South Charlotte

Urban homesteaders raise their own chickens

Michael and Jennifer Seaton dream of owning their own farm.

To prepare for that lifelong dream and begin to understand what it truly means to own farm animals, they recently purchased five hens and built a custom mobile coop, or chicken tractor, in their backyard in the Sedgefield neighborhood.

"We wanted to become a little bit more self-sufficient by producing some of our own food. Sort of like urban homesteading," said Michael, 42.

It all began with online research and reading magazines such as Mother Earth News and Backyard Poultry.

Michael found Ideal Poultry, a hatchery in Texas where he could purchase the breeds he thought would be best for them: Plymouth Barred Rocks and Americana. Both breeds are nonaggressive and can cohabit. In addition, they are prolific (meaning, they lay a decent number of eggs) and are somewhat self-sufficient because they look and hunt for their own food, such as worms and bugs.

Plymouth Barred Rocks have black and white feathers. The Seatons' two Plymouth Barred Rocks are called Ying and Yang. The Americana have brown feathers and lay blue tinted eggs. The two Americana hens that they own are named Red and Spot. They received a mysterious fifth hen in their package from the hatchery whose breed was unknown. This white hen is named Orphan Annie.

Once the hens reach the age of 6 months, they will provide the Seatons with daily, "truly organic" eggs.

The mobile coop, built by Colin Hayes Construction, has everything that the hens need - wood shavings for warmth and waste absorption, a nest and egg box, and a ramp so they can move from the nest to the ground.

The Seatons can move the coop to different areas of their yard to allow the hens to feed on fresh ground.

"The coop, or as we call it, the chicken condo, has an area in the bottom that is big enough for them to walk around. It also protects them during the day from predators like hawks. We let them out when we are home, but once the sun sets, they move into their nest area on their own," said Jennifer, 39.

The maintenance of the hens is relatively minimal.

"Their water bucket holds enough water for three days. They eat almost any insect in the yard. We give them layered corn feed, but their favorite foods are tomatoes and apples," said Michael.

"One of my concerns is that I wanted to make sure the hens wouldn't cause a lot of ruckus. We didn't want to disturb the neighbors. But they are really quiet and there isn't a smell," said Jennifer.

The hens have become part of the Seaton pet family, which already includes two cats, two turtles, two catfish and seven koi fish.

"They are pets that produce a grocery item. I'm amazed at how many people we have told about the hens and how everyone thinks that it's a neat thing," said Jennifer.