years before in my high-school production of “Our Town."

”Here chick chick chick " I called.

The chickens began to tenuously wend their way onto my property.

Noisy and nervous, they downed the canned corn and eyed me intently for seconds.

It was the beginning of an interesting relationship.

Roosters and Hens

At the present time I have seven hens and two roosters, which works just fine until about April.

Then, it's time for poultry passion and roosters just want all the hens for themselves alone.

My roosters, who have been great pals through the fall and winter, all of a sudden start screeching and chasing each other around the yard, each trying to prove who’s boss

It doesn’t occur to them that there are better ways to spend their time and that there’s plenty to go around.

Chicken Personalities

Yet, contrary to popular opinion, perpetrated by the likes of Colonel Sanders, chickens are not stupid and they exhibit individual personality traits just like pet dogs and cats.

Chief, my very large black and green Jersey Giant, will follow me everywhere, and when offered a treat (a leftover bagel, some overcooked brussels sprouts or a taste of penne pasta) will daintily eat from my hand.

One of my hens is named Maureen.

Because of her advanced age and red dust mop of scraggly feathers, she is the spitting image of my college history professor Maureen McDougal.

She even appears, on occasion to be snapping chewing gum.

My other pets, two dogs and three cats, live side by side with the chickens. They often share the same water and the same grassy part of the garden to sun bathe in.

The chickens even crawl into the bunny box to lay their eggs, when things get busy.

Keeping Chickens

A flock is pretty easy to take care of.

Along with store bought grain-feed, (no Nibblets canned corn) chickens will eat almost any leftovers - although they don’t seem to relish garlic. They roam freely, eating any and all bugs they find in the yard.

A hen house is neither expensive or complicated to build. It's a necessity to protect your chicks from late night raccoons and other mischief makers.

Of course, you and your neighbors will have to put up with occasional four AM crowing sessions. In return, you'll eat the most flavorful omelettes and serve the best Crème Brulee in town.

It's the ultimate in trendy, slow food - food grown or raised not far from home. And what's more, you'll still come in under budget.

Sandy d'Shore is a long time local who writes occasionally for Cape May Times.

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