Hens do more than lay eggs. They provide weed and insect control, companionship, therapy and entertainment. Chickens are part of a backyard homestead movement with roots in sustainability, health and the environment. Backyard chickens were approved by the city of Edina in 2015, with a limit of four hens per household.
Olive and Shirley live a happy chicken life in Virginia Kearney’s backyard. “I call them living lawn ornaments because they look so pretty walking around the yard,” Kearney says. “I don’t keep them for the eggs.” This Edina resident sings her chickens’ praises with the enthusiasm of a proud mom. Her well-mannered “girls” don’t damage impatiens or petunias. For Kearney, the hens are gardening companions and “low-maintenance pets.”
For Amy Johnson, a master gardener and no-waste composter, “chickens were the next step.” This longtime Morningside resident has bonded with her egg-laying hens Pheobe and Gizmo. “Most neighbors think it’s fun, especially the kids,” Johnson says. She and her husband “could sit a whole evening and watch them.”
For the most part, chicken care is fairly simple and surprisingly low cost. An occasional cleaning and some new bedding keep the henhouse tidy. A little chickenfeed and some water keep the birds going, along with a smorgasbord of bugs.
During the growing season, a chicken’s days are filled foraging for Japanese beetles, grubs, aphids, mosquitoes, ticks and other tasty tidbits. And that’s not chicken scratch.
Minnesota weather doesn’t hold them back. “Winter’s never really been a problem,” Kearney says. But hawks, raccoons, dogs and other predators are potential threats. Once Kearney lost a chicken to a hawk, but she still lets her two chickens roam her backyard. She believes “a free life may be a shorter life, but it’s a better life.”