MANATEE -- The four egg-laying hens Manatee County residents are now allowed to keep on unincorporated property can easily fall in love with their human keepers.
"If they see you chasing away their predators, hens will respect you and consider you their rooster," said Sarasota's Ira Klineschmidt, owner of Urban Chicken Tractors, a Sarasota-based company that manufactures A-frame design chicken coops.
Who knew chickens put that much thought into their relationships?
This chicken nugget, and a slew of others, were eagerly pecked up by about a dozen neo-chicken farmers at a Sunday morning workshop on how to launch a successful home egg-producing operation.
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The workshop at Geraldson Family Farms, 1401 99th St. NW., was sponsored by Manatee Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping.
"We promised the Manatee County commissioners before they approved the egg ordinance this past June that we would hold workshops to teach people how to start a home egg-producing operation," said Robert Kluson, Manatee CLUCK co-founder. "This was the first one."
Kluson invited Glenna Roberts, a chicken exhibitor from Old Myakka in Sarasota County; Wynona DeSear, a DeSoto County-based livestock inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture; Christa Kirby, a University of Florida livestock extension agent from Palmetto; and Klineschmidt, who all helped the new farmers chart a course through the dangers of urban chicken farming.
Keeping chickens for eggs will probably be more demanding than they thought, but also more fun and rewarding, said the new farmers.
"It sounds super fun," said Bradenton resident Mary Ann Ewert. "It sounds like you can get two or three eggs every day from four hens. I think I will love watching them run around."
Chickens will produce an egg nearly every day unless they get too hot, too cold, stressed or fed up with low-quality feed.
"Chickens are not vegetarians," Roberts said. "Don't try to make them that way. They need protein besides grains. They need to be on the ground, eating bugs and lizards. They will eat the tops of plants, grasses, just about anything. They love cooked macaroni."
Chickens get sick like pets, but they are not an animal people usually take to the veterinarian.
"It's hard to accept a $300 vet bill for a chicken that you can replace for $10," DeSear said.
So, chicken owners become their own veterinarians using common sense and learned experience, Kirby said.
DeSear and Roberts told the new farmers to consult backyardchickens.com or jeffers.com for advice. They also recommended local stores Come See, Come Save and Tractor Supply for help and medicine.
The experts recommended stocking four hens of different breeds to tell them apart. Also, eggs can be white, brown, chocolate brown or even blue, depending on the breed.
"You can make a dozen eggs look like an Easter basket," Roberts said.
Kluson said while unincorporated Manatee residents may have four hens, and Holmes Beach allows hens and eggs, Bradenton residents still may not partake at this time.
"Bradenton hasn't taken a stand yet," Kluson said. "Our organization is working with them."
Palmetto, however, has had a long-standing pro-hen policy, Kluson added.
"Palmetto has always allowed it inside its borders," Kluson said. "They don't have limits either. The only thing they stress is to not let them get free or annoy the neighbor."
DeSear and Klineschmidt warned new farmers about predators such as raccoons and opossums, which can be kept out by 18-gauge fence wire.
"Coyotes are an issue, but I am more concerned about 'coons and possums," DeSear said.
Hawks can be stymied by putting fish line around the coop, Klineschmidt said.
Said Roberts: "Educate yourself first, then build your coop, then get your chickens."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.