With a bucket filled with greens, toast crust, ,old banana, corn chips and rice, Jody Main's three hens perk up when they see her walking through her colorful garden to her chicken coop to feed them.
A special treat for them is corn scraps and cracked wheat. The hens run up to Main as she kneels down with a handful of the treat. "They love to eat out of my hand. It's really sweet," she said.
Main has been raising chickens in her bountiful backyard in the hills of Woodside for 10 years, and for another 10 years before that in College Terrace.
On Saturday, Oct. 9, she'll teach a class on how to raise chickens in your own backyard. She will cover everything you need to know to raise and maintain hens, from setting up a hen house, to what plants you can grow in the garden to feed your hens.
Although Palo Alto and nearby cities allow backyard chickens, they draw the line at roosters. But Main said you don't need a rooster to have yummy eggs. She said her eggs have "a deep orange, custardy center and a creamy white."
The benefits of the hens go far beyond being a food source. Main also uses the rich, decomposed straw from the floor of the coop for fertilizer in her garden beds.
The broken-down straw, which has been kicked around by the chickens, is the lifeblood of Main's flower and vegetable garden. She says that some of the straw goes straight from the coop onto her garden beds, while other parts of it go into her compost pile until spring.
The hens are meditative to watch, she said. "You watch them like you watch fish in a coy pond."
Her coop is a 9-foot-by-12-foot area with a small hen house in one corner. She never lets her hens out of the coop because they would likely roost up in the trees.
They have plenty of room in her simple coop made out of scrap wood with chicken wire stapled to it. She has had as many as seven chickens in the coop at one time.
Main said her coop is one of the funkier types of coops, whereas some of the people she has consulted with in the past have had "poultry palaces."
Hen houses do not need to be very big because the hens are only in there when they are laying or sleeping at night. Her hen house contains two nesting boxes. There is also a long, thick wooden branch running lengthwise, opposite the nesting boxes, which serves as their roost.
The straw covering the coop floor needs to be switched out only a few times a year to be kept clean and fresh, Main said.
More recently, the hen house was modified so that there is a hatch door to access the nesting boxes from the outside, making it more convenient for egg gathering.
Main expressed great enthusiasm for the joys of collecting eggs.
"You never tire of that," said Main grabbing an egg, still warm, from the nesting box, "just like you never tire of pulling a carrot or potato from the ground."
Main said she was once gathering eggs and was so eager that she reached under a hen sitting in the nest box. She said she found that the egg was being laid at that very moment. "It seemed to go from liquid to solid. It was sort of psychedelic," she said excitedly.
The hens are quiet except for the 10 minutes each day when they are laying. The hen who is laying the egg is actually quiet, but the other girls will make noise when they cheer her on, she said.
Two of her hens are Rhode Island Reds, which make great pets, according to Main, who has had about a dozen different types of hens.
The other hen is a white Araucana that is missing patches of feathers because it is molting. Molting is an annual occurrence in which the hens gradually lose and re-grow all of their feathers.
The birds take a break from laying eggs when they are molting, and also during the winter for two to three months. The rest of the year, Main said, she gets 21 eggs per week.
In the past, Main has had more than three hens in order to feed her children. She likes to send a carton of eggs home with her daughter who lives in San Francisco.
"I used to have the eggs shipped to her when she was in Chicago going to medical school," she said.
Wandering through her various patches of tenderly loved plant life, she eagerly picked more green goodies to bring to her birds.
She grows certain plants, such as borage, collard greens, and purslane, specifically because her hens love to eat them. The greens make the yolk that dark orange color, she said.
Main's Woodside garden is an ideal setting for raising chickens in a garden, but Palo Alto is also home to some happy backyard hens.
Sandra Tucher currently has four chickens in the backyard of her home in Professorville. Tucher said her chickens are coexisting well with her kids and her other pets, including a dog.
One nice thing about the hens is that they come and greet you at the door, Tucher said.
Daily maintenance for her hens takes about 10 minutes every morning and 10 minutes every evening.
"I think people should realize that chickens are an investment, it's like having a dog. They have to be cared for," Tucher said. She keeps the chickens in her large backyard during the day and puts them in her coop at night.
"I know now that because of my chickens, I spend a lot more time in my backyard. I have an extra reason go out and be in nature," she said.
One down side is that they eat some of her plants, such as her ferns, she added.
Tucher said she did not worry about the recent salmonella scare because she knows where her eggs are coming from.
"It's fun to be a little closer to the land and food cycle and it's something that we eat every day," Tucher said.
What: Backyard Chickens
When: Saturday, Oct. 9, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Where: Meet at Common Ground Education Center, 559 College Ave, Palo Alto, and carpool to Jody Main's garden and hen house in Woodside.
Cost: $39 plus $7 materials fee, garden snack included
Info: 650-493-6072 or www.commongroundinpaloalto.org or http://backyardchicken.eventbrite.com/