Urban ranching 
a 4-H feat


Viera High School student Lila Justice has been raising laying hens for three years through the 4-H program.

By George White

Raising backyard chickens is big these days but not every neighborhood allows them and not every family has the space or desire to build a chicken coop in their yard. To fill that growing need the county 4-H program has a range of market and purebred poultry programs — and cooperative coops in Cocoa and Melbourne — so any child from age 5 to 18 can have the chance to raise a laying hen.

“We’ve got more kids who have signed on to do it at home but we’ve really seen a spike in the cooperative coops,” said Vanessa Spero-Swingle who works with youth development for 4-H. “Now you don’t have the commitment of having to build their own coops. Some places you can have chickens, some places you can’t. Sometimes that’s confusing. You know you can have chickens here. It’s a family project. They go and visit a minimum one day a month to help with all the chickens out there. Overall, it’s just fun and the kids love it. It’s a good project for people who don’t grow up on a farm.”

There is a $25 fee per chicken to be part of the cooperative coops at Lake Drive in Cocoa and in the westernmost equestrian stalls at Wickham Park in Melbourne. Participants must visit at least once per month to do chores and check on all the birds.

The Market Poultry Program, now in it’s fifth year, prompted the creation of the cooperative coops. Wickham Park holds more than 100 birds and geese and ducks and now also houses purebred poultry, Spero-Swingle said.

“If they want to do the market and sell them at auction they can do that project, but they can show the birds based on the breed and that standard and they are able to keep them,” she said.

Lila Justice, 15, a sophomore at Viera High School, has raised laying hens for market through a 4-H program. 

“I’ve done it three years. We share all the chickens but I have two that are more prominent, Sunny and Egg,’’ Justice said.  

She admits missing the chickens as they are sent to market but is excited to continue with the program.

 “Chickens are the biggest animal, in number, that we have. We’re able to nurture that program because it is financially feasible, space-wise feasible, and because we’ve created the cooperative coops,’’ Spero-Swindle said.

4-H will hold an Open House from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 11 at 3695 Lake Dr., Cocoa including representatives from the various clubs and programs. The start of the 4-H year is Sept. 1.

“We get a lot of phone calls over the summer and we tell them to come to this event. They are going back to school and our year starts Sept. 1 so it’s perfect. It makes sense to do it then.”

For more information, call 321-633-1702, ext. 231 or go to brevard.ifas.ufl.edu/4-H