“We usually just do it for the favors … in return for things like cookies,” Jonathan said jokingly on a recent afternoon outside his house in Canton.
The Landrys took up the hobby of raising backyard chickens somewhat on a whim. The picked up a handful of chicks for no more than a few dollars at a landscaping supply company about a year ago.
Now, they are among an increasing number of homeowners across the region with backyard chickens, a burgeoning trend playing out against the backdrop of the local food movement. In response to the growing interest, experts on backyard chickens have been busy teaching classes and programs with names like “Backyard Chickens 101.”
“The interest is there,” said Randy Collins, the director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office in Graham County, who regularly fields phone calls from novices about raising chickens. “They want to know how to do it for themselves.”
A how-to course in backyard chickens is now a recurring topic in the cooperative extension’s class lineup.
In Macon County, a local poultry club that meets monthly at the cooperative extension office has seen a huge growth — now numbering about 70 members since it was started by a small group about two years ago.
“Everybody’s wanting to have their own box of chickens,” said Jonathan Tallent, vice president of the Macon County Poultry Club.
Topics at the monthly meetings range from maintaining egg production to preventing the spread of disease.
Tallent attributes the backyard trend largely to financial reasons — the allure of almost unlimited free eggs.
But Tallent also said he has long noticed a shift among people, including younger generations, toward a more farm-to-table lifestyle.
“You know everything about the chicken,” said Tallent, who tends to a flock of about 10 at his house near Franklin. “You know where your eggs are coming from, you see what they eat.”
Backyard chickens don’t take a big time commitment — depending on the scope of the operation — with upkeep being relatively minimal. Backyard chickens are allowed pretty much everywhere, including inside town limits, though some towns do have laws dealing with the noise levels or requiring that chickens are confined in some way.
Collins said some of the most common questions are how much care to the chickens need, how do you incubate the eggs, how do you clean and sanitize coops, and how do you keep them warm during winter months.
Some aspects, like what is known as molting, in which hens shed their feathers as they begin a kind of slumber during fall and early winter months, can come as a surprise.
“It scares them,” Collins said of those who are unfamiliar with the cycle, when egg production generally is lower than that of spring and summer months. “The bird doesn’t look normal.”
For the Landrys, the thought of raising chickens surfaced amid an interest in agriculture.
“It started with, ‘Where does our food come from?’” said Jonathan, who also maintains with his wife a small garden in their backyard.
The couple, in their late 20s and early 30s, housed their first small flock of chickens under heating lamps in their garage as Jonathan, a construction contractor, built them a small coop out of some $200 worth of lumber. Its design is based on a rendering he found on a website.
They have grown knowledgeable, perhaps even somewhat meticulous, about tending to their flock, researching the differences between breeds and health effects of varying kinds of feed. Jonathan is now on the expert speaker circuit, and has given a few talks and demos for other novices.
One challenge is a way to “keep the neighbors at bay,” Jonathan said, nodding at a couple of dogs in a neighboring yard, their attention rarely straying from the chickens that wandered occasionally wandered out of the coop.
Beyond all that, the constant supply of eggs is seen as one less thing to remember to buy at the grocery.
And, of course, “when you crack them open,” Jonathan said of the eggs, “it’s just bright gold.”