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Branching Out: Raising chickens for a lot more than eggs

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When people hear about our WildChild Chikken Co-op, they either say “Oh, cool!” or “Can I join, too?” The co-op started with a Facebook post almost four years ago:

“We are moving and can’t bring our chickens. 1½ year-old hens for sale; some supplies included, $80.”

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This was at the same time that a restaurant friend offered us wholesale pricing on organic eggs, $70 a case. I weighed both in my mind: we could just buy eggs every 3-4 weeks, or… introduce a whole new, lively aspect to our lives. The birds would afford limitless learning opportunities on the facts of life and we’d get the treasure hunt of fresh eggs every day. We opted for the live birds.

Who are “we?”

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I’m a writer and landscape designer, freelance for 25 years — which makes me a bit of a wild card. Jumi, our daughter, is in elementary school and has been hardwired to Nature since she was born. As a Leo baby, she spent the entirety of her first summer and autumn outside, under the shifting sunlight and shade of our forested yard. She has been drawn to the natural world ever since: we are bonafide, hippy mountain girls. Living our lives through the lens of Nature, chickens were just a matter of time for us.

We now live on three city lots in a charming 60-year old house a few blocks off of Main Street. Out in the back, is a listing old henhouse of silvered barn wood and plywood scraps, attached to a fully encaged chicken coop. Since acquiring the birds, we’ve also fenced off a third of the backyard for them to roam. Fruit trees float throughout the property: apple, pear, apricot, cherries. The spreading branches of an aging Russian olive shades the center of the chicken yard. It’s pretty damn dreamy, especially when the hens get to free roam the whole backyard. Watching their iridescent beauty and spastic glory, we’ve gotten pretty hooked.

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As such, we’ve also purchased several batches of chicks each spring. If you’ve never seen a baby chick, you’ve got to hit up the Roaring Fork Co-op in April and May — but don’t blame me if you, too, become addicted. Even when they’re past the fuzzy little wad stage, they’re ridiculously entertaining.

Jumi and her friends can’t keep their hands off of them. Most afternoons, you’ll see them on the trampoline feeding the birds grasshoppers or lying with them in the shade playing “Imaginary.”

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“Can I have one? Can I name one?”It was inevitable. And how can you say “no” to a child?

We soon had 17 birds with all the neighborhood kids coming and going, to check on “theirs. They’ve learned about pecking order — “Hey! Don’t you bully!!” They’ve palmed the hot, glistening eggs fresh from a mature hen. They’ve practiced patience and selflessness, working with and sharing birds; learned responsibility, cleaning poop and goop in the henhouse. And with our neighborhood raccoons, they’ve also gotten lessons in life, death, and predators. The WildChild Chikken Co-op is back down to six birds!

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I’ve watched Jumi grow through nature and it thrills me. Kids today aren’t growing up with all the outside free play we ‘70s kids got.

When parents, coaches, and teachers intervene, we shaft ‘em. Kids learn faster through play; build competency through small mistakes. Their bodies get the multisensory stimulation they need for healthy development spurred by an ever-changing, natural environment. Younger kids learn from older kids, older kids care for the younger ones, and they all learn to problem-solve together if only to keep the fun rolling.

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We’re a quirky community willing to think out of the box when it comes to our sustainability and how we live our lives: we have a fungus attacking thistle at the dog park. Goats revitalize the Rio Grande Trail. Local high schools have super cool projects like greenhouse domes and adopted osprey nests. The Town even uses steam to kill weeds.

This new column, “Branching Out” will explore all the mysterious, odd, curious ways in which Nature still touches our every day, urban, lives. If you have a question or idea you want to explore, shoot me a line and I’ll bite.

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