Barbara Jacksier is one cool chick.
A published author, a professional photographer and master gardener, she also raises chickens in her lovely Clifton backyard.
A life-long New Yorker, Barbara Jacksier moved from Brooklyn to Fairfax County with her husband Everett Chasen and their son Fred about 25 years ago.
“I’m a city girl, so when we moved here I felt like I bought Central Park,” Jacksier said.
Ruth Jacksier, her mother, soon joined the family at their wooded, six-acre farmette on Henderson Road. Within a few years, these former city slickers had hatched a bold plan to foster a flock of hens.
It all started when Barbara’s son was a student at Burgundy Farm Country Day School about 25 years ago. As part of a family life unit, the children in his class raised baby chicks.
When the hatchlings were old enough to join the flock outdoors in the Burgundy barnyard, Fred took his baby home. His parents converted his outgrown playhouse into a hen house, and before long, the flock of one had increased to ten.
“I’m telling you, I know a lot about chickens these days,” Jacksier said.
Jacksier has several different breeds in her flock. In the winter, she explains, she “goes through catalogues like people shop for clothes.” She prefers large breeds because they stand up to the rigors of life in Northern Virginia. Her flock includes majestic, colorful birds like Buff Orpingtons, Light Brahmas, Barred Rocks and Silver Spangled Hamburgs.
Her favorite source for hens is the Murray McMurray Hatchery in Ohio. After studying the catalogue and perusing the mesmerizing website, she places an order in the spring. When the chicks arrive at the post office, they are approximately a day old. Jacksier places them in their sturdy box on the dining table, where special lights keep them toasty.
After two to three weeks, the rapidly maturing “teenagers" are moved to the screen porch, which they share with long-suffering Everett Chasen as he patiently reads his newspaper. In another month, the chicks are big enough to join the flock.
Integrating the new members into the flock is a challenge, Jacksier explained. She always buys at least two members of the same breed because “birds of a feather flock together;” moreover, chickens that hatch at the same time prefer each other. In addition, the entire flock observes a strictly enforced “pecking order.” The bossy alpha hen “rules the roost,” making a smooth transition more difficult for the newcomers.
Keeping the flock safe from predators is an overriding concern. Foxes and the occasional coyote, dogs, cats, raccoons, owls and other birds enjoy chicken for dinner. An occasional chick has been snatched by hungry hawks.
To safeguard her hens, Jacksier has enclosed about an acre of the yard with split rail fencing, lined with heavy mesh. The birds can enjoy a life of relative freedom, strutting around in this yard and scratching for worms. The hen house and run are covered with chicken wire, which is even laid underneath the run to deter predators from digging tunnels and grabbing sleeping hens.
Despite these precautions, an occasional hen will disappear. Samantha, an elegant Silver Spangled Hamburg, was attacked by a fox not too long ago. Superwoman to the rescue, Barbara chased the critter with a pitchfork, snatching Samantha from the jaws of death. The “plucky little chicken” had gaping wounds on her head, neck and back. During the weeks Jacksier medicated her “miracle chicken,” Sam convalesced in the house, perching on the sofa to watch the evening news or snoozing in the lounge chair.
The ten hens produce about six eggs each day, sometimes fewer when they are “moody.” The eggs are all colors and sizes. Some are light brown, and some are dark. Some are white, speckled and even pale green or blue.
Barbara and her mother Ruth easily identify which hen laid which egg. They taste much more flavorful than eggs from the super market, which are “stale,” the Jacksier ladies agree.
The allure of fresh eggs has spurred an increase in urban chicken raising in the Fairfax County and the metro D.C. area. Fairfax County allows residents to raise chickens on lots that are 2 acres or larger. In Arlington County, residents have banded together to loosen the restrictions on backyard hens, creating a Facebook group with over 300 members. Several times, Jacksier has been called for advice on how to set up a backyard coop. What does she make of the trend?
“Things are cyclical,” Jacksier said. “When I was growing up in the 70s, it was all ‘back to the land,’ then we all became doctors and lawyers.”
The entire family obviously enjoys the fancy flock at their Clifton home. Their appreciation derives, in part, from the dependable production of nutritious, fresh eggs. The hens, however, provide much more. With their extraordinary colors and extravagant feathers, they are true “lawn ornaments.”
Parading around the yard, the chickens are fun to watch, which gives them a high entertainment value. They offer their owners as much company as a dog or cat. They supply fertilizer for the garden, and they can even replace a burglar alarm system because they make noise whenever a two- or four-legged intruder steps onto the property. Perhaps all of us in Fairfax Station and Clifton should study the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalogue and order our own chicks this spring. Stay tuned for news about another family in our neighborhood who raises both hens and turkeys.