Northern Indiana farmer Bob Krouse, owner of Midwest Poultry Services in Mentone (“The Egg Basket of the Midwest” and home to The World’s Largest Egg, a 3,000-pound roadside attraction), knows a thing or two about chickens. He’s the former chairman of United Egg Producers and runs a business that puts about 1.8 billion eggs on store shelves each year. What advice does a high-volume producer have for keepers of backyard chicken coops? We asked him to weigh in on the trend. —as told to Alicia Garceau
“I married into the business, but our family has been in agriculture in North Manchester for a long time. They started with a water-powered grain mill on Eel River in 1876. We started our egg business, Midwest Poultry Services, in 1968 with probably 200,000 chickens. Since then, we’ve grown to caring for 8 million laying hens, and we have farms in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio.
There are all kinds of chickens that people have access to, and it’s just fun to be able to produce some of your own food and put it on your breakfast table. The only thing that concerns me is that there seem to be a lot of people who get into it without doing their homework. They really need to have all the proper facilities, understand chicken nutrition, and know where to go if they have health issues with the birds. They should know that ahead of time, because there’s more to it than you would think.
If people want to make sure they’re not a problem to their neighbors, they shouldn’t get a rooster. Because hens aren’t really that noisy. And then there’s the odor. With a few birds, it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s just keeping the manure dry, and keeping sawdust or litter or something on the floor. Make sure you have enough of that. If it does get too wet, you just have to shovel it out and dispose of it properly and start over again.
So much of what we do as a large producer is making sure that the eggs are safe for human consumption. And with your backyard flock, you have to be watching for those same things. You need to gather the eggs every day. You always need to keep them refrigerated. And whether it’s from a backyard flock or a regular Grade-A large egg, the most important thing is to make sure you cook that egg thoroughly."
Clubs, classes & other resources for backyard chicken farmers.
» Though much of the merchandise there is geared toward the birdhouse-and-binoculars set, Backyard Birds (2374 E. 54th St., 317-255-7333) stocks chicken coops and offers workshops on raising poultry in the city.
» Habig Garden Shop (1225 E. 86th St., 317-251-0804; 5201 N. College Ave., 317-283-5412; 1105 N. Arlington Ave., 317-356-5458) offers chicken feed and other supplies.
» Due to the high density of backyard chicken coops in the surrounding Broad Ripple area, the northside Pet Supplies Plus (2238 E. 62nd St., 317-475-9603) carries chicken feed and other accoopterment among its chew toys and litter boxes.
» Industry websites such as mypetchicken.com, mcmurrayhatchery.com, and sandhillpreservation.com sell and ship days-old baby chicks.
» With locations in Greenwood and on the east side, Tractor Supply Company (tractorsupply.com) keeps a wide selection of feed and coops in stock, as well as supplies ranging from nesting boxes to automatic egg-turners. The stores also sell baby chicks in season.
» Nap Town Chickens (naptownchickens.org) organizes an annual Tour de Coops bicycle ride, a self-guided cruise that hits about a dozen homes that have chicken coops in their backyards
» Reachable through Facebook, Central Indiana Poultry Enthusiasts (CIPE) hosts informal monthly get-togethers at the homes of its members.
» Veterinarians offering basic chicken care: Avian & Exotic Animal Clinic (9330 Waldemar Rd., 317-879-8633) and All Wild Things Exotic Animal Hospital (6058 N. Keystone Ave., 317-255-9453).
» Chicken-owners turn to Purdue University’s Small Animal Hospital (625 Harrison St., West Lafayette, 765-494-1107) for specialized medical treatment.
Illustration by Aleks Senwald
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue.