Despite his handsome chicken coop bustling with 14 Buff Orpington hens and raised beds filled with thriving vegetables, Eric Svenson insists, “I’m not actually a farmer.” But when he’s not at the office, you’ll find him collecting eggs from his “girls” and tending his organically grown produce. He refers to his newfound hobby as the modern-day version of unwinding after work with a drink. “It’s my way of decompressing,” he says.
Svenson and his wife, Sarah, along with daughters Alida, 9, and Juliet, 7, have the quintessential suburban setup in their Weston backyard. In addition to the agricultural trappings, requisite swing set, and walking path that starts at the house and meanders to the rear of the 2-acre property, a newly constructed bluestone patio functions as the heart of the outdoor fun.
Using the same team that built a multi-generational gathering place for their extended family on Cape Cod — Matt Schiffer of Hutker Architects, Dan Solien of Horiuchi Solien Landscape Architects, and Michael Piering of Landscape Collaborative — the Svensons began by commissioning a farmhouse-style house along with landscaping that complemented it. The bluestone patio — and the chickens — came later.
The family lived in the house for about a year to determine how they would use the yard, which is surrounded by a woodland buffer. They wanted a sunny place to relax and be social. As for their feathered friends, Svenson says, “it’s really just for fun, an opportunity to do something new. We’re a curious family.” They’re “growing” eggs, he says, with the chickens an extension of the vegetable garden.
WHICH CAME FIRST? ON KEEPING CHICKENS — AND EGGS.
Chicken coops have become popular additions to backyard gardens. For many, keeping hens for eggs means knowing where your food comes from, building community, and connecting with nature. We asked two experts for advice on getting started.
Gretchen Munafo, lead educator at Chickadee Seed & Feed in Walpole, reminds would-be chicken keepers that roosters aren’t needed for chickens to lay eggs. In fact, many towns don’t allow them. She recommends buying chicks from a reputable feed store, where they’ve been sexed and vaccinated, rather than trying to hatch them.
You can also purchase online. Julie Rawson, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, suggests newbies acquaint themselves with the many varieties available by taking a look at Murray McMurray, an Iowa hatchery specializing in rare breeds.
Start with six; chickens are social beings and require a flock. Gentle Buff Orpingtons are the “golden retrievers of chickens.” Munafo calls them “fluff-bottom love machines!” With baby chicks, it’s OK to mix types. Older hens must be introduced to a flock gradually.
Hens are constantly producing eggs, so include a calcium supplement such as ground oyster shells in a diet of organic grains. They’ll eat table scraps — meat, veggies, and fruit. Munafo feeds hers kale, dandelion greens, and collards.
Finally, protect them from predators, including hawks and neighborhood dogs, and provide ample space. Rawson says, “Chickens are great foragers; they like grass and love to eat insects.”
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