- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Megan Huber started raising chickens because it is the way of life that she and her husband wanted to have.

She never imagined that it would take her to a house 12 miles out of town so they had enough space for 50 birds.

“I grew up on a ranch and my husband on a farm,” she said. “People who are in agriculture are never in it for the money. We do it because it’s a way of life for us.”

Five years ago, she imagined farm-fresh eggs at breakfast and teaching her kids about where food comes from. But she never imagined that she would have dozens of chickens roaming around her yard, playing with her three children and then selling those eggs at the farmers market to help earn money to pay for college for her kids.

The Hubers started with 12 chickens that they bought from Iowa. They came in the mail in a cardboard box that her husband and she picked up on Father’s Day in the wee hours of the morning.

They loved it and later got 12 more. At the rate the chickens were laying eggs (typically one a day per chicken), they couldn’t keep up, so a friend suggested that they sell them at the farmers market.

They took their 10 extra cartons of eggs to the market and for the past two years, they have sold out in under an hour.

“We were shocked at the demand of the farmers market,” she said. “I think the whole country is going for farm-fresh produce, not just vegetables and eggs but even meat.”

The Hubers would save every egg from the chickens all summer long so others could enjoy the farm-fresh eggs. They never kept any for themselves.

“How sad is that? You raise chickens to eat your own eggs and have to buy a carton to bake with,” she said.

To keep up with the demand this year, they bought 50 more chickens - 10 of which died in transit from Iowa during one of Wyoming’s snowstorms. They have several age groups to keep the supply going since chickens only lay eggs for three years. She also has several breeds, which lay different colors of eggs.

She hopes that her children will have the same lessons instilled in them that she had growing up on her family’s ranch.

“When you teach a child how to care for an animal, you are teaching love, compassion and nurturing,” she said. “When you care for an animal, you put all your love into it.

“It’s an everyday, rain-or-shine job and I think that level of care shows in the end product. We give to our chickens, but they also give back to us, with eggs and someday meat. But really, they are giving us a great experience with our children.”

The love that both the chickens and the children have for one another is evident.

“The chickens think they are dogs and follow the kids everywhere,” she laughed.

Plus, the children put a fun spin on the mundane chores. Huber’s 1 ½-year-old daughter is usually the one to collect the eggs.

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt every day,” she said. “(The children) love to count them.”

But the chickens are also teaching her children the lesson of where food comes from - a lesson that Huber and her husband feel strongly about.

“Many kids don’t even know what brown eggs are,” she said.

The trend of raising chickens for farm-fresh eggs is starting to rise, even in Gillette. Big cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., allow residents to keep chickens in their backyard. Gillette’s City Council voted against chickens within the city limits last year, but it doesn’t stop many residents living just outside city limits from keeping a flock.

Brandon Cone and his wife, Jami, bought chickens last year as a tool to teach their two young girls responsibility.

“This was an animal that we didn’t have to kill or eat, but it’s less responsibility than a dog,” Brandon Cone said.

Cone describes them as pets with benefits - pets, because his girls have named a few of the more distinguishable ones, and the benefit is he still is able to get 10 to 14 eggs a day from their 20 chickens. They get enough eggs to feed their immediate family and give them away to relatives, plus, on occasion, sell them to friends.

His girls like to watch their chickens roam around their county land. Cone thinks of them as a good way to unwind after a long day of teaching at Campbell County High School.

Sandi Aberle, who has been a big proponent of encouraging the city to allow chickens in city limits, thinks chickens can be a great learning and teaching tool for all kids

“It would give many children an option to compete in 4-H, not just rural kinds,” she said.

Aberle believes chickens are good for much more than just teaching kids responsibility.

They eat her kitchen scraps - the wilted lettuce, carrot ends, leftover popcorn and stale bread. They’ll eat just about anything, which means there isn’t much in Aberle’s kitchen that goes to waste.

Plus, their manure means instant compost in her soil. She even mixes crushed eggshells into her garden and, especially, around her strawberries, to keep bugs away.

“They are good for all sorts of things,” she said. “I don’t see any negative things about chickens.”

According to Aberle, Huber and Cone, one of the best things is the taste of a farm-fresh egg.

“It’s like eating a tomato off the vine versus a grocery store,” Huber said. “There’s no comparison.”

Everything about a farm-fresh egg is different than one that isn’t. The yolk, is orange, not pale yellow, and it stands up better in the pan, Aberle said.

Huber hadn’t always eaten farm-fresh eggs, but when she started, there was no going back.

“There is a richness to the taste, even a buttery flavor,” Huber said. “I wish I could break the eggs open (at the farmer’s market) and show people because the yolks are so much darker and they have so much more nutrients.”

Cone grew up in the city limits, long before chickens were a pet that everyone wanted, and he ate eggs with lots of salsa on them to make them edible. But not now.

“I can just enjoy an egg cooked plain because there is flavor in it,” he said. “If you’ve never had a farm-fresh egg, you don’t know the difference.”

Huber agrees. Her favorite is scrambled eggs with just a little salt and pepper, but when the Hubers have enough eggs to spare, they treat themselves by making crepes.

Aberle loves to make egg drop soup with her farm-fresh eggs or something just as simple as a braised egg.

“I want my eggs to be healthy and good for me,” she said. “And you know exactly what you are eating when you raise your own chickens.”

For the Hubers, the process has been enriching for the whole family. And it definitely adds more flavor to their break.

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Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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