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After 19 years of raising chickens, Karen Krumenacher hasn't kept count of how many eggs she's collected. But she can't imagine ever buying an egg.

Backyard chickens are her passion, which she turned into a business: Royal Roost. Teaching others the art of keeping chickens, building coops and collecting eggs, she's also pretty adept at making baked egg dishes, and she never gets tired of chicken for dinner.

Krumenacher and her husband, Thomas, live in Pewaukee with their four kids, ages 11 to 18, dozens of chickens, two goats, a few ducks, a turkey, two dogs and a cat.

Describing her dream

I consider myself a chicken-raising consultant and a chicken enthusiast. My business is all about helping people raise backyard chickens.

This will be our 19th year with chickens. We moved from the city of Milwaukee to the Lake Country area on over three acres. I was pregnant with my oldest, we had really no neighbors, just a cocker spaniel. I needed something other than the dog.

At the time, Martha Stewart Living was big, and she had 300 Ameraucana chicks. They are the Easter egg laying chicken; each shell is a different color: khaki, rose, green. I saw that, went to Merton Feed and came home with four chicks. I did a little research, but holy moly, it scared me.

By the numbers

I'm expecting a shipment in March of new chicks. I like to have about 20 to 25 on site, standard egg layers. Then I also have a small grouping of bantams. They're just a smaller chicken. They still lay eggs, but smaller.

From years of doing this, she now prefers the bantam eggs to eat. "There's a lot packed in that small little egg; you get a bigger yolk. They're perfect fried up in the pan and they're easier to handle."

Farm facts

People ask, "Do you have to have a rooster?" No, you don't. That is the makeup of a female chicken; she is just meant to produce eggs. The only time you need the male is if you need fertilized eggs to produce chicks.

After the year to year-and-a-half egg laying is done, we do take our birds in and (have them processed). That, people do have a hard time with, but that's where your sustainable living comes in. We don't take it for granted.

There is nothing better than going down to my freezer and knowing how the bird was treated, what it ate. It is a gratifying appreciative moment for us.

Her favorite recipe

We do a lot of egg bakes, that's my favorite. Some use a bread base, but the ones that are just full of veggies and greens and different cheeses in little muffin tins is how I like to do them. I have high-schoolers, and they can grab them and eat on the go.

She said eggs are like little pieces of artwork. "I don't refrigerate my eggs, and that started over in Europe."

It is a simple concept that makes total sense. When the egg is released from the hen, it has a coating on it. Once that coating is washed away, like store-bought eggs that are bleached and pasteurized at a high temperature, things change.

"So the only time I really wash my eggs is right before I use them. Once that coating rubs away, an egg shell is porous and it breaks down the freshness of the egg," she said.

Sustainable supper

Mine are stewing hens rather than broiler fryers, which are only 8 to 12 weeks old when processed. All I do is throw them in a slow cooker for 6 to 8 hours, make my own stock from that, and the meat falls off the bone.

Krumenacher says she is a fan of a structure that you are able to fully walk into. "It doesn't have to be a huge garden shed. For two to four backyard chickens I always think outhouse size."

One reason she started the business is to give people the little push. "This is the first year I'm trying "rent a roost," where people can rent from me in April or May to September or October. Some people don't want to winter with chickens."

"I tried it last year for two families in Green Lake. I look at it as try before you buy. Before you truly invest in a structure, this is what it having chickens is like."

Chicken charity

"I am part of a store called Roost at Lynndale Farm, N47-W28270 Lynndale Rd., Pewaukee, where I sell T-shirts. Each sale of a T-shirt I donate to the Key West Wildlife Center in Florida, because there are chickens that run wild there. They rehabilitate them. It is something near and dear to me to help fund and care for chickens."

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