March 22, 2015


Mid-morning on the day before spring, Marcie Williams carried a pail of table scraps into the large backyard of her residential Fairmont neighborhood to feed her family’s five chickens.
“The chickens have been a pleasant little adventure,” she said, although she acknowledged that some aspects of the experience have not been so enjoyable, like when dogs got to her first flock of egg-laying red hens.
Now she houses them in a coop surrounded by an electric fence with fowl netting over top, which should keep all critters — four-legged and winged — away from chickens she has named Beulah, Edna, Pauline, Elinor and Eulalie.
“It’s chicken Alcatraz,” she joked. “Nothing can get in or out.”
But her chickens do have the opportunity to sleep and seek shelter in the coop, and also come out and peck bugs out of the grass and enjoy the sunshine on their tiny faces outlined by their red crown-like tops and jowls called a comb.
“I know the coop is kept clean and the chickens are clean,” Williams said. “They are fed healthy food — we’re particular about their feed — and what goes in the product you get out. They are healthy, and they are antibiotic free.”
And they lay large eggs with an orange yolk that Williams said tastes better and fresher than the ones she can buy at a store.
“Urban chickens are becoming more of a thing, although when you live in town, there are a lot of guidelines to follow,” Williams added.
In fact, inside Clarksburg city limits, residents can keep up to 20 chickens in a yard, although like Williams noted and Clarksburg animal control officer Alea Bartlett confirmed, rules that can be found on must be followed in terms of how far away the birds must be kept from neighbors and how the coop must be kept clean and odor-free.
Residents who keep chickens do not need a license, Bartlett added, so she has no way of knowing how many hens might be laying eggs in the backyards of Clarksburg.
However, just in time for spring, Tractor Supply Co. has released a survey that shows that more than 50 percent of Americans are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of backyard chickens, 44 percent of the respondents know someone with backyard chickens and 5 percent have chickens themselves.
And on a fun note, the survey revealed that celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey all keep chickens.
But if urban chicken farming — or even suburban or rural hen tending — is not for you, worry not. There are farmers who have chickens who sell them at area farmers markets and make regular egg deliveries so anyone can eat the tasty, fresh eggs without the hassle of raising the birds themselves.
Marilyn Blake and her husband, Lyle, operate L&M Farms on Buffalo Creek Road in Harrison County, where they keep a flock of 42 laying hens.
“They are called Cinnamon Queen, which is a romantic name,” Marilyn Blake said.
The Blakes have had chickens since 2009 and have built up a roster of clients who buy their eggs, including Sylvia Bordo of Clarksburg.
“They’re fresh and have a good egg taste,” Bordo said. “They don’t taste like the chicken feed. They taste like eggs should.”
Plus, Bordo noted, she had concerns about the antibiotics and other types of feed that factory farm chickens might ingest and how that affected the eggs she would buy at the store.
Lucy Hornor, also of Clarksburg, has been buying eggs from the Blakes for about three years now and after taking the winter off, she looks forward to getting them from the Clarksburg Farmers Market.
“I like them because the yolks are so yellow and are just fresh and taste better and have a better flavor,” Hornor said.
The Clarksburg Farmers Market takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the first Saturday of the month at Christ Episcopal Church through May 2 before going monthly for the summer and fall.
On May 9, the event will move to its new location at Tractor Supply on Emily Drive in Clarksburg, and after a week off, there will be a grand opening on May 23, which also is Labor Day weekend.
The Blakes, who can be located via their L&M Farms Facebook page, and one or two other local egg vendors usually can be found at the farmers market, selling the eggs their hens lay on a daily basis at their farm, where they have room to move around.
That is in contrast to larger factory farm chickens, where the birds are often kept in crowded conditions. To keep them from getting sick, factory farm hens often are fed antibiotics; to keep them from pecking each other and the eggs, their beaks are clipped.
And, Blake noted, sometimes by the time factory farm eggs reach the grocery store, they already can be up to 90 days old.
Jayme Lowther, who began keeping hens when she and her husband, Brian, moved from Bridgeport to his family farm in Lost Creek two years ago, also liked the idea that her daughters, Delainey and Camryn, would have fresher eggs from chickens she could monitor.
“If there are some things I control and give them the most wholesome, chemical-free food, I want to do anything I can do,” she said.
Currently, the farm-to-table movement has motivated many chefs and consumers to pay more attention to where their animal proteins and vegetables come from and how they are raised. But while not everyone has the ability to raise cows or pigs, chickens are easy to keep, even for consumers who do not have an acre of land, and it is often legal to have them in the city limits depending on the municipality.
And tending to them is not very labor-intensive.
“They are easy to take care of,” said Susie Guzzi. “Once you get a chicken coop, it only takes 10 minutes a day to take care of them.”
Guzzi and her husband, Jim, live on 150 acres between Clarksburg and Salem. They have had six chickens for a year, getting the idea after they received newly-laid eggs from relatives.
“Once you have the fresh eggs, it’s hard to go to the ones in the store,” Guzzi said.
Like many other area families with chickens, the Guzzis supplement the hens’ diet of chicken feed with table scraps, plus the chickens can graze for bugs and grass.
“We give them fruit and vegetables,” Guzzi added.”They like oatmeal, and they seem to like it when you give it to them. It makes them happy, and they lay big eggs the next day. They love table scraps.”
Happy chickens seem to produce nicer eggs, and Guzzi feels better about them too.
“We don’t like the idea of a chicken that you put in a cage and it lays eggs and you don’t know what kind of stuff they are fed,” she said. “We know what ours are fed.”
Even the “free-range” designation on some eggs just means, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, that the chickens have access to the outdoors at some time.
Marcie Williams also likes to know the chickens are being treated well. In fact, she was upset when her first flock had their collective beaks clipped.
For her next group, “I have a girlfriend on a farm, and she raised them so they wouldn’t have clipped beaks,” Williams said.
However, at L&M Farms, the chickens do have clipped beaks, Blake noted, although her newer hens’ beaks have been clipped less severely than her first ones were.
“Part of the reason that they clip a chicken is that they will peck at each other, and also peck the eggs. And once they find a broken egg, some will start breaking eggs so they can eat them.”
As for production, hens sometimes can lay an egg a day. In February, the Blakes’ hens each laid one a day each day of the month.
“That’s a record,” Marilyn Blake said.
Lowther gets about five eggs a day from her six chickens. In addition to using them for egg dishes, she also finds them to work really well in baked goods.
“I have a leghorn, and I try to save her eggs for baking,” Lowther said. “The are great for meringue. I make meringue on pies. And if I bake a cake, it’s fuller. You can tell a difference between store-bought eggs and fresh eggs. It’s great.”
Williams has a cake business on the side, although she has to be careful because the darker yolk of the fresh eggs will not yield a white wedding cake.
“We laugh because if I start accumulating too many, you’re going to have things like quiche and popovers,” Williams said. “There are times that I do give them to friends. But most of the time, we are able to go through two or three dozen a week with no problem.”