Sure, you've signed up for a CSA and have been reaping the benefits of your backyard garden. But with a focus on how and what we eat, foodies are turning to their feathered friends for even more ways to enjoy fresh ingredients. "There's this growing culture who wants to raise chickens," says Matthew Wilson, a Cleveland Heights resident. "You have access to healthy eggs all the time." First start by checking with your city's planning department to make sure you're allowed to keep livestock. After that, select breeds known for their calm demeanor and cold-weather heartiness (see suggestions below). While maintenance is minimal, it takes an average of six months before you'll see the first egg. "Make sure your chickens have plenty of drinking water," Wilson says. "Once or twice a day, refill their food and check for eggs."
For the Birds
Once you purchase your chicks or laying hens — check out Meyer Hatchery in Ashland County or Grace Brothers Nursery in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood — it's time to care for and protect your flock. Spice Acres owner Ben Bebenroth offers these tips.
Build a fence.
Use hardware cloth — a tightly gridded, welded metal mesh — to prevent raccoons, opossums and other pests from getting through. Affix a rubber owl atop the hen house. "This helps with airborne predation, as hawks and owls don't compete for food," he says.
Supply a healthy diet.
Rotate their pens when they run out of vegetation and provide fresh pasture access. "Chickens especially love foraging for bugs under trees. That's when you get that deep orange yolk color with rich omega contents," Bebenroth says. If you're an urban dweller, feed your chickens vegetable scraps.
Clean your coop.
Selecting the right birds from the hundreds of varieties can be daunting. Maggie Schaffer, a member of the Heights Chickeneers, suggests these for beginners.
There are many color varieties of Marans, but they're known for their easygoing temperament and approachability. "Mine is a wonderful chicken," Schaffer says. "You can just walk right up and interact with her."
This bird produces up to 250 eggs a year, whether in hot climates or in winter. "They're really friendly too, and easy to pick up," she says.
One of the more popular chickens in the U.S., Easter eggers lay eggs in a variety of colors, including blue, green and pink. "It's fun when you deliver a dozen eggs to a neighbor and some of them look like Easter eggs," Schaffer says.
Timothy Riffle designs tricked-out spaces such as the Stella Coop ($1,600), which features a battery-operated light-sensitive door that automatically opens at dusk and dawn to let the chickens into the enclosed 6-by-12-foot triangular run. "I like to come up with designs that throw you off kilter," he says.
Go beyond a basic scramble with this recipe from Toast co-chef Joe Horvath: Serve a poached egg with goat cheese grit cakes and a creamy hollandaise. "You get that earthy corn flavor from grits, a nice tang from goat cheese and a rich, buttery texture with some heat from hollandaise," he says.
4 egg yolks
1/2 pound clarified butter
1/2teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Deposit yolks in a blender and blend on medium speed until yolks are warm and thick. Turn your blender down to low speed, and slowly drizzle in the clarified butter. Once the butter is all in, add the juice of the lemon, and the rest of the ingredients.
Crispy Grit Cake
3 cups water
1 cup stone-ground grits
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup goat cheese
4 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Place everything in a pot except for the cheese and grits, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir in your grits and turn your heat down to medium-low. Continue stirring the grits until they soften, about 20 minutes. Once your grits are cooked, stir in your cheese, and pour onto an 8-by-11-inch glass dish. Cool the grits completely, then cut into 2-by-2 inch squares. Pan-fry the grit cakes until crispy.
To poach the egg: Simmer 2 quarts of water, a splash of vinegar (to help the egg coagulate) and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Crack your egg into a small dish. Stir the simmering water in a circular motion, then gently pour egg into the water. Cook for 2 minutes. Pull egg out with a slotted spoon and place it on top of the grit cakes. Drizzle hollandaise over the dish, and garnish with fresh herbs.