Wimberley’s “Chicken Boy” helps locals start backyard chicken flocks
“I know a few different words in chicken,” says Jesse Huth, ducking to step into one of his chicken coop’s three pens. Serenade to Music, a 1938 composition by Ralph Vaughan Williams, plays softly from an old radio nearby. “I’ve spent way too much time in chicken coops to not pick up the language.”
Jesse imitates a rooster’s mating call as he scatters seed around his boots. His message communicates something along the lines of “Hey, ladies, dinner is served,” and it’s clearly received. All his hens come running. “Sometimes I even have crow-offs with the roosters,” he chuckles.
Affectionately known as the “Chicken Boy” in his hometown of Wimberley because of his long history of selling fresh eggs and “talking people’s ears off about chickens,” Jesse studied poultry science, welfare, and behavior at Texas A&M University.
Since earning his master’s degree, he has launched a poultry consulting business, Huth Avian Services. He assists clients with starting their own backyard chicken flocks by helping them select breeds and breeders, constructing predator-proof coops and pens, troubleshooting egg-laying inconsistencies, and everything in between.
“I fell in love with chickens when I was really young and have been working with them my whole life, so I’ve probably seen just about everything a new flock owner might encounter,” Jesse explains. “It’s devastating to get new chickens only to have something come and eat them all. I want to help people avoid that and teach them how to raise happy, stress-free chickens who enjoy a high quality of life.”
Jesse started his first flock at age six when his neighbors gave him a group of eggs to hatch in an incubator. In what Jesse calls “the best hatch he’s ever seen,” all of the eggs proved viable and resulted in the perfect ratio of 1 male to 11 females.
Two years later, he had amassed 150 chickens, built two additional coops, and begun selling extra eggs to his neighbors and Wimberley’s health food store.
While his friends struggled with what they wanted to study in college, Jesse decided early to focus his career around poultry—a choice he hasn’t regretted. “I never get bored with chickens,” Jesse says. “I’m still discovering new ones. There’s always something to learn and interesting behaviors to observe. And they’re so fun. They all have different personalities.”
Jesse rattles off a few common temperaments. There are entitled “feed-me-now” types who constantly beg for food, notoriously “broody” hens who become very protective of their nests, cuddly ones who like to be held, and the standoffish birds who—no matter how much hands-on attention he gives them as chicks—prefer to glare at him from afar.
Jesse asserts that chickens are smarter than people give them credit for and fully capable of forming strong bonds with their caretakers. When Jesse was twelve, he trained a Sumatra hen to jump up onto the handlebars of his bicycle and ride around the family’s land with him.
And he swears that his favorite chicken of all time, a Silver Phoenix hen, learned to tell him when she needed things during their public relations events.
“When Phoenix wanted to rest, she’d give me this specific little squawk, and she had a slightly different squawk and posture when she needed to use the restroom,” he recalls. “Most other chickens you hold will just go right there, regardless of what clothes you’re wearing or which direction they’re pointing, but not her. She’d tell me, I’d let her do her business, and then she’d hop back up on my hand.”
In addition to his poultry expertise, Jesse has also earned respect as an accomplished birder. Growing up, members of the Wimberley Birding Society took him under their wing, so to speak. He now works bird guide for the Partnership for International Birding, hosting Texas and, occasionally, international expeditions. He organizes his own local guided bird trips in between gigs.
For the last seven years, he has also been working with landowners to conduct seasonal bird surveys, from which landowners can pull data to qualify for state wildlife tax exemptions come tax season. “Once a year is enough to satisfy the tax man,” he says, “but if you want to satisfy your curiosity, I can come up to four times per year and tell you what birds are spending the winter on your property and which ones are coming here in the spring and nesting.”
As of March 2017, Jesse has seen 1,471 different bird species throughout the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Peru, Germany, Ukraine, and India. Appropriately, his 700th “life bird” was a wild chicken. “I’ve birdwatched in some amazing places all over the world,” says Jesse. “But really, birding is great even just right here in the Hill Country. It’s amazing to be able to go out to some of these 5,000-acre ranches around South Texas.”
Between running his business, caring for his family’s animals, and land and birdwatching with friends, Jesse pursues astronomy, wildlife photography, and gem and mineral collection. He’s also currently building his own house on his family’s land.
“It was supposed to be a cabin, but it keeps getting bigger—a lot like my first chicken flock,” he says, laughing. “I guess that’s not a bad thing.”
For more information about Huth Avian Services, visit Jesse’s website at www.huthavian.com.