Andy G. Schneider, aka the Chicken Whisperer, professes he is not a poultry expert, but he shares the findings of people who are experts as well as what he has learned by keeping chickens over the years.
“There's a huge, growing movement all about backyard poultry,” Schneider told a group of last week in Independence, “not just in the U.S., but also in Europe and around the world.”
Schneider is an author and Web radio show host. He is the USDA spokesperson for biosecurity for birds, and the editor in chief of Chicken Whisperer Magazine. He said he shares ideas to help people keep chickens the right way from the start and save them time and money.
The burgeoning backyard poultry business is evidenced in the volume of magazines, books, blogs, and websites about the topic. In addition, Schneider said the major hatcheries ship over six million chicks per year.
Twenty-two people sat on metal folding chairs and pine-shaving bales for over two hours last Saturday as the Chicken Whisperer imparted the wisdom of his experience at the Tractor Supply Company at Missouri 291 and 23rd St. in Independence.
“Fans (of backyard poultry) are people from all walks of life,” said Schneider. “Some are preppers, some are soccer moms, some are even vegans and vegetarians who don't eat them, but use them for their other benefits.”
Schneider gave five reasons why people want to raise chickens. One, they want to educate their children about where food comes from. Many children, and maybe some adults, only associate food with packages in stores delivered by trucks. This leads to reason two, the local food movement.
Three, “They are great composters,” said Schneider. “They will eat anything. Leftover spaghetti. Anything.” Schneider went on to explain how this composting by chickens can save tax dollars.
“The average hen can consume about seven pounds of food waste per month,” said Schneider. “If a town allowed 2,000 residents to have six hens each, 500,000 tons of biomass would not go into the landfill.”
Chickens turn food into fertilizer for gardens and flower beds. In addition, six chickens produce less waste than one big dog, whose waste is not good for anything, according to Schneider.
Four, chickens provide all-natural pest control.
Five, chickens make great pets, outdoor pets, of course. Chickens should be outside of your house because of biosecurity. Biosecurity involves safe handling practices to avoid making chickens sick, as well as people. One issue is salmonella.
“Salmonella is serious business,” said Schneider. “Children under 5, the elderly, and the immune-compromised should not handle chicks.”
The Chicken Whisperer shared specific how-to information at length. His first piece of advice: before you decide to raise chickens in your backyard, check your local laws. Check your county, city, and home-owners association.
Independence allows a person to keep up to 20 chickens. The specific rules are in section three of the city code which can be found at www.ci.independence.mo.us/userdocs . The Blue Springs city code bans livestock and farm animals from residential areas.
Paul Waite, Independence, and his family stood in line to meet the Chicken Whisperer.
“This is our third year with chickens,” said Waite. “They're actually kind of fun.”
Waite said the family started with chickens as part of their homeschool program to teach about life cycles. The chickens are now food, eggs, and pets, as well as lessons.
“They obey his every word, better than dogs,” said Waite, pointing to his son, David, 12, who is the primary caretaker. Waite also said the chickens have not been a problem with the neighbors.
Bailey Leighter, 10, also raises chickens. “I thought they were really cool,” said Leighter. “I thought if I would be a farmer and get people to humanely treat animals, I could make a difference.”
To Leighter, the chickens are more like pets. She said they all have names, and she does not eat them. She plans to show some at the Cass County Fair and will sell some for a 4H fundraiser.
Leighter correctly answered the Chicken Whisperer's first trivia question. She knew a fertilized egg takes 21 days to hatch. She won a bright red egg basket for her knowledge and quick hand-raising.
Leighter, who lives in Raymore, attended with her mother. She raises Silkies, which have black skin and bones. Like Waite, Leighter said her neighbors have not had a problem with the chickens.