WOOSTER, Ohio — Each morning, there’s a country song playing in Mike Stichler’s backyard. It’s a bit out of rhythm and its composers kind of sing for themselves — but the notes ring country in every way.
The composers? Stichler’s hens and roosters, which live on the same three-acre plot as their owner, in well-kept coops and outdoor ranges he built himself.
Stichler, of Ohio’s Richland County near the community of Olivesburg, Ohio, is one of a growing number of small-scale poultry producers who keep “backyard chickens.”
He’s been raising his own poultry and collecting his own eggs since he was a boy — more than 40 years ago — living in a part of Mansfield where he said the birds were very accepted, especially for neighbors who enjoyed the farm-like sounds they made.
Today, he keeps two kinds of birds — Dominique, and rose comb Rhode Island reds.
Both breeds are considered heritage breeds, because their genetics are more than 100 years old.
He raises his own poultry for many reasons — bird company, egg harvesting, the meat and competing in popular shows.
He built one of his more popular cages, a range house, with little more than basic hardware supplies — 2-by-6 boards, steel siding, some fence and a lot of careful measuring and fitting.
The result is a summertime pen that produces healthy birds, on an economical scale for a family.
“It keeps sun off of them (the birds) and they get plenty of air,” he said. “And they’re never sick (and) they feather out real good.”
Newt Long, of London, Ohio, helped organize a special “heritage breed” show at this year’s Ohio State Fair, where Stichler and some other backyard breeders exhibit.
Heritage breeds “seem to coincide with the backyard poultry trend,” Long said, because people want to preserve these increasingly rare breeds.
In Berlin Heights, Ohio, Bruce Fleming, 61, is having success raising backyard poultry inside an “octacoop” — a wooden octagonal structure about the size of an outhouse, or an old smokehouse.
“It stays warm in the winter and pretty cool in the summer,” he said.
The temperature is controlled with insulation and a double-wall structure. Also, his unit is equipped with three windows, which all tip inward to allow for ventilation.
He keeps 13 birds in the unit, and collecting eggs has become a mainstay for his adult family, and a 3-year-old granddaughter.
“That’s her favorite thing to do is to go out there and feed chickens,” he said. “She loves going out and collecting the eggs.”
Education and responsibility are two of the many benefits backyard producers see for their children, and other youth.
“It’s all kind of a part of the ‘going green’ and getting back to the land, and learning a little bit of the food reality,” said Elaine Belanger, editor of Backyard Poultry, a well-circulated national publication written for beginners and veterans.
Belanger said the publication has a history dating back to at least the 1970s, but returned just the past few years amidst a growing demand for information in this field.
In Charlottesville, Va., Robin Cole has a 12-year-old son who has taken it upon himself to buy his own octacoop — an eight-sided building manufactured by Octashed, of Sugarcreek, Ohio. He also purchased his own chickens, with plans to sell the eggs.
The structure was placed on concrete blocks, to prevent predator attacks, and is situated in the family’s garden, with the intention of using wastes as a fertilizer.
The Coles have three children and have raised their own poultry for three years, a practice they feel teaches their children about work and responsibility, and the enjoyment of a good farm product.
“I grew up on a farm and I was used to just the taste and the benefits of having a free range egg as opposed to a chicken that has been kept into industrialized farming,” she said, adding she enjoys “the satisfaction of having an animal you can see the results from right away.”
Like any enterprise, backyard poultry takes practice and some careful planning. Stichler said prospective producers need to check with local authorities, to be sure they are allowed to raise poultry.
Many communities allow poultry, but may have a set number, or specific restrictions. Other concerns include logistics of the pen, where feed will be bought, and how to secure the area from predators.
“It’s just like anything else,” he said. “You need to do a little bit of research.”
For a list of some basic backyard poultry considerations, click here.