Backyard Chickens are Low Maintenance and Provide High Benefits

More chickens are crossing the road and making their way into the backyards of Austin residents and their hearts.

When Filipa Rodrigues is not producing content, she is tending to her animals. Currently, Rodrigues’ backyard is home to three chickens and twelve dogs. Earlier this year, she had eighth chickens but a few fell victim to the summer heat.

Rodrigues had always liked chickens. However, it was not until a neighbor was getting rid of his that she decided to bring some home. Now, nearly three years later, Rodrigues has two chicken coops and hopes to get more birds.

“They’re pretty adorable and they’re tame,” Rodrigues said about her chickens. “When you get them when they are younger, they get attached to you. They follow you and they let you pet them. They’re pretty amazing pets.”

Rodrigues laughingly describes her backyard and neighborhood as a zoo. However, Windsor Park residents are not the only Austinites to have chickens in their backyards.

The city of Austin is encouraging more residents to get their own chickens by offering a $75 refund on a chicken coop through its Home Composting Rebate Program. The city is working to reach “zero waste” by 2040, an initiative that will require a 90 percent reduction of trash sent to landfills. A goal that chickens can help achieve.

According to the city of Austin, the city wastes more than 190 million pounds of food annually. By feeding chickens food scraps, they can help divert up to 1000 tons of food waste from landfills each year.

The rebate program is an incentive that supports Austin’s Zero Waste goal through public education. Those hoping to receive a refund for their chicken coop must attend a free chicken keeping class organized by Austin Resource Recovery, a city of Austin service.

Austin Resource Recovery said that chickens not only help with recycling food scraps but they give fresh eggs and create healthy soil.

Rodrigues expressed how easy it is to keep chickens. They do not require much attention, get along with her other pets and will eat mostly all leftover food as well as insects. Although she got her chicken coops before the rebate program was established in April, she is happy that the city is encouraging others to get chickens and has noticed that more and more of her neighbors are bringing them home.

“They’re so easy, all they need is a little corner [for the coop],” Rodrigues said. “Some days I just leave the coop open and they go around my backyard, which is great because they will eat bugs, fleas and all that stuff. And by the time I get home, it’s so late that they’re already in the coop and I just have to close it.”

Chicken Coop Craze

As more and more Austinites welcome chickens to their backyards, more community support and engagement is seen.

Online groups such as the Austin and Central Texas Backyard Poultry Meetup Group has nearly 3000 members that engage in discussions regarding predator protection, raising chicks and coop management.

Now approaching its 10th anniversary, the Funky Chicken Coop Tour, allows people to visit coops around Austin to learn from experienced chicken-raisers. Last year’s theme was “Chickens as Zero Waste Heroes.” The tour is held yearly during Easter weekend.

Michelle Hernandez began the tour in 2009. She is also the founder and president of the Urban Poultry Association of Texas and the organizer of the online meetup group. She believes that chickens play a key part in sustainability and works to encourage others to become urban chicken farmers.

Hernandez works closely with the Austin Resource Recovery. She instructs the chicken keeping classes and helped the city put the rebate curriculum together.

“We [the city] are very progressive. The environment and food access are very important to the city of Austin,” Hernandez said. “Those two fronts come together when it comes to chickens.”

When instructing the classes, Hernandez is sure to cover everything there is to know about raising chickens. She also emphasizes the many benefits of having chickens as pets such as having tastier eggs, fertile soil, less insects and a smaller trash collection fee.

The last class of 2017 took place on Dec. 7. However, classes for 2018 are already scheduled. The first will be on Jan. 17 at the Twin Oaks Library.

Robyn and Desmond Scallion attended the chicken keeping class and are excited to get their own chicken coop by the new year.

“I think it’s [the rebate program] a great incentive for all Austinites,” Desmond said. “It will definitely help the community get rid of waste.”

Hernandez began raising chickens 10 years ago because she wanted eggs from her own backyard, however, she found that raising chickens provided her with much more. Something she hopes more Austinites will also find.

“I found a grounding connection,” Hernandez said. “Once I got more in touch with them [the chickens], they have a way of connecting me back to a different time frame, one where we are more connected with our food sources, our nature and integration.”

*Photo credit to Filipa Rodrigues

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