Almanac

News - November 24, 2010

Where chickens may safely hunt and peck

by Dave Boyce

What's black and white and round all over ... more or less ... if you don't count the legs, and the head. And the tail. And the wings; they're not round.

Maybe at this point you're thinking, "Plymouth Barred Rock chicken?" You're right! They are black and white and they do behave like chicken-sized beach balls rolling around at your feet and making gentle clucking sounds.

Menlo Park resident Jesse Taylor has five of them in his backyard on East Creek Drive. They produce eggs, about three dozen each week, which he sells.

Jesse, a freshman at Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, says that on a typical week, he saves a dozen eggs for his family and sells the other two. Of his three paying customers, all of whom live in Menlo Park, two alternate and buy eggs every other Saturday.

Jesse's delivery vehicle is his bicycle, with the full cartons in his backpack sharing space with the empty ones that his customers return to him. Selling fresh eggs is a viable alternative for a teen in an era when newspaper routes aren't available, Jesse's mother Joanne Taylor noted in an e-mail.

Most of the $6 per dozen that he earns goes into his savings account, he says. Jesse, 14, is a member of the San Carlos 4H Club and says he plans to study veterinary medicine. To that end, he spends one day a month in the offices of a Pescadero veterinarian where, he says, he helps with inoculations and, on occasion, surgery.

His husbandry of chickens began in the second grade, he says, but the egg sales started only last year. The family used to give them away.

Jesse likes his eggs scrambled. "He's pretty good in the kitchen," his dad Phil Taylor says. "He can whip up his own eggs."

"The quality (of the eggs) is great," Mr. Taylor adds. "People tell us they can really tell the difference." The chickens are free range and have dug up the yard extensively in the search for insects. On occasion, they get to investigate some leftover spaghetti — which they treat like worms, Jesse says — and cooked corn on the cob.

At night, they're caged in a chicken-wired coop that includes a separate enclosure for two Rhode Island Red hens that are no longer laying but live out their lives in comfort and safety.

The two breeds are separated because the Reds, unlike the Barred Rocks, form a pecking order, Mr. Taylor says. Barred Rocks, according to Wikipedia, "are docile, friendly and easily handled."

The only other intimidating factor for these chickens has been a dog, a boxer from next door that jumped over a 6-foot solid wooden fence and was discovered with one of the Barred Rocks in its jaws. Apparently the dog did not know what to do next and the chicken was rescued unharmed.

Though the yard is open to the sky with its fences easily breachable, there have been no excursions by raccoons, hawks or other predators, Mr. Taylor says.

While the chickens no longer receive names, they are accorded the respect of pets: no soup pots or roasting pans in their futures.

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