Madison couple happy with chickens

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Sunday, February 7, 2010
— Amy and Bob Rettammell made corned beef and hash with the first eggs their hens laid in their small Madison backyard.

Madison ordinances allow residents to raise up to four chickens.

“We really just did it for the experience,” Amy said.

They bought their three hens in October.

“It just seemed like it would be fun.”

Amy had fond memories of chickens from her uncle’s farm, and she liked the idea of raising her own food.

Why not have them? she asked.

Janesville council members are considering changing Janesville’s ordinances to allow residents to keep a similar number of backyard chickens. Ordinances now allow chickens only in outlying areas.

People who have spoken out against the idea say chickens are noisy and smelly.

The Rettammells countered those arguments, as did two of their neighbors. The Rettammells’ chickens are more quiet than surrounding dogs, they said. Chickens don’t smell if their waste is taken care of, just like any other animal.

Even though the backyards in the Rettammells’ southwest Madison neighborhood are close together, some neighbors didn’t know chickens had moved in until the Rettammells told them.

“They wanted to see them and thought they were the coolest thing,” Amy said.

Amy got information on setting up her coop from the Madison chicken community, which runs the Web site madcitychickens.com. She said another good source is backyardchickens.com

Amy and Bob bought three pullets (young hens) for $5 each from a Spring Green farm they found on craigslist.org. The birds were a couple of months old, so Amy didn’t have to worry about keeping them warm.

Amy didn’t want to fuss with heating, so she chose two barred Plymouth rocks and a buff Orpington—two varieties that can handle cold weather.

The hens started laying eggs Jan. 5, and Amy and Bob now get nine brown eggs a week.

“Somebody’s laying these big, dark ones,” Amy said.

The couple said raising chickens is simple.

The biggest expense is providing a predator-proof coop. Hens need an indoor coop with a place to roost.

Bob built a coop inside an existing shed. He cut a hole through the shed wall so the hens can go outside into a wire-covered run. He buried the edge of the protective wire 6 inches deep so raccoons can’t dig underneath.

Amy keeps the coop clean and provides water and food. It’s about as easy as having cats, she said. Bob’s a gardener, so they plan to use the chicken poop for fertilizer.

The Rettammells sometimes feed their chickens kitchen scraps, but they mostly eat a special feed formulated to produce good-quality eggs. The feed costs about $10 for a three-month supply.

Yolks in the backyard eggs are brighter in color and stand up higher than the store-bought variety, Amy said. The whites are thicker and hold together better because they are so fresh, Amy said.

The hens will lay at a good pace for a year or two, and then production will taper off.

Amy doesn’t know what she’ll do with the hens once their laying days are over, although they can be butchered and used as stewing chickens.

Amy doesn’t consider them pets, although she did name them after the three female U.S. Supreme Court justices. The word “sweet” did slip out when she described her chickens.

“They are fun to watch,” Amy said.

Amy’s neighbor, Wayne Hass, said his new neighbors have posed no problems or smells.

“Problems happen when there are many chickens together,” he said. “So long as you don’t have too many and keep them clean like any animal, there are no problems.”

“We never hear them.”

Last updated: 12:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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