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Chickens as part of a sustainable lifestyle

December 23, 2009

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Renewable energy is one aspect of sustainability. The other even more important aspect is a sustainable lifestyle. We have installed a hybrid photovoltaic and wind system, burn wood cut from our property and have a small garden. This year, we decided to try chickens. To our surprise, we found many articles about others who were doing the same.

Last spring, after going online to find a reputable breeder, we placed our order. We were cautioned that novices might lose a fair percentage, so we bought twice the minimum order of 25.

They arrived healthy and happy via the U.S. Postal Service. At first, postal workers enjoyed the cheerful cheeping, but by the time we picked them up, the noise annoyed them.

We brought them home, placed them in a newly-made brooder box under a heat lamp, and taught them how to drink by tapping each little beak into the watering pan that we had filled with marbles to prevent their drowning.

Feed went into and out of them with amazing speed. We erected a small chicken yard for them to play in while we cleaned their enlarged pen. The chicks grew as did the Two Chicks Chicken Ranch. They soon moved into a larger room in an old converted hog house.

The chicks grew and filled their quarters at night. We walked through wall-to-wall chickens in the morning as we let them out. During the day, they ate and played in their much larger yard.

We purchased bag after bag of chicken feed and scratch. Fortunately, the chicks enjoyed eating weeds from their yard. As the supply dwindled, we picked more for them, then supplemented with fruit and vegetable scraps, stale bread, and as summer wore on, overripe tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers. By fall, the operation was as sustainable as possible, with more excess garden produce including squash, pumpkins, apples and pears. As we transition to winter, we still provide stored produce, bread and kitchen scraps.

It soon became apparent that we had two basic categories of chickens—big ones and not-so-big ones. As novices, we read anything we could find about chickens. We learned that the large, white ones were Rock cornish crosses, bred almost entirely for meat. As they seemed to outgrow their legs, we planned butchering day. With the help of friend and neighbor John Barnhart and his two children, we spent an entire day preparing poultry for the freezer. By weighing a typical dressed bird, we calculated that we would share more than 400 pounds of meat. Our share should last a year-and-a-half.

The remaining pullets, at least nine beautiful breeds, soon began laying eggs, at first tiny, now medium to large. By laying time, we had added another dozen hens with a friendly rooster, donated by another friend. What the chickens eat is more than compensated for by their prolific egg laying.

The chickens enjoy sunlight, freedom to run and fresh food. Friends and we enjoy the tastiest, most tender eggs we have ever experienced. We may hatch some of our own in spring. If we raised more vegetables and grains, the Chicken Ranch would be sustainable.

If you decide to raise chickens in an urban setting, be sure to check local ordinances. Some communities ban roosters; some limit flock size.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Dec. 23-29, 2009 issue

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