Online group helps spread poultry knowledge

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published February 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 6, 2013 at 2:24 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Donna Crumbly feeds chickens at her house outside of Cabot. Crumbly and her husband are actively involved in a Meet-up group that supports raising poultry in Arkansas.

Backyard Chickens

George and Donna Crumbly talk about their chickens they keep in their backyard. (By Curt Youngblood)
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— When George and Donna Crumbly’s brood of chickens started coming down with coughs shortly after they first bought the birds, the couple turned to the Internet for an answer.

But rather than rely on random websites and blogs, the Crumblys were able to speak directly to other small-operation poultry farmers through an online forum. Hosted on Meetup.com, the Arkansas Backyard Poultry Meetup Group was created in 2009 and currently has more than 550 members from across the state. George, who raises chickens, guinea hens, turkeys and more with his wife on their farm on the outskirts of Cabot, took over as the organizer of the online group just a few years ago.

“People are on the boards all the time, offering chickens to sell or looking for a particular piece of equipment,” George said. “If you’re having a problem with chickens not laying or they’re sick, you can get on there and send everyone a message.”

Growing up in Florida, George was raised around cattle and citrus farms. When the Crumblys relocated to central Arkansas, they decided that poultry would be the right fit for their 4-acre farm. Adult hens, roosters, goats, guineas and peacocks are kept in pens on the property, along with an incubator for eggs and a separate area for chicks. The operation is mostly run by Donna, who is retired and heads out several times a day to feed the birds, gather eggs and put the poultry back in the barn each night.

The Crumblys’ farm is a small operation, but many of the people in their Meetup group are raising chickens in even smaller areas.

According to Keith Bramwell, an extension poultry specialist with the University of Arkansas’ department of poultry science, an increasing number of Arkansans are choosing to keep poultry — especially hens — in backyard, residential areas.

“I think people are trying to feel like they have more control of their eggs, and it’s a nostalgic, back-to-the-farm movement,” Bramwell said. “I’m seeing more cities allowing it on a small scale. In Fayetteville now, I believe you can have four or six hens in town for egg production.”

In January, Bramwell spoke to a gathering of around 40 members of the Arkansas Backyard Poultry Group, which meets quarterly in Benton. The meetings generally include a meal and a speaker, followed by a swap, where members can trade or sell eggs, equipment and livestock.

“You learn so much from each other,” Donna said. “I’ve had people help me with medical questions, and especially on natural ways to doctor.”

At a weekly swap meeting in Beebe that draws many area farmers, Donna learned from a woman in her 90s how to naturally worm chickens with cayenne pepper.

“And that way you don’t even have to season the chicken later,” George added, laughing.

From the small brood the Crumblys brought with them when they first moved to the area in 2005, 60 hens each have recently been producing around 24 eggs a day, many of which Donna sells to local distributors for use in restaurants, including those at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock.

When the Crumblys first began selling eight years ago, the eggs went for around $1 per dozen. Now the price hovers around $2.50 per dozen.

Those looking to have a few chickens in the backyard to avoid paying the ever-increasing toll for eggs in the store, however, should take note: It’s not a cheap business to start.

“There’s no way you can have four or five or even 10 hens and produce eggs for cheaper than you’ll buy them in the store,” Bramwell said. “Feed is ridiculously expensive right now, and the feed they’re buying is going to be two or three times [as expensive] as what corporations are buying because companies buy in such huge quantities.”

But for the Crumbly family, the cost is worthwhile.

“People like fresh eggs,” George said. “It’s a mental thing, the fact that you can go outside and get the eggs yourself from the chickens you’ve raised.”

For those looking to get started with backyard poultry, Bramwell recommends seeking out instructions from university websites for the most reliable advice. Those interested in learning more about the Arkansas Backyard Poultry group can go to meetup.com/ArkansasBackyardPoultry.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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