An endless supply of organic eggs with a side of hilarious antics and companionship. Welcome to the world of urban chicken-raising.
The phenomenon has taken Keller and surrounding cities by storm for a variety of reasons. As the saying goes “You are what you eat”, and chicken aficionados feed their birds organic, non-GMO feed (not genetically modified) while also letting them hunt and peck through the yard.
The result is fresh, farm-raised eggs from the chicken coop to your dinner table.
Chickens are also funny creatures with different personalities, social behaviors and a defined pecking order—yes, that’s where the term comes from.
“They’re highly cognitive. These pets will follow you around the yard,” said Dr. Jeff Raska, a 4-H project specialist with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension in Dallas County. “They’re very reactive to attention. They’ll sit on your lap.”
And letting the chickens hunt and peck keeps them happy and healthy, which produces better eggs and provides other benefits.
“They mow your lawn really well,” said Zach Jablonowski, whose parents co-own Jabo’s Ace Hardware in Keller. “They’re also really good insect devourers.”
Jablonowski’s father, Bill, and his wife, Renae, own other Ace Hardware stores in the area. But, for more than a decade, none of the stores sold any chickens.
It wasn’t until they went to a trade show last fall that they got their first taste of backyard chicken-raising.
“When we saw the display, my wife fell in love with it,” Bill Jablonowski said.
They started selling chicks in their stores in February and the reaction has been beyond anything they anticipated. They estimate that they’ve sold 2,000 pullets, as the young hens are called.
“We had no clue there was this big of a market,” Zach Jablonowski said. “It’s these affluent neighborhoods that really want sustainability with this non-GMO, organic movement.”
Jabo’s Ace Hardware hosted a Garden Talk a few weeks ago where they had Raska talk about raising chickens in the yard. They originally expected maybe 50 people. But the RSVPs kept coming to the point that they pulled their advertising and eventually capped it. The day of the event they turned people away.
“We had 85 seats,” Bill Jablonowski said. “We’d never had anything like that.”
Zach Jablonowski said they probably could have had 150 people there if they’d had more room. They plan more events in the future.
The family doesn’t just sell the chickens. They built a whole roost in their back yard in Southlake so they could try it out themselves. Alyssa Jablonowski Borowiak, Bill and Renae’s daughter, spoils the birds with raspberries, mealworms and other treats. They all have names and she talks about their different personalities.
The knowledge she gets from caring for her birds at home helps her advise customers when she’s at her parents’ store.
“On Saturdays, I can spend the entire day just talking with people about chicken education,” she said.
The Jablonowskis plan to have about eight chickens permanently living at the home—others are being kept there but will be sold at the store. They’re expecting their first eggs this July. Chickens in their prime can lay up to 250 eggs per year.
Chickens in their prime can lay up to 250 eggs per year.
“In a couple years we’ll want to phase in some more so in three or four years we’ll still have egg production,” Zach Jablonowski said. “If we got 12 chickens now and capped ourselves out we would be out of eggs in three or four years and just have a bunch of birds running around.”
Granted, they’ve got a spacious lot in a more rural part of Southlake, but chickens are perfectly fine in a neighborhood, too—as long as the zoning and the homeowners’ association allow it.
“You can do this on a much smaller lot,” Bill Jablonowski said. “My friends built a coop just like this. It’s about this size. (Jablonowski points to a coop approximately 6 feet by 12 feet.) They’re just loving it.”
Residential lots that are 8,400 square-feet, one-fifth of an acre, can have up to a dozen birds. For every acre beyond that, Keller allows another dozen birds. The coop must be secure and should be kept five feet from the property line. Keller also prohibits butchering or displaying the carcass of animals.
It’s about common sense and responsibility.
“You’ve got to be a responsible neighbor in an urban environment,” Raska said. “It only takes a few complaints to get something taken away.”
Michelle Watson, an animal control officer with the city of Keller, said they do get more chicken calls than they used to but it’s usually because someone has a rooster.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had to go over to someone’s house twice on a chicken,” Watson said.
Keller’s officers also answer calls in Southlake, Westlake and Colleyville, which have separate ordinances. In one case, she went to a Southlake home where a man kept the chicken in the house with a specially made diaper.
Raska worked with the city of Irving to help draft its chicken ordinance after some people complained about chickens in that city.
For the most part, females are pretty quiet and can often be kept without the neighbors even knowing, Raska said. The females do let out a sound after laying eggs “like anybody would after they laid a big egg,” Raska said.
Raska said he’s glad to see this movement gaining popularity and will gladly talk to anyone about how to best care for them.
“People are trying to get more aware of what they’re eating,” Raska said. “Fads come and go, but this one is going to stick around for a while.”
He visits elementary schools to show children how they can care for chickens at school or at home. It’s a great way for them to connect with nature.
“We’re almost two generations away from people working the soil,” Raska said. “A lot of these kids don’t know where food comes from. When they raise chickens, they really appreciate how hard it is to get food to the table. There is a lot of hard work involved.”
Getting chickens isn’t a decision to take lightly, though.
“They live as long as a cat or a dog,” Raska said. “It can be a long-term relationship. You can only get eggs productively for four or five years.”
People should start with at least three hens so the dominant chicken can spread out her aggression, Raska said.
They should have a secure house, or coop, where they can sleep and lay eggs. They also need a protected run where they can walk around, hop and explore. It should be about 15 square-feet per bird as a general rule.
The chickens should also be let out occasionally to roam freely in a fenced-in area. If the yard doesn’t have a lot of brush or hiding places, be sure to monitor the chickens to make sure predators don’t come after them.
Most cities prohibit roosters because they can crow loudly, especially in the early morning. That’s why it’s important to buy from a reputable dealer who will have separated the roosters from the hens.
Sometimes, a boy slips through and won’t be noticed until he gets a little older.
“A lot of places take the baby boys back just in case there’s an accident,” Raska said.
Getting young chicks mean they will inprint on you, just as they would their mother, which makes them easier to handle and a great pet.
Bill Jablonowski discovered this first-hand when he returned from a recent trip to Hawaii. The chickens stormed over to his feet to greet him.
While the Jablonowskis are still waiting for their first batch of eggs, their neighbor Lisa Kendzior has more than she can handle from her huge flock of chickens and ducks on her 3.5-acre lot.
She’s getting up to 10 eggs per day from her 13 egg-laying chickens and she’s got another 17 chickens nearly ready to start laying.
“We’ll be getting double that pretty soon when the other ones mature,” Kendzior said. “I know what my chickens are eating, how they’re treated, and that their coop is clean.”
They’ve also got 11 ducks living in their own coop with access to their own pond at the back of the property. To take the sustainability even further, Kendzior and her husband are beekeepers, too.
They’ve also started a garden and a fruit orchard that could be producing within a year or so.
“It’s all coming together,” she said.
Most of the eggs and honey are given away to friends and family but some is sold at the Grapevine Farmers Market.
“Because the ducks basically eat the same as the chickens, they taste pretty much the same. Duck eggs are good for people who are allergic to chicken eggs, too,” Kendzior said.
Her husband isn’t done, yet, as he says they should get a goat or miniature donkey.
“I’m not ready to go to livestock,” Kendzior said. “I’m not in favor of that. I think we’re good with what we have.”