Numbers don’t lie: Alaskans are crazy about their chickens
A small tract of land can yield quite a crop for an ambitious backyard homesteader such as Mountain View resident Phil Cannon. His garden produces all the staples: carrots, potatoes, beets and lettuce.
“We try to grow as much as we can for vegetables. This year we’re gonna let the kids grow their own sections of the garden,” said Cannon, a married father of four.
But it’s the red painted barn-looking structure to the left of his garden that’s won much of his young family’s attention. It’s a quaint, hand-built coop, where a flock of chickens nest and lay about four dozen eggs a week.
“The kids are learning a ton of, I feel like, responsibility and skills through it, too. They go and collect the eggs … they’ll go around the yard and pick up chicken waste every now and then.”
Cannon started his flock four years ago, after hearing of friends who were getting into it.
“I think the thing that gave me the courage to do it was when I had some other friends who did it and I was like, oh yeah, they said it’s not that hard, so let’s give it a shot,” said Cannon.
Growing trend in Alaska
Phil Cannon is part of a growing number of backyard chicken owners across the state. According to Alaska state veterinarian Dr. Bob Gerlach, 2014 saw 14,000 chickens imported from certified hatcheries outside the state — Alaska currently does not have a certified hatchery.
That number exploded in 2015, easily doubling — and then some — to more than 30,000. In the first quarter of 2016 alone, Alaskans have imported about 53,000 chickens. Gerlach says this increase follows a national trend.
“The popularity is really there, not just with respect to having birds for eggs and meat production, but also as pets,” he said. “A lot of people do want to know where their food comes from, and so they see it as a way to go ahead and raise food for their family, or even sell the eggs to go ahead and make some money, although it may be not as lucrative as you think.”
Alaska Mill and Feed sales manager Kimberly McCourtney agrees with Gerlach’s statement. She says when adding up the costs of buying the chicks, coop or materials to build one and the cost of feed — which if you’re picky and want organic or no-corn, no-soy — the price per dozen can skyrocket.
“If you had 10 birds, three dozen eggs a month, you’re going to be looking at about $23 a dozen to feed organic; versus a no-corn, no-soy, which is gonna still hit about $18 or $19, and [with] traditional feed, that dozen eggs is still going to cost you $11 or $12 dollars.”
But, she said people still think it’s worth the cost.
“People love having eggs in their backyard. The freshness, the quality, that food safety of having it here and with you and not having to rely on the grocery store makes up the difference in the price,” she said.
Mountain View resident Phil Cannon does sell some of his eggs to friends and family, but he sees raising chickens as much more.
“When we sell those eggs to family and friends we’ve probably raised enough money to buy their food But it doesn’t pay for it,” said Cannon. “It’s not a money saver … it’s a way of life, I guess.”
Cannon says his family places a strong value on knowing where their food comes from — which also explains his organic and pesticide-free garden. He says his family wants to live a subsistence lifestyle within the Municipality of Anchorage.
As much as Cannon says he loves Anchorage and how easy it is to escape the city, he now has a closer option to get away.
“I feel like sometimes walking in the backyard is like leaving the city, and that’s kinda nice,” said Cannon.
No certified hatcheries in Alaska?
As of April 28, 2016, there are no hatcheries in Alaska certified under the National Poultry Improvement Plan. However, there are two hatcheries currently undergoing the lengthy certification process.
The NPIP is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture, and began back in the 1930’s. To be accepted into the program, a hatchery must have received their poultry from an NPIP certified source and must follow certain biosecurity — disease testing — protocols.
The approved hatcheries must also undergo quarterly inspections, where samples are collected to make sure the chickens are healthy, clean, and free of disease. The state then checks the rest of the poultry on-site, to make sure there hasn’t been any sick birds or increased fatalities.
As part of the initial certification process, the state will inspect the facility, the birds, and collect a samples over several months’ time. Those are then tested and re-tested for diseases such as salmonella. The state will also check to see if the hatchery has met the requirements for proper caging and feeding, and proper maintenance of cleanliness and sanitation.
Once the requirements are met and all test results are negative for disease, the state veterinarian will send the hatchery application to the USDA. The USDA then reviews the state veterinarian’s approval and gives the hatchery an NPIP certification number.
Buying a chick or chicken in-state
While there are no certified hatcheries in Alaska, many people find ways to buy and sell chicks and chickens — whether it’s via word-of-mouth or a Facebook group. State veterinarian Dr. Bob Gerlach explains what to look for when buying a chick or chicken in Alaska:
- Do your research, know who you’re buying from.
- Talk to the farmer or seller directly
- Visit the farm or backyard flock
- Ask questions, such as: What type of feed is used? How are the birds raised? Has parasite treatment been used?
- Ask yourself: What does your flock management look like? What is yours, or the person you’re buying from’s, disease prevention plan?
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