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Pinellas residents flock to 'Chickens 101' to learn about raising backyard hens

Lisa Smith examines an “ISA Brown” chicken at Saturday’s “Chickens 101” workshop at the Pinellas County Extension Service in Largo. Smith says she has owned a few chickens before.

LEAH MILLIS | Times

Lisa Smith examines an “ISA Brown” chicken at Saturday’s “Chickens 101” workshop at the Pinellas County Extension Service in Largo. Smith says she has owned a few chickens before.

LARGO —Greg Powers had no reason to stop at the feed store other than get some pest control products.

But a tray of baby chickens caught his attention. They were chirping. And they were cute.

Powers, who lives in Feather Sound and owns a Crabby Bill's restaurant near Orlando, got an idea: Why not get some of those?

That was three weeks ago.

On Saturday, Powers and about 100 other folks showed up to the Pinellas County Extension office for a workshop dubbed "Chickens 101."

Most were hoping to learn everything they needed to jump into raising backyard chickens.

Powers, who ultimately didn't buy any chicks that day at the store, brought along his 6-year-old daughter, Sylvia, who was more than happy to play with the chickens on display at the event.

His wife stayed home. Powers admits she may need more convincing.

"She hasn't said no," the 48-year-old said with a laugh. "She knows I'm here. … I think she secretly wants to try it."

Backyard chickens are nothing new. But, mimicking a nationwide trend, more people in the Tampa Bay area seem to be raising them — even in densely populated Pinellas County. In December, county commissioners approved a new ordinance allowing residents in unincorporated areas to have up to four hens.

Backyard chickens already are welcome in several other Pinellas cities, including St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Largo, Dunedin and Belleair.

Saturday's event — the first of its kind since the new county rule went into effect — filled up quickly.

Yet officials were still getting calls as late as Friday.

"There definitely is a demand," said Jean Rogalsky, who works at the Pinellas extension office, which organized the workshop. "By the end of April, we were booked."

Robert Kluson, an extension agent in Sarasota, drove to Largo to lead the session. For the past three years, he has given workshops about backyard chickens. "I guess I've turned into the chicken guy," Kluson said.

During the event, Kluson and his helpers went over everything from what chickens can and can't eat to how to use them in a garden with a mobile coop called a "chicken tractor."

They also dispelled myths about egg "flavors" based on colors.

"There is no blue taste," Kluson said. "There's no brown taste."

Many who attended the session said it strengthened their desire to get chickens and allayed their fears about whether it would be feasible.

Bruce and Amy Kelly, who live in an unincorporated area near Palm Harbor, already have a cat and a dog at home.

But they're eager to add some chickens — which they said will double both as pets and a source for fresh eggs — to the family. They admit some of their friends give them strange looks when they explain their plans.

But they said they feel like it's one more way to practice sustainable living.

"We're old hippies anyway," Amy Kelly, 55, said. "It just sounds like fun. … And it's totally doable."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

Pinellas residents flock to 'Chickens 101' to learn about raising backyard hens 05/19/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 19, 2012 11:00pm]

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