Every morning before leaving for work, John Nafziger puts on his boots, opens the sliding door to the backyard and tends to the chickens.
Often times, it’s still dark when he goes out to open the door to the coop and make sure the chickens have fresh water and feed. At the end of the day, Nafziger again makes sure they have fresh water, checks for eggs and then closes the coop to keep the chickens away from predators like raccoons.
That’s all he does.
Ten minutes every day is all the time Nafziger spends taking care of the chickens. Every once in a while, he’ll clean out the coop when it’s needed, but even that takes less than an hour.
John Nafziger’s wife, Lois, grew up on a farm, which included a barn full of chickens, but her only task was to collect the eggs. However, even without extensive background knowledge of chickens, the Nafzigers have been able to figure it out (with a little help from the Internet).
“It isn’t very complicated,” John said.
While tending to the chickens isn’t too difficult and doesn’t take long, they have to be faithful.
“You just have to do it every day,” John said. “You can’t really forget.”
The Nafzigers have been raising chickens since 2014, when the city of Goshen passed an ordinance allowing chickens within city limits.
The ordinance specified that for residents to raise chickens in the city, they must observe the following guidelines: A person can only have six female chickens on their property, with roosters and other fowl prohibited; chickens can only be kept as pets or for non-commercial use, so people cannot sell eggs or fertilizer; breeding or slaughtering chickens on the premises is prohibited; a person cannot get rid of their chickens by turning them loose or taking them to the humane shelter.
The local ordinance also provides the regulations for the chicken enclosures that people must have, as well as ways to properly dispose of any unwanted chickens, which is to take them to a local butcher.
For the Nafzigers, it’s nice to know where their food comes from. But they’re also gardeners, and the chickens help by keeping grass and insects out while also fertilizing the soil.
The chickens benefit the garden and provide a couple of eggs for the Nafzigers, but it’s more of a hobby for them.
“It doesn’t make any sense economically,” John said. “If you ignore initial costs, like the amount of money spent on the coop, it might be close.”
The ordinance requires that people wanting to raise chickens pay a $25 registration fee in order to get a permit, which they have to renew every two years. Out of the 50 available permits, nearly 45 of them are actively being used by residents, according to the Goshen Police Department.
Liz and Aaron Shenk, both Goshen College graduates, are also raising chickens.
The Shenks got their three chickens, Gladys, Henrietta and Bridgette, from Merry Lea in October.
“I just kind of always liked the idea of having animals outside,” Aaron said. “I heard they were easy to take care of. We don’t have any other pets, so they’re kind of like our pets.”
Their chickens are laying one to two eggs a day, which is almost more than enough for the two of them.
“The eggs look different than typical eggs because the yolk is darker, which has to do with them having more nutrients,” Liz said. “Healthy chickens produce healthier eggs. It’s cool that we have them here in our backyard.”
Aaron agreed, saying, “It makes you think about the eggs you get in the grocery store.”
The Shenks haven’t run into many challenges, except that snow was new to the chickens.
“Early on, they didn’t know what snow was,” Aaron said. “They didn’t want to leave the coop. I had to give them a little encouragement, [and] then they figured it out. They’re fun to watch.”
While the Shenks appreciate the health benefits, the chickens have also helped start some conversations.
“It’s interesting how you build connections with people,” he said.
“For people who don’t know about chickens, it’s a good conversation starter,” said Liz.
The coop sits a little way from the road, so people walking or biking by don’t really notice it or think twice. But a few family members and friends of the Shenks have brought their children by to see the chickens.
“It’s been really positive,” Liz said.
Since the Shenks have only had the chickens for a few months, they wonder if the intrigue will wear off soon, but for now, they’re enjoying the excitement and novelty of their chickens.
According to the ordinance, people raising chickens within city limits are not allowed to sell the eggs that their chickens produce. For someone who wants to buy fresh, local eggs, the Nafzigers suggest the Farmer’s Market or the Maple City Co-Op, but there’s also always the option for people to begin raising chickens on their own (as long as there are still permits available).