If High Country Conservation Center’s Jen Santry has her way, a chicken could be coming to a backyard near you.
The nonprofit’s community programs director has been working with local governments and educating the public about the benefits of keeping chickens — along with goats and bees — in an “urban farm” environment.
“We’ve had a great turnout for a lot of our workshops and public forums,” Santry said. “The support is definitely there.”
Whether it’s gardens, goats, chickens or bees, people are finding ways to be more self-sufficient, to feed themselves and their families, Santry said. Farming doesn’t just have to take place in the middle of nowhere, she said. It’s taking place in cities around the country, and it can happen in Summit County, too.
Lance Miller signed up for the HC3-sponsored backyard chicken basics course held at Colorado Mountain College on Thursday last week.
“My wife and I have an overall enthusiasm for the sustainable living concept,” he said. “We really want to go in that direction.”
Miller wanted to learn more about the care involved with owning chickens to see if they were a good fit for him and his family.
“There is a definite intimidation when you are trying to do something that is unknown and enter uncharted territory,” he said.
But, Miller said, the backyard chicken course eased his concerns.
“You realize they are living animals and require a lot of care,” he said. “But if you set up your systems properly, it sounds very manageable.”
Sherie Sobke, who owns Alpine Gardens, has been raising chickens at her farm, in a zone where it’s allowed. She joined Santry at the backyard chicken course to share what she’s learned over the years about raising her chickens. Topics Sobke covered ranged from tips on feeding and housing chickens to hen anatomy and behavior.
Sobke has had some adventures and misadventures over the past few years, but said it has all been worth it.
“I love the connection to the earth I have with chickens and gardening,” she said. “You really feel like a farmer.”
Despite what most people assume, hens are almost always silent, the backyard chicken advocates said. They are prey species and find it safer to stay quiet. Roosters are the noisy ones, Santry said, and are generally not considered appropriate for urban farming.
Another myth about chickens is that they “smell bad and are filthy.” Santry said. When chickens have adequate space to roam and proper bedding. their manure does not build up or cause odor issues, she said. Chicken manure can be easily removed and composted with straw or dead leaves, she added.
The highlight of the course for many backyard chicken students was at the close of the class, when they got to meet one of Sobke’s feathered friends.
Participants took turns holding the chicken and got to witness chicken behavior firsthand.
“For her to bring in a chicken and see how social and easy it is to handle eliminates that intimidation,” Miller said after the class.
Santry said she’s been working with the county planning commission and the Board of County Commissioners to allow urban farming. Local towns will also have to amend their policies before urban farming will be permitted within town limits, she said.
If and when local governments allow urban farming, Santry said, she and HC3 will be an educational resource for community members looking to make good decisions and investments.
Although in some ways it will be a “learn as you go” experience, Santry said she’s confident that bringing urban farming methods to Summit County will be a good thing for the community.
“It’s going to be an experiment and experience,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”
“I love the connection to the earth I have with chickens and gardening.” — Sherie Sobke