Backyard chickens come home to roost as trend takes off

Across the nation, several people have latched onto the trend of backyard chicken farming and increasingly more and more St. Charles Parish residents are doing so as well.

The movement has especially gained popularity with younger homeowners who are seeking to supplement their diets with homegrown foods.One of those joining in on the movement is 30-year-old Boutte resident Rochelle Fahrig, along with her husband, Jody, and 3-year-old son, Sebastian.

After becoming familiar with backyard chicken raising through her mother-in-law, Fahrig decided to take on a few chickens herself when her family moved to a large piece of land last year.

After a few months in their new home, Jody acquiesced to Fahrig’s request for a chicken coop and chickens.

“That was my Christmas present to get a chicken coop and some chickens. My husband made an old deer stand into a chicken coop and my mother-in-law gave me seven of her chickens,” she said.

After teaching herself about the basics of raising chickens, Fahrig felt like she was ready to give it a try.

“I like to know what I am getting into before I start doing it,” she said. “We did research on what to feed them to see what foods help them lay.”

With seven chickens laying eggs – sometimes one egg per day per chicken – Fahrig said the family has been eating most of them themselves.

“When we got them in December they weren’t really laying heavily. It wasn’t until a few months ago (that they started to produce a lot of eggs). We eat a lot. It forces you to eat a good protein-filled breakfast. We’ve become very inventive with what we can do with our eggs, so we do deviled eggs and a breakfast casserole,” she said.

Fahrig said she is very happy that she made the decision to get involved in backyard chicken farming.

“I enjoy living off the land and farming, gardening and things of that nature. Those kind of things appeal to me, I find joy in watching them run around and I enjoy being able to eat the eggs,” she said. “I am just starting with a garden this year. Eventually I would like to have a big garden and live off the land a little bit more.”

In addition to the sustenance they provide, the Fahrigs, especially Sebastian, just like having their feathered friends around.

For those who would like start their own chicken operation, Fahrig has a few words of wisdom to offer.

“Start small and I would definitely get hens that are already laying. Make sure you have a small fenced in coop. I wouldn’t free range unless you have a lot of land or you have been doing it for a little while,” she said. “Check you local rules and regulations to make sure your neighborhood will allow it.”

St. Charles Parish Animal Control Director Angie Robert echoed Fahrig’s advice.

“It seems to be the trend that people are going to get these chickens before they do the research,” she said.

Unlike nearby parishes such as Jefferson and Orleans that allow any and all residents to keep chickens on their land, St. Charles Parish requires a special zoning permit.

“You have to have the signatures of your neighbors within 300 feet of your property line saying it is OK for them to have chickens or any type of livestock. Then you have to go to planning and zoning and apply for a permit,” Robert said. “I’ve dealt with more unpermitted chickens in my lifetime than I would ever hope to. People think that just because we are a rural parish you can have chickens, but that isn’t the reality.”

Robert said those jumping on the backyard chicken craze often do not bother to look up local regulations before investing in a chicken operation.

“I would strongly suggest that the residents of St. Charles Parish do their homework and get these permits because they can put thousands of dollars into their chicken coop and their next door neighbor says ‘no’ and all of that money will have gone to waste,” she said. “Do your homework first before you become a chicken farmer.”

Even when those requesting permits are granted the go ahead by their neighbors, Animal Control still has to inspect the property to ensure there is proper shelter for the animals.

“Animal Control comes out there and inspects your property to make sure you are in compliance as far as state law is concerned on housing these animals,” she said. “You can’t just buy a chicken and then throw them in the backyard. If Animal Control is comfortable and the animal is being treated well, then they will tell planning and zoning it is OK.”

Robert said making sure all animals in the parish are well cared for is her job.

“Know what you are getting into. I know it is a trend and I try to eat as organically as possible as well, but know these are live animals. You are eating organic eggs, but it is not just about eating free eggs. It is about dealing with a living, breathing animal that needs to be treated well,” Robert said. “You still have to maintain the producers of the egg.  That is where I come from–is the concern for the animal.”

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