Foul: Food and FriendWhen nearly 300 chickens were dropped off at Roger Fleck’s Dickinson home six years ago, he realized he might be slightly in over his head. Fleck, 56, who was trying to raise chickens for the first time, decided to keep 30 chickens and sold or butchered the remaining birds, leaving him a more manageable supply of eggs that have satisfied his family’s pallet ever since.
By: Betsy Simon, The Dickinson Press
When nearly 300 chickens were dropped off at Roger Fleck’s Dickinson home six years ago, he realized he might be slightly in over his head.
Fleck, 56, who was trying to raise chickens for the first time, decided to keep 30 chickens and sold or butchered the remaining birds, leaving him a more manageable supply of eggs that have satisfied his family’s pallet ever since.
And besides food, one bird supplies Fleck’s wife company on the four-wheeler, where it rides shotgun on trips to the mailbox.
“I absolutely do not like buying store bought eggs because they have no flavor or color, and we wanted to have enough chickens to supply us with eggs,” he said. “So my wife, Shelly, was looking online and found someone who was giving away chickens. The guy’s daughter thought the chickens would be fun to raise, but I guess she didn’t realize how much hard work goes into it.”
Fleck, a retired disabled veteran originally from Bowman, grew up watching his grandparents, aunts and uncles raise chickens.
“I never thought I would have chickens and I probably never would have if my wife had not seen the ad that pushed me into getting them,” he said.
Unlike Fleck, people living in Dickinson city limits are prohibited from raising fowl, except as permitted in property zoned residential agricultural or rural residential.
Dickinson building official Leonard Schwindt said city ordinance states that people who live on properties zoned rural residential or residential agricultural and have chickens must not keep their animals 150 feet from any dwelling unit.
Breeding and raising small animals and fowl is permissible in rural residential areas if a building housing the animals is at least 50 feet from any property line and 25 feet from any dwelling on site, according to the code.
Raising chickens has become a fun pastime for Fleck, especially after he spent 24 years in the military and another five years training air marshals and screeners with the Department of Homeland Security before he medically retired in 1997.
But he advises people who have started considering a leap into chicken production to keep their flocks small, at least at first.
“When the guy who sold us the chickens came with 275 (chickens), I knew I couldn’t take all of them, so I gave some away and ended up with about 30 chickens to start with,” Fleck said. “Even with just those few chickens, there were times when we had 50 to 60 dozen eggs in our fridge.”
Up to 35 chickens can be raised in eight nests inside the red coop Fleck built with his son in the family’s backyard.
Fleck said his chickens lay an average of about a dozen eggs a day, plenty for his family. What they can’t use, Fleck said he sells to buyers like Jaci Williamson.
Williamson moved in near the Fleck’s in July and has been purchasing her supply of fresh chicken eggs from the family ever since then.
“I’ve eaten fresh chicken eggs most of my life, and I think they’re fresher than store bought,” Williamson said.
Fleck said it is imperative that he collects the eggs shortly after they are laid or the chickens eat their eggs.
Beyond routine egg collection, Fleck said his maintenance of the chickens includes once-a-month coop cleanings and daily watering.
As the chickens begin to age, though, Fleck said the animals begin to lay fewer and fewer eggs until they stop laying eggs altogether.
They average 280 to 290 eggs in a lifetime, a fact Fleck discovered through Internet research when he could not figure out why some of the chickens had stopped producing eggs after a few years with him.
“I have two or three families who say that when my chickens quit laying eggs, they don’t buy eggs,” he said.
When the chickens have maxed out their egg laying lifespans, Fleck said he will butcher the chickens, which are not meaty enough to be consumed but are excellent birds to use for making soup.
But not all of the Fleck’s birds are raised to be feasted on by the family and the people who purchase their eggs.
“We used to have two turkeys, but one died and the other has become my pet,” Fleck said. “Shelly loves the chickens and has her own pet chicken that rides on the four-wheeler with her to go get the mail.”
Although she had never been an animal lover before the chickens came along, Shelly said the family’s fowl are the exception to that long-standing rule.
“They’re wonderful creatures,” she said.
But the Fleck’s backyard can also turn into a scene straight out of a Wild West film when Mother Nature’s creatures decide to invade the space and ruffle Fleck’s feathers.
“I have some problems with coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons,” he said. “Raccoons will bite off the heads of the chickens and I once lost 17 chickens in 45 minutes that way. That’s why I can’t let the chickens run loose. They simply would not last out here that way.”
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