I’m tagging along with Michael Foltz and Marissa Evans visiting feed suppliers in the North and South Valleys. Today’s the day to populate the backyard coop Foltz has been building for the past few months using mostly recycled wood and fittings. It’s a cozy roost to house seven or eight birds, with a run protected by chicken wire. A nice little goat-fence-style gate opens into the small enclosure.
Initially, the couple thought about getting mature egg-layers, but this search is reshaping their approach. The selection of mature birds is sparse. Most stores carry chicks that will need indoor care and feeding before they can be put in an outdoor coop.
Quality Baits & Tackle is our last stop and has a large variety of fowl—chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and an ostrich—on its grounds. Foltz and Evans continue their search while I talk with owner Junior Reid, who has operated the store since the ’60s. When the couple reappears, they’ve selected two turkey chicks; one white, the other speckled brown. They decided to buy their chickens online. The turkeys will lay eggs and will eventually be destined for the table. Their names are still up for debate, as Thanksgiving and Christmas are out.
Foltz and Evans are among many urban dwellers opting for backyard coops to provide fresh, free-range eggs and poultry. The benefits are many. One friend has brightened up her yard with a mail-order Amish chicken coop kit that came ready to assemble. It’s home to three Araucana hens who will be laying beautiful blue-green eggs come summer.
Janet Chapman has been raising Araucanas at her home in the East Mountains for more than 20 years. She keeps them to get rid of kitchen scraps—a task they take to readily. Over the years she has kept seven to eight chickens at a time in a sturdy coop completely covered in chicken wire to ward off the predators prevalent in the mountains. The oldest hen rules the roost. At one point Chapman had two roosters, a mishap of purchasing chicks she thought would be hens. The roosters died natural deaths, but not before the oldest hen learned to crow, surprising Chapman one morning with an unexpected reveille.
Chapman doesn’t eat a lot of eggs. She gives most of them to friends. She also gave me a great tip: Crack your eggs and stir them, as you would for making scrambled eggs. You can pour them into ice cube trays and freeze them for later use. One egg = two ice cubes.
Chapman’s eggs have deep yellow-orange yolks. This is largely due to the greens in the hens’ diet. While chickens need a variety of feed, scratch (small grit to help digestion) and water, it’s the grass that creates the rich color in the yolks. When shopping, choose free-range or pasture-raised to ensure the dark yolks. Eggs marked “organic” can still be from hens that are caged and have no access to grasses. Different varieties of chickens will lay differently colored shells. This doesn’t affect the quality or color of the egg whites or yolks.
If you want to learn more about keeping chickens, you can visit with folks who’ve already taken the plunge and attend this year’s Albuquerque Coop Tour, June 11 through 12. Details on the veritable eggs-travaganza are at albuquerquecooptour.com. If you’re already raising chickens and would like to be included as a stop on the tour, email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.