Dannye Butler starts her mornings in the most peaceful way: with a cup of tea in her garden, feeding her chickens. She’s got eight total, including two of her original hens. While Butler sips her tea, the chickens stretch their legs around a boxwood garden, roaming in and out of their Mediterranean-style coop, complete with a red Italian-tile roof and copper cupola. Elegantly tucked away behind Butler’s restored 1920s Mediterranean home, you’d never know the space wasn’t always part of the estate.
“This area didn’t exist. It was just overgrown with brush,” Butler says. “My brother-in-law, who’s a master carpenter, built my chicken house from the ground up.” With Butler carefully overseeing design, the end result is a feast for the eyes even Marie Antoinette would be proud of. Her brother-in-law, Noah Caveny, used his own knowledge of birds to create ventilated areas for the hens to nest, lay eggs, and roost.
But Butler doesn’t do it for the trendy, aesthetic appeal. “I was born and raised in South Texas. My dad’s parents lived on a farm outside of town, so my dad was a farmer and a rancher. I went out to their farm almost every day.” Butler remembers feeding animals of all sorts during her childhood—pigs, horses, cattle, and yes, chickens. “We always had access to fresh eggs,” she adds.
Thankfully, her years of knowledge meant she knew exactly how to care for the creatures. Her brood includes an Ameraucana (aptly named Betsy Ross); a Rhode Island Red named Reba; Dixie the Plymouth Barred Rock; Cuckoo Marans named Dotty and Lady G; and the Easter Eggers, Goldie Hawn and Honey. She feeds them chicken scratch and feed, as well as oyster shells, grits, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables. (Watermelon, blueberries, corn on the cob, wheatgrass, and sprouts are just a few favorites.) But proper feeding is just one part of the constant care chickens require. “I had to come over every morning rain or shine [while the house was under construction]. That winter, there was a really big snowstorm, so I had to come over with my Uggs on and drift through the snow,” she remembers. When the chickens roost at night, Butler carefully makes sure the coop is shut to protect them from any predators—such as possums, raccoons, and coyotes. “This is true in town or on a farm in the country,” she adds. That’s still not counting the occasional vet checkups in the event of sickness and the weekly coop cleanings.
But the payoff from all that work makes it worth it. “What’s so fun for me are the different breeds and the different color eggs that they lay,” she says. “I have two that are Easter Eggers—the black and white ones—and they’ll lay green, pink, and turquoise eggs.” In addition to delicious eggs (which then make for beautiful table displays, too), Butler enjoys the time she spends with her granddaughter and young nephew in the chicken yard. Dixie and Asa love helping to feed the chickens—and they love reaping the benefits in the kitchen as well. “I make really good scrambled eggs,” Asa adds.
For Butler, the backyard chicken movement is just an added bonus to the experience. “It’s part of the whole move right now to be more sustainable. I have enough eggs so that I never have to buy from the grocery store,” she says, admitting the perks. “I’m known for my deviled eggs.”