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Chicks (Image: Liz Palmer)

Backyard Chicken Boom: The Eggcellent trend that's come to roost

The past nine or so months have definitely been different. Who knew most of us would be working from home (virtually), wearing comfy clothes 24/7, homeschooling and staying 'in' (cooking and watching movies) much of the time?

There's one more trend that's really taken flight. Some people call them 'COVID Cluckers' - folks who have been inspired by recent events to have their own backyard chickens. Refined caught up with one local woman who has become an expert at the care and tending of chickens over the past few years. Liz Palmer and her family decided to ditch the city for country life, and in the process went from having just a few chickens to more than 95 birds - including chickens, quail and ducks. We asked Palmer for her tips on the art of chicken tending.

Seattle Refined: Liz Palmer from Blackberry Hill Farm in Carnation, why did you [and your family] decide to make the switch from city life to country life a couple years ago?
Liz Palmer: We were living in town with a small yard, and our kids were still young at the time. We wanted to have more land for them to get outside and explore - to get more animals, grow a garden, grow our own food and be more connected to the land.

Over the past nine months or so, with everybody home, there’s been a real trend in people wanting to have and care for chickens. You have a lot of birds yourself, how many do you have and how did this come about?
We have, I’m estimating now, ninety-five chickens, twenty-five quail and five ducks. We started with three when we lived in town. Chickens are the gateway farm animals, and it kind of snowballed!

Can you give us some tips [on raising chickens]?

  1. Find out if you’re allowed to have chickens where you live. You can call your local town or city hall, they usually have a limit on how many you’re allowed to have in town. I would also talk to your neighbors, because even if you just have hens they’re very loud.
  2. Figure out how much space you actually have. They [chickens] need a significant amount of space, about 8-10 feet per bird outside in the yard.
  3. Figure out what breeds you want. Do you want ones that lay lots of eggs? Are you looking for colorful egg layers? Or do you want a smaller breed that’s more of a pet and and [has a] friendly personality?
  4. Find out what needs they have. If you’re bringing chicks home, you’ll want to make sure you have a warm place for them, and a predator-safe place for the adults. Just to make sure you know what’s required and you have it all set up for them.
  5. Have a plan in place for when a bird gets sick or injured because it will happen - they’re outside animals. Are you planning on taking them to a vet or will you treat them yourself? And it’s good to have a first aid kit prepared for those situations.

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You mentioned that the chickens obviously need a coop - a place to live. You have, I think they’re beautiful, beautiful places for your birds!
We call it the 'Chicken Barn' or the 'Chicken Palace' because it’s very big. It houses about eighty birds right now, and there’s definitely room to grow in there.

I think a lot of us have a fantasy where if we have chickens, we have a ton of eggs every day but what’s the truth about that?
It depends a lot on the breed, but my best egg layers - we get about four to five eggs per week from them.

Is it true that you have named all of your chickens?
Yes I have named all 95 birds. I don’t remember them all, but I have them all on a spread sheet! My favorite hen is Luna, she’s a little black and white Cochin, she’s about three pounds. She will come out to me every time I come outside and chatter away for treats, and she’s my friendliest one.

The one who I’ve seen in your social media ( who I think has an awesome name) is HENnifer.
Yes Hennifer is probably my best egg layer. She pulls her weight abound here.

We’ve been talking about chickens but you guys at Blackberry Hill Farm do a lot more than that - like soap making, bee keeping...
I got into soap making about five years ago and I love the chemistry and the creativity. I can design new soaps all the time and it never gets old to me. I sell mainly online although I do have a few local stores I’m in.

My husband starting bee keeping about the same time. We harvest the honey and we sell it online also, and then I use the beeswax in my products. Which is a lot of fun. It’s really exciting to harvest. We got about five gallons of honey from them last year so that was pretty good.

How has the move from city to country life impacted your family?
We don’t get days off - that’s one aspect of having animals. No matter what the weather is, no matter what we’re feeling, even Christmas morning we’re out there tending to the animals. So the kids have a lot of responsibility. We expect a lot out of them, but they get to see firsthand where food comes from... and they get to see the circle of life and death here on the farm. It’s amazing to see how much they’re grown since we’ve lived here. The other thing we have land that we can cultivate life on. It’s definitely been a great bonding experience.

Liz, given all you know now about the care and feeding of chickens would you do the whole thing over again?
Definitely, I have more chicks on order as we speak so [laughing] yes. I love being out there, [in the chicken yard] is one of my favorite places to be. It’s calming, it’s funny to watch them interact - they have a whole social dynamic going on, an a pecking order. That’s something you don’t realize is that chickens have their own personalities until you get them.

Liz thank you so much for 'Chicken 101' today - really appreciate it!

For more about Liz Palmer and Blackberry Hill Farm, visit their website. You can also check them out on Instagram and Facebook.