Chicks and the City
Living in the heart of the city, you don't expect a rooster's call to alert you to the start of a new day.
But in Indianapolis and elsewhere, city dwellers are reclaiming family food supply systems by raising free-range chickens in their backyards alongside organic gardens.
Among the most ardent local proponents of this nationwide movement is Ginny Roberts, an Eastside resident who works with Purdue Extension and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc. Like many who keep city chickens, Roberts says she's motivated by health, sustainability and eggs that are fresher than she could buy at a store.
Roberts and her husband, Don Horstman, reside in the beautifully restored John Thomas Askren House, the second-oldest home in Marion County, where they keep 10 hens and grow a wide variety of produce on their 10-acre property.
Three years ago, Roberts started by adopting 48 baby chicks from the Purdue Extension, learning to love each peep while embarking on an adventure in urban animal husbandry.
The babies developed into white hens, brown hens and roosters and had free range of the couple's extensive yard on 16th Street, wandering at will throughout the day and voluntarily returning to their protective coop at dusk.
Roberts emphasized that a great benefit of raising her flock is that their eggs are much more tasty and nutritious than store-bought eggs.
"Once you've eaten these eggs, you wouldn't want to settle for anything less," she says. One of Roberts' neighbors was so enamored of the hens' delicious eggs and nutritious poultry that he followed her lead and now raises his own hens.
Over time, the adopted brood has dwindled to about 10 hens, which Roberts and Horstman consider family pets as well as a healthy source of food. Horstman says the hens' antics are hilarious, and he enjoys watching how their curiosity gets them into various predicaments.
They are also low-maintenance, requiring just the basics of fresh water, clean air and space to roam. Horstman estimates that he and Roberts spend about $25 per month for food to supplement the birds' free-range diet, particularly in winter.
As much as she has enjoyed the benefits of raising chickens, Roberts says potential owners should be aware that hens enjoy scratching and digging in the dirt and eating flowers, garden-fresh tomatoes and strawberries. Owners must also protect their chickens from natural predators.
"Once you've eaten these eggs, you wouldn't want to settle for anything less."
TIPS AND RESOURCES FOR RAISING CITY CHICKENS
• Not sure where to start? Tap in to Nap Town Chickens, a resource for current and prospective city chicken owners. Nap Town Chickens is on Facebook, or contact Andrew Brake at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
• IUPUI's Community Learning Network offers a class on raising backyard chickens. For info, visit www.cln.iupui.edu. From the main menu, select Continuing Education, then Online Course Catalog, then Green and Sustainability.
• Additional resources are available from Purdue Extension, www.ces.purdue.edu, and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (www.kibi.org), which improves public spaces.
• Start small, keeping your available space in mind.
• Keep start-up costs at a minimum with a simple coop – Don Horstman made his from various scrap materials – plus a feeder and a water dispenser. Ginny Roberts
TOUR DE COOPS
Don't miss Tour de Coops, a self-guided biking tour of more than a dozen backyard chicken coops in Indy (cars are welcome, too). The event is put on by Nap Town Chickens, a resource for current and prospective city chicken owners. When: Sept. 18, 2–5pm Where: Registration begins at 1pm in the south parking lot of Broad Ripple Park. You'll be given a map for the self-guided coop tour throughout Broad Ripple, Meridian Kessler, Butler Tarkington and Rocky Ripple neighborhoods. Cost: $5 donation to benefit Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and IndyCog