A low chorus of clucking emanated from Shannon Eve’s backyard Thursday afternoon.
Her flock of six chickens trucked around her garden, scratching the earth, cooing back and forth at each other as they roamed.
While she may be in the heart of Kalispell, Eve has harnessed a slice of country life.
She and her family have been raising backyard chickens for a decade — embracing a trend that’s sweeping urban landscapes across the nation. Raising chickens is a way to be more self-sufficient and to embrace the locally grown food movement.
But according to Eve, they’re also just plain fun to have around.
“There’s absolutely nothing better than going out to the chicken coop in the morning and having the kids get some eggs — going right from farm to table,” she said. “We eat a lot of eggs.”
The chickens are housed in a coop with a fenced run — all painted to match her home — with a fenced garden to roam in as well. In addition to producing fresh, brown eggs for the family, chickens eat bugs in the garden and their waste can be composted and used as fertilizer.
Kalispell permits chickens within city limits, as long as they’re not “at-large” and the smell is kept to a minimum. The number of chickens one can have on their property depends on square footage — a 3,000-square-foot lot can house a maximum of four chickens. For every additional 1,000 square feet, one hen can be added up to 15 total.
The Eves’ chickens include buff Orpingtons, black Australorp and Wyandottes. Of the three breeds, the golden-hued Orpingtons are the most docile.
“They’ll climb around you and eat out of your hands. You can make them as tame as you want to make them,” Eve said.
Over the years, they’ve honed in on breeds that are both friendly and reliable layers. If chickens get the necessary calcium in their diets and aren’t under stress, they’ll lay an egg every 25 hours.
Kelly Bardwell, assistant manager at Murdoch’s in Kalispell, which stocks a variety of fowl from late winter to early spring, also recommends the Orpingtons. He notes that other breeds like the Leghorn may make for good layers, but aren’t nearly as friendly.
His biggest piece of advice for novice chicken farmers is to prepare for winter.
“I suggest you plan about a season ahead and you set everything up for winter,” Bardwell said. “During the summer and the springtime, they will pretty much take care of themselves, other than cleaning the coop about every two weeks. Winter is the biggest deal, getting the heat out to them, keeping their water from freezing, making sure you can even get to the coop.”
Eve can relate, having experienced her fair share of losses to the elements and predators. But with each loss, they’ve learned a lesson, whether that’s making sure the water isn’t frozen or keeping a careful eye on the dog.
“There’s definitely some things to learn before you get chickens,” Eve noted. “But there’s nothing better than getting fresh eggs in the morning … I would say it’s definitely a commitment, but it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a lot of fun and it’s great for families. They are little members of the family.”