Amazing Eggs and Crazy Chicken Ladies: Backyard Hen Husbandry is Big in Loudoun

Angie McDevitt is an accidental chicken guru.

The Lovettsville artist and mother of two is a poultry devotee and founder of the Lovettsville Chicken Owners Facebook page, which has become a go-to local forum on backyard chickens, where enthusiasts compare notes and share information on everything from health concerns to the joys of a new flock’s first egg.

Backyard chickens are officially a thing in Leesburg and points west, from mini-poultry farms to fancy breeds who live inside as household pets.

“They’re easy, they’re inexpensive, they’re easy to come by, and they’re pretty,” McDevitt said. “It was fascinating to me to have sustainability that’s available in everyone’s backyard with such a small amount of property.”

And of course, there’s nothing like the taste of a farm fresh egg.

McDevitt has eight hens and a rooster at Sly Fox Farm, the home near Lovettsville she shares with her husband Jason and daughters Gabrielle, 12, and Isabelle, 10. But McDevitt started out big with an initial flock of 40. McDevitt, who had been introduced to raising chickens by friends, took the plunge in 2010 when farmer Andrew Crush of Spring House Farm near McDevitt’s home got dozens of chicks from egg-hatching science programs at area elementary schools and offered to pass some on to his neighbor. McDevitt initially planned to start with a dozen or so but wound up taking on 40 adorable leghorn chicks, and the grand adventure began. One of the members of that first flock was the beloved family pet, Hen, who got her name from Isabelle, a preschooler at the time. Hen’s well-documented adventures included rides in Barbie’s convertible and lots of cuddles from the girls.

On the hunt for good advice and not satisfied with national chicken forums, McDevitt was looking for a locally focused page for all things chicken-related and launched Lovettsville Chicken Owners in 2013. The page started out slow, but in the past two years, membership has soared to nearly 1,000 poultry lovers.

“I realized how little I knew. I wanted to start a page in Lovettsville for people from all backgrounds. …You’ve got hard-core farmers who are slaughtering and processing. You have people like me who like the way they look and want pretty eggs,” she said. “We support your Frizzle pet chickens to barnyard mixes to the meat birds. … It’s everything.”

One of Angie McDevitt’s chickens enjoys a walk around the yard after being let out of the coup for a mid-day treat.
[Patrick Szabo/Loudoun Now]
The page is now a well-moderated resource for everything from bird swaps, predator alerts and “What got my flock?” posts, a showcase for fancy and fascinating Frizzle and Silkie breeds, and a forum for questions on common poultry ailments and remedies. Folks who process chickens and roosters for meat are welcome, McDevitt said, but simply need to be honest about their intentions when negotiating swaps and giveaways.

Meanwhile, McDevitt’s initial 40-chicken flock has dwindled because of predator attacks and old age, but she replenishes regularly with barnyard mixes bred by friends and neighbors and hatched her first three chicks from eggs last summer. McDevitt’s chickens still free range on her 18-acre property.

“I would much rather look out the door and see one being scooped up and have the rest of them living long, healthy lives,” she said.

The county’s extension office doesn’t officially track backyard poultry, but it’s definitely on the rise, said Demetrios Mustakas, Jr., a member of Loudoun’s Extension Leadership Council, an avid backyard poultry producer and Lovettsville Chicken Owners fan.

“Beginning farmers and hobbyists view chickens as an easy animal to test out when getting started. While there are still many things to learn in order to successfully care for chickens, there are a number of resources to help beginners out. The reference material is out there and it is growing,” Mustakas said. “This makes chickens very popular for people who want to learn fast, spend a little money, have a relatively self-sufficient animal so long as you protect them and get free eggs.”

And while local homeowners associations generally ban poultry, chickens are allowed in many established neighborhoods in Loudoun’s towns and villages. Leesburg’s town code allows residents to keep chickens (but no other poultry—so roosters and ducks are off limits) in their yards. In the unincorporated village of Waterford, commuters routinely witness chickens crossing the road, and visitors to last weekend’s Waterford Fair were charmed by free-ranging birds from several backyard flocks who frequently hit the streets.

Angie McDevitt, the founder of the Lovettsville Chicken Owners Facebook group, takes a moment to give her chickens a bit of corn as a mid-day treat.[Patrick Szabo/Loudoun Now]
But if you’re thinking of starting a small flock, beware of chicken fever. Buying chicks can become addictive, and Heather Hughes, who lives on a small farm outside of Leesburg knows she has just a little bit of a problem.

“I don’t think I’m a crazy chicken lady, but my husband certainly thinks I’m a crazy chicken lady,” Hughes said.

When she started her flock, Hughes was initially focused on sustainability and homegrown egg production, but it wound up turning into a full-blown passion.

“I always wanted chickens. Then I saw one of those documentaries about how [industrial] chickens are raised, and I wanted to be part of the solution,” she said.

Hughes started out five years ago with 11 hens, and her flock is now up to 30, carefully curated for beautiful birds and colorful eggs. She raises them with help from husband, Justin, and 7-year-old twins Fiona and Henry. Fiona especially loves helping feed and care for the chickens and collect eggs, which come in a range of colors from white to blue to olive green and light and dark shades of brown. There’s something satisfying about creating a jewel box in every carton—a far cry from grocery store eggs, she said.

“I like to give them away and I like it when people open up the box and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at all these different colors.’”

McDevitt calls chickens a “gateway animal” for homesteading newbies, and Mustakas agreed.

Mustakas, who hails from a long line of farmers in South Carolina, knew chickens were the place to start when he and his wife bought their farm near Lovettsville five years ago.

“We have found that chickens were just challenging enough an animal to care for to help us get experience and make informed decisions on what other animals we may want to add to our farm,” he said. “And the more I talk with neighbors and other people in our community at large, my experience isn’t a novelty—it’s a trend.”

jmercker@loudounnow.com

Chickens roaming free is a frequent site in Waterford, a village in western Loudoun. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]

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