- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Xi’an, often called Foo Dog, a golden silkie rooster, has new digs in Corrales.

Named for his resemblance to the Chinese lion figurines that guard entrances, Foo Dog and two hens will have separate, but adjoining pens, because they don’t always get along, says owner Paul Rodenhauser, a longtime chicken enthusiast.

Although more respondents in a Backyard Chickens website poll kept chickens for eggs, Rodenhauser, a professor emeritus from Tulane University, keeps his 10 chickens as pets.

“It’s a sad story. I grew up isolated with no playmates, so I bonded with chickens,” he says. He decided after he retired he would have his own flock again. He also paints chickens and other birds, favoring wild chickens, red jungle fowl, the progenitors of all domestic chickens, he says: “I think they’re beautiful.”

His flock includes four multi-colored seramas, a tiny breed from Malaysia, a chocolate bantam English Orpington and golden Dutch bantams. They range freely several times a day. Most have low enclosed coops around his courtyard, but Foo Dog’s converted shed was about $2,500 to build and incorporated covered enclosures from Village Mercantile in Corrales.

The elaborate coop is more than most chickens call home. Most of the coops at Village Mercantile range from $100 to $400, says Rob Ingram, general manager, who has seven chickens in his backyard. Ingram says his store has sold 1,000 more baby chicks this year than last.

GROWING HOBBY

More and more people in the metro area wake to softly clucking hens, finding value in the eggs they lay and the company they provide. Forbes magazine attributes the national trend to the green movement, urban gardening and a desire to eat locally sourced food.

Albuquerque ordinances allow residences 15 chickens and one rooster, but some communities have covenants or ordinances that exclude them.

Ingram’s associate Kacha Hedrick, who gave up her growing flock after a move, says she had chickens, ducks and two turkeys. “They were more pets. The eggs were a bonus.” Each breed of chicken has a different personality. She likes social Orpingtons because they will cuddle, but also likes Ameraucanas for their blue and green eggs.

Most breeds can be touched and held, if they are handled as chicks, says Andrew Burr, one of the store’s owners. He’s had all kinds of livestock including chickens for as long as he can remember. Raising chickens makes better people, he says. “Kids who raise animals turn out to be kinder humans in the end.”

NO LOCAL THREAT

Production chicken farms are suffering from avian flu in the Midwest, playing havoc with commercial egg production. But the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says the state has only had one confirmed case of the disease, a wild duck at Bosque del Apache. Sick wild fowl can infect domestic birds if they come in contact.

Burr says it would be difficult for backyard chickens to become infected, especially if they live in a covered coop.

Predators like coyotes, owls, raccoons and skunks pose the greatest danger to chickens here, he says. Lining the lower edge of the coop or cage with fine mesh fencing helps keep them safe. Careful attention to coop cleanliness helps keep chickens healthy. Burr says chicken manure is a great addition to gardens.

Most people buy chicks in the spring so they can mature into laying hens by September. But Ingram says he’s still selling the babies and adopting out pullets and roosters that need homes. After they start laying, chickens lay eggs for about two to four years and many lay an egg a day, except when it’s cold, when laying may slow. Hens don’t need roosters to lay eggs, but need them to lay fertile eggs that could hatch a chick.

Burr says he and his family eat the chickens when they quit laying, although some of his customers keep them as pets.

FEW REQUIREMENTS

Chicks need a clean, enclosed pen, warmed to about 90-95 degrees, and about a square foot of space each, according to the New Mexico State University Extension Service. When they start to get feathers, temperatures can be reduced. They need about two to three feet of space as they become adults, but that can vary if they get to roam, or free range, around the backyard.

The extension service recommends buying feed for chicks or chickens labeled “complete” and providing plenty of fresh drinking water.

Gary Johns, who keeps 16 chickens on his property in the Corrales bosque, says the chickens only need an hour or so of attention a day. He gets about eight eggs a day and gives most of them away.

He loves his chickens that he’s kept for about three years, but he doesn’t name them. “I don’t think it’s good to name them. It’s too personal and if a coyote or something gets them, it makes it harder.”

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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