Raising backyard chickens is deeply rewarding for Lattanzis

  • Bella Lattanzi holds Nora and her father, Mark Lattanzi, holds Robin. Nora has her own instagram page @nora.the.hen. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Lattanzi family’s chickens roam in Montague Center. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Bella Lattanzi with her hen Nora. “Nora is a little more sassy and is like a dog,” says Bella. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Cindy Tarail loves the fresh eggs from their backyard chickens. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Bella Lattanzi holds Nora and her father, Mark Lattanzi, holds Robin. Nora has her own instagram page @nora.the.hen. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Nora, one of the Lattanzi family’s chickens. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Two of the Lattanzi family’s chickens, Nora and Robin, forage in the garden. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Some of the Lattanzi family’s chickens in Montague Center. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Friday, September 01, 2017

Every day, the Lattanzis can step outside their door, grab some warm, fresh eggs and cook them up with asparagus, broccoli and herbs from their garden.

For the past 18 years, husband and wife Mark Lattanzi and Cindy Tarail have been raising backyard chickens at their home in Montague Center. With help from their 17-year-old daughter, Bella, they maintain a large vegetable garden and three homemade coops that house 13 birds.

“We wanted fresh eggs, and we wanted our yard to be as productive as possible,” Tarail said.

The Lattanzis are among the many families in Franklin County who raise backyard chickens. At Tractor Supply in Greenfield, manager Robert Ryczek said most customers who come into the store are chicken owners.

“Most of our customers here do it as a hobby,” he said. “A good majority of our customers have chickens and are adding to their flock.”

Birds of a different feather

Among the Lattanzis’ flock are two bantam hens — a smaller breed of bird — that roam their yard during the day.

“Kind of like with cats or dogs, they just bring a sense of peacefulness, relaxation when you’re looking at them,” Tarail said. “I’m in the garden a lot, and one of my favorite things to do is bring them broccoli leaves, kale leaves, mustard greens, lettuce.”

Tarail said that’s part of a symbiotic relationship that exists between the chickens and the garden.

“Everything grows better together,” Tarail said, adding that the chickens produce eggs and manure for the garden, while the garden provides them with weeds and leaves to eat.

The birds also have their own personalities. One hen — Nora — has even been on the radio, had professional portraits taken and has her own Instagram page — @nora.the.hen — which has 530 followers.

“Robin is the one who walks around the yard talking to herself and she never stops making these weird noises; Nora is a little more sassy and is like a dog,” Bella Lattanzi said. “Dirty Bird is the queen of everything; she is the boss bird. If anyone does anything she doesn’t like, she takes care of it.”

Bella said all the birds had names at one point, but she doesn’t remember all of them.

“The ones with the personalities you’re attentive to, those are the names you remember,” Tarail said.

The Lattanzis began raising chickens in 1998 when a neighbor gave them a Christmas card with notice of a coming gift — chicks in the spring.

“At the time, we were looking to adopt a baby, so we thought it was funny our little ones were going to be baby chicks, and then Bella came along six months later,” Tarail said.

Price of ‘peace of mind’

The family’s six hens that currently produce eggs collectively lay between two and five eggs a day, but there are periods during the winter when they don’t lay any. That’s because a certain amount of sunlight is required for hens to maintain maximum egg production.

But the Lattanzis also cautioned it will cost most backyard farmers far more to keep chickens than they will save on eggs.

“It’s more for the peace of mind that you know the chickens were humanely raised and humanely killed,” if that’s what you choose to do, Bella Lattanzi said.

Mark Lattanzi said he tried raising meat birds with a neighbor once, but found that because they’re bred to grow fast and produce a lot of breast meat, the chickens don’t care about walking around. Although Lattanzi and his neighbor put a lot of effort into making a large coop for them, all the birds did was sit around in a pile, get up to eat and then return to the pile.

He also pointed out that unless you plan to keep your hens as a pet once they stop laying eggs, it doesn’t make economic sense to keep them around.

“That’s the other side of it,” he said. “You’ve either got to slaughter them yourself, or find someone who will.”

Tarail said in the past, they’ve given their chickens who are at the end of their lives to be humanely slaughtered by farmers, who keep the meat.

“If you’re paying attention to your egg production and you’re trying to keep yourself from feeding birds that are no longer laying, then their lifespan is two to three years. So if you really want the maximum return on all your work, you should be taking out the birds after two to three years and replacing them with others,” Mark Lattanzi said.

‘Not really about saving money’

The Lattanzis said they get new chicks every three years or so during the spring. Tarail said when the babies first arrive home, they have to be kept in a warm place for six to eight weeks. Then, they can be moved outside.

Tractor Supply sells chicks in the spring, and is also selling them this fall for the first time.

“You’re going to have them in some kind of box or container for six to eight weeks until they start feathering, then you want to start looking for how to get them outside — whether that be a chicken coop or free range on your lawn. They just need somewhere to go at night,” Ryczek said.

Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange on High Street sells seven breeds of poultry and has been a go-to supplier of all things chicken over the years.

The Lattanzis said even if you have wood and other supplies lying around, first-time chicken owners should know that they’re going to have to spend money on a chicken house.

Mark Lattanzi said he’s built four coops, and each ended up costing a couple hundred dollars.

“It’s not really about saving money, it’s about other things, the enjoyment,” he said. “It’s a hobby.”

For the Lattanzis, raising backyard chickens is gratifying.

“If you love to cook and you love to eat, then taking out an egg that’s still warm because it’s just been laid and cooking it for breakfast or lunch is great, it’s really rewarding,” Mark Lattanzi said.