Spring has sprung, and this means that the flowers are blooming and baby chicks are for sale. Although the Gila Valley is widely well known for being a farming and ranching community, the Backyard Farmers are important too. Backyard Farming is also known as Urban Farming, and Urban Homesteading. These are the farmers who grow their own food and own livestock on a smaller portion of land. Backyard Farmers can grow crops, have hives of bees, and own livestock.
Many Backyard Farmers are moved to grow their own food because of the price of food. They want to be able to feed their family fresh vegetables and fruit, and it is cheaper to grow their own than buy it in the stores. Some Backyard Farmers own dairy animals and chickens out of strict dietary needs. While some babies can easily adjust to formula and cow’s milk, other babies cannot stomach these and can only drink goat’s milk.
Dusti Brantner is a local of the Gila Valley, and she has a small chicken coop. She raises her chickens, and sells the eggs to neighbors and friends. “I love my hens,” Brantner said, “Each one has its own personality.” Like many Backyard Farmers, she finds comfort in the company of her animals. “They are a respite for me at the end of a long day. I can feed them and water them and that makes them happy. Their reward to me is eggs.” To Brantner, her chickens are companions and more than just livestock. “They are just like any other pet,” She commented, “They have likes, dislikes, and personalities.” To many Backyard Farmers, there are multiple reasons to raise chickens. The health benefits of eating eggs from well fed and healthy chickens is obvious. Also, the excrement from chickens is extremely good as garden fertilizer. A properly producing laying hen will lay an egg every twenty-four hours. Also, the average sized hen can produce one foot of manure every six months. Chicken manure increases the water holding capacities of the soil. Chicken excrement also provides Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in greater quantities than horse or steer manure. Not only is the Backyard Farmer feeding their family one of the best sources of protein, but they are also enriching the soil in the area.
Located on the outskirts of Thatcher, Dove and James Schnebly own an online Amaryllis bulb business. Aside from their business, they also own milk goats. When asked why she likes to keep the goats, she answered, “I like to have the fresh milk every day. Goat milk is easier to digest, and goats are very companionable.” Schnebly owns two miniature Nigerian Dwarf Lamancha mixes. Her older goat yields roughly two quarts of milk a day. “Goats are smaller and easier to handle than cows,” She continued, “Goats are more sensitive to the quality of hay than say horses or cows. But they eat much less.” Like Brantner, Dove Schnebly keeps her goats for comfort and companionship. “I find the nostalgia of goats the most rewarding. I still have memories of sitting down and milking as a child. I like
the warmth of the goat and the smell of the hay. They are a comforting presence and they can be genuinely happy to see you.”
Be it large cotton farms and ranches, or the little chicken pen in the back yard, our Gila Valley is blooming and growing. With the start of spring, we all turn back to the flowers and gardens. Although cotton and cattle is a major industry, our valley also provides what we need in vegetables, milk, and eggs. Together, we all create the beauty and uniqueness that is our Gila Valley.