Chickens

This page describes my adventures with raising chickens.

In the photo above, Norma and I are posing with my first flock of chickens and her cat, Asha, in front of the coop I built in 2014. This became our first family Christmas card photo. Every year since then, we have maintained this tradition, posing with our animals.

About

I'm not a birdwatcher but I've always enjoyed being around birds. I had a parakeet growing up. When I was 18 and 19, I was a volunteer animal care assistant at the Sacramento Science Center. There, I worked with raptors: red tailed hawks, great horned owls, a barn owl, a turkey vulture (my favorite), and a golden eagle.

After meeting Norma in 2006, I got a chance to see the farm where she grew up. They had polled hereford cattle and several Rhode Island Red egg laying hens. Needless to say, I liked the chickens much more than the cows. I enjoyed going out to the coop to retrieve eggs.

Me with a chicken at Norma's sister's farm

Eventually, I became an egg dealer. But I was just the middleman. The eggs came from Norma's sister's farm and I sold them at work for $2.50 a dozen in 2013. I made no profit...all the money went straight to the farmer. I came to be known as the Eggman.

When I have a surplus of eggs from my own hens, I will sometimes sell them or raffle them off. People really appreciate free range, locally grown eggs from happy chickens.

In the photo below I am posing with Beatrice on September 24, 2014

Me with Beatrice on September 24, 2014

Why Chickens?Open accordion icon
There are many reasons to have chickens. They are fun and entertaining. But unlike a typical pet, they also provide food. For me, this was the primary incentive, as I suspect it is for many people.
Many people in urban environments are seeking to raise chickens to assert control over their food. This may be in reaction to increasing reports of how large industrial farms raise chickens in abusive and unsanitary settings - settings that not only are unhealthy for the chickens but negatively affect the health of people who live near such farms, as well as anyone who eats the eggs or meat from those chickens [2].

Over the last several years, farmer's markets have really become popular in urban settings. People have become conscious of eating locally grown produce for both its health and environmental benefits. Raising your own food is what I call super-locally grown and eggs from your backyard chickens definitely fall into that category.

There are many different foods that you can grow yourself. Many are high in vitamins, fiber, and carbohydrates. But unless you have enough land to raise your own livestock, little of what you grow will be packed with good, high quality protein. Eggs are the exception. When it comes to rounding out your super-locally grown diet, look no further than backyard chickens.

I really developed an appreciation for the nutritional value of eggs when I was competing in bodybuilding back in 2001 and 2002.
Eggs contain some of the highest quality protein available, giving them a reputation as a "nearly perfect" food, according to "The Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Foods." The primary source of the high-quality protein in eggs is the ovalbumin, or white of the egg, which earns a PER [protein efficiency ratio] rating of 2.8. Although it was once used extensively in protein supplements, egg white concentrate is used less today because it is relatively expensive compared with whey and other high-quality proteins [35].

If you have an objection to eating meat because of ethical or health reasons, then raising your own chickens and eating their eggs is a great way to get your protein and ensure your food source is being treated well.

If you have chickens, then there is a good chance you also have a garden. And if you have a garden, then you know the importance of good soil. Chickens are the ultimate recycler. They turn food scraps and lawn clippings into eggs and fertilizer. You use the fertilizer on your garden to grow more food for your own consumption and then give the scraps back to the chickens. It is the circle of life.

Many of my home improvement costs are oriented towards saving energy and being "green." Backyard chickens are indeed green for the same reason that buying any locally grown food is good for the environment. But do chickens have a return on investment (ROI) like my solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling system? That remains to be seen but I am guessing not.
Although some have argued that raising backyard chickens will save money that would have been used to buy eggs over time, this claim is dubious. It would take many years to recoup [no pun intended] the cost of the chickens, the chicken feed, and the coops [2].

Chickens aren't as cuddly as cats and dogs and they don't make good indoor pets. They certainly aren't as smart as dogs but one could argue that in some ways they are smarter than cats. Can your cat pick out colors/shapes, or walk in a pattern and then change that pattern when given a cue? This chicken at Farm Animal Protection Campaign can. And the next time you think your kid is smart, ask yourself how hold he/she was before he/she could feed himself/herself. My girls did so at 3 days old. And I don't mean that a mother hen fed them. I showed them their food and water and they did the rest on their own.
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Zoning for Residential ChickensOpen accordion icon
Norma and I bought our house in December 2009. At first, I had no desire to have chickens. But over time, we found ourselves becoming more self-sufficient and in touch with our food sources.

I invested in solar photovoltaic panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and solar thermal hot water heating. I also installed rain barrels to reduce water runoff and soil erosion.

Norma spent much of her time growing her own vegetables. It became a common thing for her to start dinner by going out to the garden, picking what was ripe, cleaning it off, cutting it, then adding meat from the farm. We were becoming less dependent on the grocery store. It is a good feeling to have control over what you eat.

Having this control only made me want to have more. I looked into egg laying hens in December 2010. I asked Cindy Hamilton, Chief of Zoning for Howard County about this. She replied that for our R-12 zoned property,
The location of the structure housing the chickens (the coop) must be compliant with Section 128.A.4 of the Regulations. That section requires that the structure be located at least 200 feet of an existing dwelling on any of the vicinal lots.

I posted something on the forums page of Backyard Chickens, seeing if there was anyone else in the county interested trying to change the zoning laws to make it easier for residents to own chickens. A year or two passed but in January 2013, I heard from Molly F., who lived in Howard County and was also interested in owning chickens. After a few e-mails, we met and put together a rough plan for how we could make the county a better place by making it "chicken friendly."

Molly and I later learned that there was someone, Cathy H., who had already made great strides in the direction we were heading. Cathy maintains Chickens in Howard County. Rather than start from chicken scratch, we decided it was best to align ourselves with Cathy. Cathy worked with Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty in writing an amendment to the relevant zoning law to make it easier for residents to own backyard chickens. The original zoning amendment concerning this topic appears in the "Howard County Zoning Regulations" from August 2007, "Section 128: Supplementary Zoning District Regulations." This mentions
4. In all districts where farming is a permitted use, the following shall not be allowed within 200 feet of an existing dwelling on a different lot:
a. An animal shelter including a building, shed, roofed structure or movable shelter that houses or provides protection for animals other than household pets, except for apiaries which meet the requirements of subsection O; or [Council Bill 55-2010 (ZRA-117) Effective April 13, 2011]
b. The storage of manure.


Bees (apiaries) once fell under these restrictions but thanks to concerned citizens and cooperative councilmembers (in particular, Mary Kay Sigaty), the zoning regulations were relaxed, making it easier for the average resident to keep apiaries. Many of us felt it was time for the chickens to follow the bees.

The bee movement started a few years prior. The following appeared in a February 7, 2011 Columbia Flier article titled "Howard County eases restrictions on beekeepers,"
Until the council changed the zoning law, apiaries (a cluster of beehives) fell under the zoning regulations for farming, which require animal shelters to be set back at least 200 feet from neighboring properties.
The zoning regulation amendment by the council passed Monday creates specific provisions for apiaries, allowing them as long as they as they are set back 25 feet from neighboring properties, or 10 feet in cases where a six-foot-tall fence or barrier surrounds the apiary.


A big part of the change of attitude regarding bees was simply educating the public. There are some negative stereotypes about bees that are simply born out of ignorance and fear. But by telling people the truth, and writing the law in a way that gives apiary owners their freedom while protecting the rights of their neighbors, a win-win situation can be achieved. That is exactly what I wanted for the residential chicken effort.

Would setback requirements be eased, as it was with bees, to make it easier for residents to more easily own backyard chickens? Only time would tell. But a few "outlaw chicken owners" had already built their coops and bought their chickens. For them, their battle cry was, "When chickens are outlawed, only outlaws will have chickens." I contemplated walking down that same path but wanted to try and do thing legally first.

I did some work with the Savage Community Association to try to influence both the zoning board and the county council to reject a proposal to develop woodlands in our historic town. See Conservation and Preservation of the Appalachian Snaketail Dragonfly and 2013 County Council Presentation - Appalachian Snaketail Dragonfly. That gave me a little insight into seeing how the county government works. I knew that if our "pro-chicken" movement was to influence the council, we needed to voice our opinions in writing. I wrote and submitted Residential Chicken Keeping to the council. Then I urged some of my neighbors and co-workers to do the same.

On July 25, 2013, the county council met in the evening and voted on several issues. Around 2200, the Residential Chicken-keeping Zoning Amendment came up. Councilwoman Sigaty spoke about it and then a vote was taken. The amendment was passed 4 to 1.

To see a poor quality video that I took of the council discussion and voting for this amendment, click on July 25, 2013 Howard County Council voting on residential chicken zoning amendment.

The following chicken zoning regulation is taken from Howard County Zoning Regulations, October 6, 2013. Doing a Google search on this text should get you a link to the official Howard County document. Mine is a copy. The section that pertains to chickens is on page 339, section 128.0.D.9.


Residential Chicken Keeping

Only in residential districts where it is enumerated as an accessory use, the keeping of hens is permitted provided it is in compliance with the criteria below.

a. The lot size shall be 10,000 square feet or larger [about a quarter of an acre].

b. The lot shall be improved with a single-family detached dwelling which is occupied as a residence.

c. The maximum number of chickens is eight hens. Roosters are prohibited.

d. A hen house/chicken coop shall be provided. This shelter shall be located in the rear yard and shall be located 15 feet from all lot lines at a minimum, except if the property is within the Planned Service Area the shelter shall be at least 15 feet from all lot lines, 50 feet from a neighboring dwelling and shall not create a nuisance. This minimum distance cannot be reduced through variance procedures. This hen house shall allow adequate air circulation to prevent the concentration of odors. Any chicken coop that has not been actively used to house chickens for a year must be taken down and removed from the property.

e. The area in which the chickens forage on the property and in which the shelter is located shall be fenced in such a manner that the chickens are confined to the property. This fence shall comply with all requirements for fences as noted elsewhere in Section 128.0.

f. The owner(s) shall conduct proper litter management practices within the shelter so that odors are not detectable from adjoining properties.

g. Chickens kept in accordance with this regulation must also be registered with the Maryland Department of Agriculture as required by section 3-804 of the Agriculture Article of the Maryland Code.

- from Section 128.0.D.9: Residential Chicken Keeping, "Howard County Zoning Regulations" pages 339 and 340


Additionally,
Chicken Keeping, Residential: The care and raising of eight or fewer hens, on a residential parcel or lot improved with a single-family detached dwelling. This term does not apply to any other fowl animal, including but not limited to, ducks, geese, peafowl and turkeys. Roosters are not permitted.
- from Section 103.0: Definitions, "Howard County Zoning Regulations" page 23

This historic event [at least in my mind] was described in the Ellicott City Patch:
The new regulations allow county residents to add up to eight hens and a chicken coop on lots larger than 10,000 square feet as long as the coop sits 15 feet from a neighboring lot line and at least 50 feet from all neighboring dwellings inside the Planned Service Area, or most of eastern Howard County. The legislation also requires that the coop doesn't create a nuisance.
The county requires that coops be kept odor free and that if a coop is no longer used it be taken down in less than a year.

- from Cluck, Cluck! County Approves Chicken Keeping Measure.


If you have at least three acres of land in Howard County, then you've got quite a bit of freedom when it comes to chickens. If you have less than an acre but at least a quarter of an acre, then the above rules will likely apply to you. But what if you have at least one but less than three acres? Then the zoning rules are not so well defined. Can one have roosters? Someone asked me this in 2019.

The maximum number of livestock animals is one animal unit or fraction thereof for each 1.0 acre of lot area, provided, however, that a higher ratio shall be allowed upon a finding by the Department of Planning and Zoning that the property owner has obtained and implemented a nutrient management plan and a land and water conservation plan endorsed by the Howard Soil Conservation District that adequately manages the property for the higher ratio being approved.

Animal Unit: A unit of measurement used to regulate the number of livestock on a residential lot or parcel that is not used as a farm.

Animal unit ratio requirements for other livestock or immature animals or fowl shall be made on a case by case basis using generally available information on animal unit equivalencies and the generally accepted ratio that one animal unit approximately equals 1,000 pounds of live animal weight. Fish and other aquatic animals in aquafarming facilities are not subject to animal unit requirements.


I asked my chicken expert point of contact. She knows a lot about the Howard County regulations but doesn't work for the county. Here is what she said on January 1, 2019:

Yes, the zoning regulations are ambiguous. When we wrote them, the way that Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) intended was that that the rules for properties at least 10,000 sqare feet would hold for properties up to three acres. At three acres the regulations say that the property is then a farm and there is no limit to numbers of hens or roosters (factory farms come under Dept of Agriculture rules, not zoning). The section that you referenced was to allow a person to have horse or sheep on properties between one and three acres and thus the requirement for the nutrient management plan and conservation plan. Although I pushed to have chickens measured by animal units/acres, DPZ didn't like that idea and instead settled on a number of hens (eight). With the new leadership at DPZ, apparently someone pointed out the ambiguity and I understand that they are interpreting the regulations so that properties greater than one acre may have roosters. I assume that a greater number of chickens would be allowed as well.

There was never any talk about requiring a nutrient management plan or conservation plan for residential chicken keeping, and I haven't heard of any being required for properties of one to three acres - unless you are a working farm and then you are required to have one if you gross $2500 in income from your agricultural operation or if you have eight or more animal units (2000 chickens).

I would have your friend just call DPZ at (410) 313-2350 and ask to talk to someone about keeping chickens on residential properties (I think they will refer you to Bob Lalush). They are pretty helpful.



What are the chicken zoning laws like in other Maryland counties? It seems Howard County is a good place to live if you like chickens.
  • Anne Arundel County: As of 2013, the keeping of ducks and chickens on lots greater than 40,000 square feet does not require an Anne Arundel County License. Roosters o.k. for 40,000 square feet or more.
  • Kent County: As of 2016, they are not very accepting of chickens on smaller lots.
    ...one is only allowed to keep small animals "on farms (parcels 20 acres or more)" in three of Kent's 17 zoning districts. Yes, you read that right. Unless you live on a farm of at least 20 acres in certain areas, it is illegal in Kent County to keep a few hens or rabbits in your backyard.
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     Construction

    I put a lot of thought into preparing to have chickens. I could have gone the cheap route and put together something where they would be confined to a small space in an unattractive coop, but I wanted them to be free range, safe, and live in a coop that I could be proud of. I knew this would not be an inexpensive endeavor.

    FenceOpen accordion icon
    Prior to buying chickens, our approximately 0.4 acre backyard was surrounded by a four-foot-high chain link fence. Deer living in Savage Park would sometimes come into our backyard. To prevent this, I added an ugly four-foot extension to some of the fence. It was made out of PVC conduit and clothes line. That kept the deer out for about a year until they learned that they just needed to hop over to the neighbor's property then over to ours. I could have put up the four-foot extension around our entire backyard but it wasn't pretty and I didn't want to subject our neighbors to such an eye sore.

    Norma had tried various things to keep the deer out but nothing worked reliably. Just one visit from a deer can undo weeks of hard work in her vegetable garden. I felt the best solution was to put up a six-foot privacy fence.

    While deer can jump over six feet, the idea is that they would not be so inclined to jump over a fence if they can't see what is on the other side. Our fence would not have gaps so they wouldn't be able to see through it.

    The primary purpose for getting the fence was to protect Norma's garden. But I also wanted it to protect our chickens. I wanted them to feel at ease, rather than have our neighbor's dog barking at them. I also wanted them to be sheltered from the wind. If and when we get bees (we did in 2021), they too would benefit from the fence.

    I interviewed salesmen from three companies, all of which have A+ ratings with the Better Business Bureau. To be perfectly honest, I think any one of these companies would have done a fine job. In the end, price was the biggest factor.
  • Hercules Fence: Rob S. quoted me $10,800. I like to help out local businessmen and these guys are as local as they get but unfortunately, they were also the most expensive.
  • Tri County Fence and Decks: Chuck B. quoted me $10,485.
  • Fence and Deck Connection: Tracy O. made some suggestions to help reduce costs. He proposed a lift-off panel rather than a vehicle gate. His company's cost was $9884. I chose them.

  • Fence and Deck Connection started installing the fence on November 12, 2013. It was a three or four man crew led by Travis that did the work. I met with Travis before they commenced to go over the plan. My biggest concern was the post hole digging around where the geothermal heat pump line was buried. This line is supposedly four feet deep and fence posts are typically dug three feet deep. Travis understood my concern and assured me that they would dig that area by hand.

    After the geothermal line, my next concern was the area near the spring. The ground is very soft there. I installed chain link fence posts there a few years ago and I could not dig because the holes just filled up with water. So instead I just hammered in a very long post and added a diagonal brace. Tracy was aware of all this and was confident the crew could handle the job.

    The crew finished their work on November 15. They did a very good job and I would recommend Fence and Deck Connection to others. My only critiques were the lift-off panels.
  • Exterior drywall screws were primarily used though there were a few cases where non-exterior screws were used.
  • I was not able to remove the lift-off panels without having to remove a few nails. I replaced these nails with exterior drywall screws. In my opinion, lift-off panels should be removable with just a screwdriver.
  • Fence

    Pedestrian gate.
    Fence gate

    In October 2014, Norma borrowed a paint sprayer and stained our fence to also match our deck. Using a paint sprayer is definitely the way to go although there was still a little brush work that needed to be done. Be sure to cover anything you don't want to be painted/stained because those sprayers really put out a lot.


    After the fence was complete, there was still one section that had to be controlled to keep the chickens from getting out. It was the area between the house and the garage. I took care of this myself. We wanted to have a lift-off gate so I used pintle hinges. I made my own lattice to keep the look light and airy. I also chose a black post latch. Finally, I stained it using Olympic Maximum Stain and Sealant in One, 4 year protection, Toner - Cedar Natural tone purchased at Lowe's to match our deck. I completed this in the spring of 2014.

    Life-off lattice gate that I made
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    Coop NotesOpen accordion icon
    Prior to coop construction, I considered several options and got ideas from a multitude of sources, including the following:
  • Build This Predator-Proof, Portable Chicken Coop for Your Backyard
  • Ebay: Coop Plans
  • Free Chicken Coop Plans
  • Snaplock Chicken Coops
  • Chicken Coop Plans, two sets! (Up to 10 chickens)
  • "Daisy" Coop w/ Run Building Plans (12 chickens): This coop has sufficient space for 8 chickens but not 12. My observations indicate that like tents and rafts, if a coop says it is sufficient for N number of chickens, it is really better suited for 0.75 * N.
  • Ware Premium Chick-N-Lodge
  • Williams-Sonoma coops
  • T100
  • Home and Garden Plans: This is the most awesome coop page I have ever seen

  • I really liked the coop I saw at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania on September 21, 2013. It was elegant, tasteful, and functional...but far too small for eight chickens.
    Life-off lattice gate that I made

    I initially wanted a chicken tractor which is basically a mobile coop that can be moved to various parts of the yard so the chickens can fertilize different areas. I had a list of several other desired features such as off-the-grid, programmable, and powered by renewable energy. I got some of what I wanted, and for the things I didn't get...well, I learned a lot.

    Since I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, I decided to build my own coop, incorporating the ideas of others. And in my typical blogging fashion, I figured I could share some of what I learned. It was hard to find specific information to use as a basis for building my Ultimate Howard County Coop. But digging deep (really deep), I found a lot of answers to my questions.

    The following are my coop notes from 2013 and 2014. I got them from a variety of sources so sometimes there is contradictory information. If I found that to be the case, I generally tried to go with the dominant thought or middle ground. Quoted information appears in italics. I did my best to provide hyperlinks to my sources but the internet is a very dynamic place so many of these links broke over time.

    Automation

    Originally, my dream was to have an off-the-grid "smart coop." That doesn't mean I won't check up on the ladies at least once a day...it just means I don't have to rush home to close up the coop, wake up early to let them out at sunrise, or worry about them getting too hot or too cold.

    In addition to a power source, I would need certain chicken geek products to make this work. Here are some things I looked into.
  • Arduino: A single-board microcontroller to make using electronics in multidisciplinary projects more accessible. See Arduino Chicken Coop by Roger Reed. Roger was generous enough to include his source code. Also see Arduino Chicken Coop Controller by Robot-Chicken and Hay River Software - Chicken Coop Controls.
  • SOlar Data AcQuisition (SODAQ): a multi-feature microprocessor board that lets you connect sensors and devices to the internet, quickly and with no fuss. It's designed for connecting things efficiently, running off-grid with built-in, ready-to-go solar power. I like the "SODAQ Moja complete."
  • Chicken Coop Mechanical Engineering
  • AirPi: An inexpensive pollution and weather monitor.

  • After I looked into things further, I decided to stay on the grid and only use automation for the door.


    Door

    The standard width of the door is 10 inches while the length is 13 inches [6].

    12" x 12" opening-bottom should be a couple inches above floor. Hinged door - optional if coop is within secure area or connected to a run [24].

    If you want to automate the opening and closing of the door, consider the following:
  • Amico DC 12V Digital LCD Power Programmable Timer
  • Chicken Coop Motor by Add-a-Motor: Automate your door. Note that the timer is not included. I ended up going with this and have been very pleased with it. The only problem is that the string sometimes breaks. After a few years, screws fell out, the plastic got cracked, and things were held together with duct tape but it kept on working. In 2023, I purchased a new one because the wire I used to replace the string got extremely tangled and I wasn't able to untangle it.

  • Dustbox

    Outside, chickens hollow out a depression in dry ground and dust-bathe in it. Inside, they use the driest parts of the litter for bathing. But in case they have no other access to dust bathing - during a rainy spell, or when the litter is not fine enough - it's a good idea to furnish them a dustbox.
    My dustboxes are simple edge-nailed plywood boxes, 24 inches square on the bottom, 16 inches deep, with 2-inch plywood strips around the top edges as a lip.
    Fill with 4 inches or so of any dusty, nontoxic material, renewing it as needed. Sphagnum peat moss is excellent
    [15].

    I ended up not providing them a dustbox. They free-range quite a bit and end up finding a suitable area to dust-bathe in our yard.

    Feed

    If you adjust the height of the feed basin to match their chest level and purchase a feeder with a rim that rolls inward, you can prevent the costly habit known as billing out [20].

    Food attracts predators and pests such as mice and rats. While predators may not be successful getting to the feed, they can still cause property damage and stress the chickens trying [42].

    Should one keep food in the coop, in the run, or both? What about water? I actually address water in a separate section but since the two are so related, I'll mention it briefly here as well. The simple answer is there is no simple answer. If you look at the forum pages, you'll see that lots of people try lots of different things and getting good results. If you have a chicken tractor, then you might want to keep the food and water outside the coop to offer your chickens additional space in the coop, which I suspect will be in high demand. You might also want to remove the food and water before moving the coop to avoid spillage and reduce the weight.

    One of the best answers I've seen regarding where to keep the food and water is from a forum:
    I keep the food in the coop and water in the run. When I let them out in the morning they hightail it to the water and give me dirty looks. They have free entry in and out during the day [3].

    I ended up keeping both the food and water in the run. Keeping water out of the coop is important because the humidity should be low in the coop.

    Floor/Litter

    I like the idea of having a wood floor that can slide out for cleaning (i.e. droppings board). I've heard various sources say it should be made waterproof, which makes sense and is a requirement in some county zoning laws. I found some extra vinyl flooring material that I used to make the floor waterproof and easier to clean.

    Begin a freshly cleaned coop with 4 inches of litter, adding an inch of fresh litter when the litter has lost its ability to absorb smell, becomes trampled down, or is noticeably soiled [20].

    If you plan to use the deep litter method, then make sure you can slide out your droppings board even if it has 10 inches of bedding on top of it. Or be prepared to remove most of the bedding before sliding out the board.
    The deep litter method is one sustainable method of managing chicken litter in the chicken coop that many small farmers use. In the deep litter method, you're basically forming a compost pile of your chicken's poop right on the floor of the coop. You simply add enough shavings to keep the floor composting nicely, and the chickens do the aeration for you with their scratching behavior. Scattering corn on the coop floor encourages them. The litter has beneficial microbes - think of it as probiotics for your hens.
    Once or twice a year or less, you clean the coop out.
    If you have a wood or other floor...you'll have to compost the litter when you clean it out before using it, because the earth supplies the moisture and culture to start the composting process
    [16].

    Based on my readings, it sound like the deep litter method works best over an earth floor.
    If you are going to build from scratch, my strong recommendation is to leave an earth floor in the coop. Not only will you save the expense of framing and installing a floor, but you will be ready to create the conditions for best manure management [15].

    Deep litter insulates chickens in the winter and lets them keep cool by burrowing in on hot summer days. Start young birds on a bedding a minimum of 4 inches deep and work up to 8 inches by the time they are mature.
    Under droppings boards, after each cleaning spread at least 2 inches of litter beneath the boards to absorb moisture from manure and make it easier to scoop up
    [23].

    A very good source for additional information about the deep litter method is the "Composting Litter" section in the "Routine Management" chapter in [23].

    How much litter does one need?
    Shavings = 9 pounds per cubic foot
    Need 6 cubic feet to cover 24 square foot floor 3 inches deep
    [24].
    This equates to one cubic foot of shavings to cover 4 square feet of floor. I'll have a 32 square foot floor so that means 8 cubic feet or 72 pounds to cover it 3 inches deep.
    Shavings absorb 2 pounds (1 quart) of water per 1 pound of bedding [24].
    That means the 3 inch deep bedding covering 32 square feet will weight 72 + (72 x 2) = 216 pounds. If we use the deep litter method and let this get up to 8 inches deep, then we're looking at 8/3 x 216 = 576 pounds! My idea of having a chicken tractor just keeps getting heavier and heavier. Maybe I should rethink using the deep litter method for such a large chicken tractor.

    For henhouse flooring, use
    3/4" exterior-grade plywood or concrete [and]
    3" deep absorbent litter
    [24].

    Three or four inches of litter or nesting material, changed regularly, keeps the area clean and odor free [20].

    I ended up not going with the deep litter method.

    Heating and Cooling

    In harsh winter climates, a heat lamp may be placed above the roosting area to prevent frostbite to the chickens' combs and wattles. It needs only to be used when temps drop below 15 degrees or so [2].

    If you are expecting temperatures just a little below freezing, you probably won't need to take any special precautions for your flock. The exception would be bantams or other small breeds. Because of their smaller body size, these birds should be provided with supplemental heat at temperatures or wind chills of 32 degrees or below. Other breeds should be hardy to about 20 degrees, plus or minus depending on wind, coop quality, and number of birds in a coop [9].

    One woman out in Wyoming even says heat lamps are not needed when it gets down to 40 below zero! See [64].

    At the other extreme,
    All breeds need supplementary heat if temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit [20].
    However, this same source later contradicts itself.
    Add a heat lamp or small heater over the roosting area when temperatures dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit [20].

    Combs and toes are most susceptible to frostbite in extreme cold. Having a roost that is sufficiently wide allows feathers to more easily cover the feet. For the comb,
    a coating of petroleum jelly in extreme conditions...[helps] conserve moisture and heat and prevent[s] cracking [9].

    Our 2013/2014 winter was really harsh. I didn't have any chickens then but I did ask some people I know in the Baltimore area if they were providing supplemental heat for their chickens. I got mixed answers. Despite how cold our Baltimore winter is (lows under 5 degrees, without wind chill factored in), places like Michigan are much colder. Out there, Shannon Cole claims
    We do not use heat lamps or any type of coop heater with the exception of a heated waterer [45].

    While cold is a danger, moisture and cold is a greater concern. Rebecca Nickols writes
    ...my flock enjoyed free-ranging in a 40 degree Fahrenheit drizzling rain and returned to the coop that evening with their feathers soaking wet. That night the temperature took a dramatic drop to 7 degrees Fahrenheit! It was the moisture, added to the freezing temperature and lack of acclimation to the cold, that increased the chance of frostbite [46].

    The optimum temperature for chickens is between 45 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit [20].

    Minimize coop space for wintered chickens, add insulation, and keep the area draft-free to cut down costs [20].

    Be sure to close the windows about the time of your first killing frost to stop any cold drafts, and then open or uncover the windows when it's warm enough to plant early spring crops, such as peas, greens, and potatoes [63].

    A simple way of protecting your birds from chilling overnight is to send them to bed with a full crop [9].

    Contrary to what I originally thought, chickens are more prone to having problems with heat than cold.
    To keep the shelter from getting too hot, treat the roof and walls with insulation, such as 1.5 inch Styrofoam sheets, particularly on the south and west sides. Cover the insulation with plywood or other material your chickens can't pick to pieces.
    Using a heater for mature chickens won't do them any favors. In a properly constructed shelter, chickens can keep sufficiently warm if they aren't wet or sitting in a draft
    [23].

    Insulating the roof and walls also reduces summer heat gain and moisture accumulation [24].

    When temperatures climb into the high 70s, air will need to move freely and regularly through the coop [20].

    Chickens aren't capable of sweating and can go downhill pretty quickly in temperatures over 95 degrees. You'll know they are too hot if you see them panting [17].

    A wall-mounted fan sucks stale air out, causing fresh air to be drawn in. The fan, rated in cubic feet per minute, or cfm, should move 5 cubic feet of air per minute per bird. A barn fan or agricultural fan is recommended since
    a fan designed for use in your home won't last long in the dust and humidity generated in the normal chicken shelter [23].

    A chicken's body operates most efficiently at an effective ambient temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. In cold weather, they eat more to obtain the additional energy they need to stay warm. Hot weather is more problematic.
    Egg production may rise slightly, but eggs become smaller and have thinner shells. When the temperature exceeds 95 degrees, birds may die
    [23].

    What about heat lamps?
    DON'T use heat lamps inside the coop. There is no way to use a heat lamp safely inside a chicken coop. Any chicken can fly into a heat lamp, catch its feathers on fire and incinerate the entire flock and coop. If you cannot be persuaded that chickens do not need supplemental heat inside a properly managed chicken coop in the winter, find a safe heat source such as a flat panel radiant heater that brings the temperatures up just a few degrees. There should not be an extreme difference in heat between outside temperatures and temperatures inside the coop [25].

    Clearly, you will get a wide variety of answers when it comes to providing supplemental heat for chickens. I ended up not choosing to do so. There are plenty of people that live in colder places than me that do not heat their coop and their chickens do just fine.

    Height

    In regions with strong winds, keep the coop less than 4 feet high and stake it well [15].
    I'm guessing much of this depends on the shape of the coop and the size of the base. An A-frame coop should withstand winds much better than some other designs. I would want my coop to be bottom-heavy and/or at least have a base that covers more ground than the height.

    According to the "Henhouse for 6 Birds" slide at [24], the henhouse below the roof can be 5'6" high with 4' allowed for the interior of the coop and 17" allowed for a feeding and watering area below the coop.

    Lighting

    Without a light bulb in the coop, chickens will stop or slow down laying when daylight drops below 14 hours a day [2].

    Maximize production with 14-16 hours of "daylight." Provide two (one is a spare) 15-25 watt light bulbs on timer [24].
    This slide does not mention the size of the space that this lighting serves but other slides often reference a residential coop for 6 chickens.

    For peak laying productivity, augmentation should start when daylight falls below 15 hours per day, usually in September.
    If you forget to turn the lights on for even one day, your hens may go into a molt and stop laying
    [2].

    The avian reproductive cycle, which is how a hen produces eggs, is stimulated in poultry by increasing day length. As day length approaches 14 hours per day during early spring, chickens begin laying eggs, gradually increasing their production as the day length increases. They will reach their maximum egg laying potential when the day-light reaches approximately 16 hours per day. Nature utilizes this characteristic so that chicks will hatch in the spring and have the warmer months of summer and fall to mature before the harsher winter season arrives. By providing artificial light, growers can manipulate this natural cycle to their advantage and increase the egg laying potential of their flocks.
    As mentioned above, approximately 14 hours of light per day is required to stimulate a hen to lay an egg. Anything below that will cause her reproductive cycle to shut down, triggering the hen to cease egg production until spring when the natural day length will increase to sufficient levels once again. Any supplemental light should be added during the morning hours, as sudden darkness can cause chickens to panic and pile up in a corner, which can consequently cause them to suffocate each other. By applying extra light in the morning rather than the evening, chickens will naturally go to roost with the setting of the sun
    [40].

    Although a light-day of 11 to 12 hours will initiate egg production, this amount of light is not sufficient for sustained, high production. Poultry keepers who had great expectations regarding fresh eggs for the table become disillusioned. When natural day length falls below 15 hours per day, this is the time for the lights to come on!
    Regardless of which lighting system was used during the growing period, pullets should be on a schedule of increasing light by the time they are 20 weeks of age. For the heritage breeds it may be preferable to wait until 22 weeks of age. When you provide artificial light, do it in an orderly manner. Don't confuse your birds by changing their day length from 10 hours of light to 13 hours of light all in one day. Birds can be given an increase of 15 minutes each week (some authorities recommend 30 minutes per week) until they reach 14 to 16 hours a day. Some breeders suggest a total of 16 to 17 hours daily. Please note that light periods longer than 17 to 18 hours may actually depress production.
    You can set your timer so that birds receive light in early morning until sunrise, and then again in the afternoon at sunset. This will save a bit in electricity costs. On the other hand, an advantage to adding all artificial light during morning hours is that it allows the birds to naturally go to roost with the setting of the sun.
    Laying birds must never see a drop in day length. If you are flicking the switch by hand and forget to turn on lights for just one day you may see a drop in production. If the power is out for two days or more the birds may go into a molt, which can affect production for up to six weeks.
    If birds seem nervous and flighty, try reducing the level of light by using a smaller bulb size. Nervous birds may resort to cannibalism and egg eating. Tossing them a handful of scratch grains or birdseed in late afternoon helps to keep down boredom and helps to keep the litter stirred. Make an arrangement with your local market to obtain their discarded vegetables and add a few chopped greens such as chard, lettuce or spinach. These items not only reduce boredom but they make for nice dark yellow yolks
    [37].

    I checked to see when daylight falls below 15 hours per day in Baltimore. The answer depends on how you define "daylight" since one can pick the time between sunrise and sunset, astronomical twilight, nautical twilight, and civil twilight. I'm going to choose the latter:
    Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities [26].

    The time between sunrise and sunset is shorter than civil twilight hours while astronomical and nautical twilight hours are longer. Chickens don't have good night vision so I figure they should be in the coop once civil twilight is over.

    But going back to what I was originally describing, in Baltimore, we get less than 15 hours of civil twilight from August 7, 2014 to May 5, 2015, inclusive [27]. So if you want optimum egg production, you'll need to turn on a light to provide supplemental lighting during these dates.

    All light bulbs are not the same.
    You can use either incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are less expensive to run and, since they use less power, are more eco-friendly, but be sure that you get the ones labeled "soft white." Counterintuitively, fluorescent bulbs labeled "daylight," imitating the appearance of sunlight, have a cooler color temperature and will not stimulate a chicken's reproductive system [2].

    Should the choice be made to use a fluorescent fixture, a "warm" wavelength bulb (appears as orange or reddish light) must be used since the "cool" wavelength bulbs, which are commonly used in offices and households, will not stimulate the hen's reproductive cycle. Light fixtures in the coop should be placed above feeders and waterers, and care should be taken to avoid having areas in the chicken house that are shaded from light [40].

    Although incandescent bulbs have long been used in lighting for poultry, there is an increasing use of fluorescent bulbs, just as in household use.When using fluorescent fixtures, choose "warm" wavelength bulbs, which emit more rays at the red-orange wavelength. The "cool" bulbs commonly used in homes and offices are less stimulating. If you are depending on just one bulb, be sure to check it daily and replace it immediately if it should burn out. Keep in mind that the shadows cast by equipment, cages, and dropping boards will cut down on light efficiency. In addition, dusty bulbs can cause a real decrease in intensity.
    One 60-watt incandescentbulb with reflector, 7 feet off the floor in the center of a 12- x 12-foot pen, provides 2 to 3 foot candles (fc) of light, in the absence of any natural daylight. A 25-watt bulb in the same location should provide 0.5 fc of light. The conventional industry level is about 0.5 fc or less, similar to a moonlit night. However, most small-scale producers would prefer a somewhat higher level of light - a 60 to 75-watt bulb.
    [37].

    The wrong bulb can kill your chickens!
    Some of these bulbs may be labeled Teflon-coated, Tefcoat, Rough Surface, Protective Coated, Safety Coated, etc. The coating helps make them shatter resistant. The problem is when Teflon is heated it creates a toxic gas. PTFE is also associated with the brand names Teflon, Rulon, Chemfluor [38].

    I have not given my girls supplemental light to stimulate their egg laying. I have read that it is good to give them a rest from constant laying but if maximum egg production is your goal, then I would definitely consider supplemental light.

    Nesting boxes

    Plan on one nesting box for every 4-5 hens [8].

    One box per four hens is plenty and one per 2-3 hens is bordering on excessive [4].

    The henhouse should contain some simple nest boxes, ideally one for every three laying birds you intend to keep [19].

    Nesting boxes can be placed anywhere in the coop. They should be at least 18" square [2].

    We suggest you provide one nest box for every three hens. They should be about 12 inches high, 12 inches wide, and 12 inches deep [9].

    Chicken nests should have a depth of 13 inches, a width of 12 inches and a length of 15 inches [6].

    Each box should measure 12 inches square and be around 14 inches high [18].

    Provide one nest for every 4-5 hens.
    12"x12" in size.
    Place on west or east wall for south facing coop
    [24].

    To improve egg production, the nesting boxes should have a width of 12 inches. The height of these amenities should be nine inches while the depth should be 12 inches. These dimensions are helpful in preventing undesirable behaviors of the animals such as fouling the boxes as well as scratching the materials inside the nests. The entrance should be nine inches wide and six inches high. Having small entrances is cost efficient since the light inside the boxes is lessened, which is very good for egg production. Additionally, small entrances hold straw in place and ensure that the eggs will not roll out. Above all, small boxes reduce the chances of having pecked and cracked eggs [7].

    Windows and doors [I suppose nesting boxes too] need to be secured with latches or locked clasps. We have found the most useful type of latch to be the spring-loaded hook-and-eye design. Whatever you choose, select something that is unlikely to be opened by a lucky swipe of a paw or snout. As a general rule, use something you need thumbs to operate [9].
    Consider the Stanley-National Hardware 2 in. Safety Gate Hook.

    A rail just below the entrance to the nest gives hens a place to land before entering. For most chickens the rail should be no closer than 8 inches from the edge of the nest [23].

    If bird droppings are befouling the effs, it's likely that the rails the hens roost on are too close to the nest itself, causing their droppings to land smack dab on the eggs. Alleviate this problem by making sure the rail is no closer than 8 inches from the nest edge [13].

    A 4 inch sill along the bottom edge of each nest prevents eggs from rolling out and holds in nesting material [23].

    One can use hay or straw in the nest boxes [16].

    The boxes should be placed just off the ground and in the darkest part of the house (usually under the windows), as chickens prefer a quiet, dim place in which to lay their eggs. Straw or hay make a good liner, but it will need to be cleaned out regularly and dusted with louse powder [18].

    At the other extreme,
    A height of 2 feet from the floor might be easiest for the hens [20].

    ...and nest boxes
    should be located 18-30 inches from the floor. You can figure 7 hens per nest [21].

    Furnish one nest for every 4 to 5 hens in your flock. A good size for Leghorn-size layers is 12 inches wide by 14 inches high by 12 inches deep. For heavier breeds, make nests 14 inches wide by 14 inches high by 12 inches deep [23].

    Somewhere in between I got this answer:
    Place nests on the ground until your pullets get accustomed to using them, then raise the nests 18 to 20 inches off the ground by setting them on a platform or firmly attaching them to the wall [23].

    Orientation/Location

    How should the coop be aligned?

    The below mentions that orientation should be set to take advantage of prevailing winds to maximize ventilation. But keep in mind that this was written for poultry houses in Oklahoma, which is roughly on the same latitude as North Carolina (i.e. much further south than Maryland).
    The prevailing wind direction is also important from another standpoint. In order to maximize benefit from natural ventilation, the poultry houses should be oriented with the long side exposed to the wind. In Oklahoma, that means the house should be oriented east-west. This directional orientation has another benefit; it minimizes the amount of sunlight which enters the house in the summer months. In contrast, during the winter months when the sun is lower on the horizon, sunlight through the windows can help warm the house. Information about specific prevailing wind directions can be obtained from the National Weather Service. In some locations topography dictates the direction of the house, but if choices exist, the east-west orientation is suggested [51].

    In the Baltimore area, prevailing winds generally come from west by northwest.
    January wind from WNW at 10 mph
    February wind from NW at 10 mph
    March wind from WNW at 11 mph
    April wind from WNW at 11 mph
    May wind from W at 9 mph
    June wind from WNW at 8 mph
    July wind from W at 8 mph
    August wind from W at 8 mph
    September wind from S at 8 mph
    October wind from NW at 9 mph
    November wind from WNW at 9 mph
    December wind from WNW at 9 mph
    [52].


    When it comes to location of the coop, there are certain characteristics one should look for in most situations:
  • Shade during the hottest part of summer days
  • Good drainage
  • Good ventilation
  • Maximize winter sunlight

  • Regarding nesting boxes, one should
    Place on west or east wall for south facing coop [24].

    Paint

    The quality of the paint wasn't something I considered too heavily until I realized that a chicken tractor made for 8 hens can get quite heavy. To reduce weight, I decided to use 2x3 lumber instead of 2x4. The problem is that I have not seen 2x3 pressure treated lumber for sale...only untreated. I won't have the 2x3s touching the ground but they will be exposed to the rain so it is very important they be protected. That is where a good paint comes in.

    At Home Depot, I was told the best paint they have for outdoor use is the Behr Marquee. It supposedly has exceptional resistance to dirt and fading. It is a paint and primer in one, which makes about as much sense to me as having shampoo and conditioner in one (i.e. I don't understand). At $48 or $49 per gallon, it is quite expensive. If you go that route, I think the "Reddest Red QU-06" is as close as you'll get to barn red. I've heard that one should not use Behr paint in a sprayer.

    In the past, I've used Valspar 15 year Severe Weather exterior latex semi-gloss white 47531. Both our garage and shed are painted with it. It is an extremely easy paint to work with. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. I hate when paint companies deprecate a color.

    Chat rooms seem to indicate Sherman Williams is the best but I don't have any experience with their products.

    I ended up going with Valspar Duramax from Lowe's which is about $10 cheaper per gallon than the Behr Marquee. Additionally, it has a lifetime (not 15 year) warranty. My choice of color? Semi-gloss cabin red (uses 336704 Magenta base) for the exterior with white trim and white (77418) for the interior. The latter was obfuscated so instead I used an equivalent white created from 77793 ultra white / tint base 1.

    Ramp

    I had a harder time finding info on building the ramp that goes from the ground to the coop door. But my source at [48] provided some detailed blueprints. Using the inverse tangent function, I determined that the angle of this ramp is 27.76 degrees which is very good. The lower the angle, the easier it is on your chickens. One blogger tells me anything under 45 degrees is fine, another says 35-40 is good. In [48], each step is placed 5 inches apart and each step is 1 inch high by 2 inches deep (a 1" x 2" furring strip).

    One of the coop designs shown on a site related to [48] shows 2" x 2" steps placed 7.6" apart. Another shows 2" x 2" placed 7" apart.

    Another source suggests using 1" x 2" lumber spaced 4-6" apart.
    Attach 1-by-2-inch pieces of lumber to the inside of the door with 1 1/4-inch screws. These pieces serve as treads to provide the chickens with additional traction as they go up the ramp. Place a tread every four to six inches along the ramp. Place the treads so the ends are at least one inch from the edge of the door on both sides [49].

    It turns out that the hardware store sells 1" x 2" furring strips but these are actually 0.75" x 1.5". This is what I used. I spaced them 6" apart and made the ramp 60" long. Later, I made an extension. The 60" long ramp is fine if the landing is on the same level as the coop. But what if it is lower? Then a longer ramp is needed. Rather than make a new ramp, I made an extension about 2 feet long. It attaches with some reinforced plywood that slides into aluminum rails. When attached, it is not obvious that the ramp is comprised of more than a single piece. The rails were attached by glue but I found it to be insufficient in supporting any pressure. So I ended up securing it with drywall screws. It isn't as smooth of a fit anymore but at least now it works.

    Roost poles

    Roost poles (perches) should start at 24" above the floor, 12" for silkies. You can lay them all out like a bed, or stagger them to form a ladder, rising to the top of the coop. Poles should be made from 1" square lumber, with the top edges rounded off. Too small, or too round can cause the birds foot problems. Something slippery, like PVC pipe can cause problems. Black iron pipe will freeze their feet in the winter. You should allow one square foot of roosting space for each bird. That means they should have one linear foot of pole per bird, with the poles spaced on one foot centers [2].

    At least 8 inches of perching space should be allocated to each bird [18].

    Unless you are keeping long-tailed breeds (which require a higher roosting point), around 2 feet off the floor is about as high as you should go, although for some of the heavier breeds such as Croad Langshans, one foot is perfect. If you use a droppings board, set it at around the heights recommended above for perches and then construct the perch about 6 inches above [18].
    I assume with that last sentence, if one were to use the deep litter method, then quite a bit of stuff could build up on the droppings board so instead of building a roost up to 2 feet above the floor, you can go 2 and a half feet.

    Roosts are easy to provide by securing a 2-inch closet dowel horizontally 1 to 3 feet above the floor of your coop. Some coop builders prefer to use flat or slightly rounded-edge boards for roosting. The theory is that a flatter roost allows the birds' feet to be flat instead of curled around a round perch. This may allow them to more effectively protect their feet with their warm feathers in cold weather. Provide 8 to 12 inches of roost length per bird [9].

    If you need more than one perch, position the dowels or pieces of wood in a stair-step fashion with levels at least 12 to 18 inches apart. Position roosts 2 to 4 feet off the ground and 18 inches from the closest parallel wall [17].

    If you need to install more than one perch, be sure to keep them at the same height or the birds will all try to roost on the higher one [18].
    This stands contradictory to what I typically see in most coops with multiple roosts.

    Various sources at [3] use a 2x4 for a roosting pole with the wide side facing up. One person suggested using a railing 2x4 because it has more rounded edges. I am inclined to agree. I measured the feet of a typical Rhode Island hybrid hen at my in-law's farm. It was 3.5 inches long, not including the toenails.

    Large birds [not bantams] require...around 3 inches wide and perhaps 2 inches thick [18].

    ...place them 2 feet above the floor and at least 18 inches from the nearest parallel wall and space them 18 inches apart. If floor space is limited, install roosts in stair-step fashion 12 inches apart vertically and horizontally, so chickens can easily hop from lower to higher rungs [23].
    Allow 8" to 9" of roost space per bird.
    Space roosts 12-14" apart.
    1 1/2" dowels or 2x2" lumber works well
    [24].

    Solar panels

    The chicken tractor will not necessarily be near the house. Nor will it be near any electrical outlets. So unless I want to run a line out to it, I'll need to have it run off the grid if I want to use any electrical devices...and I do. In order to be off the grid, I can either go solar or use wind. Our backyard is fairly sheltered from the wind so that wasn't an option. So I went solar.

    In addition to the panel, one needs a battery, charge controller to prevent overcharging, and an inverter if using AC power. Since most electrical devices I would want to use are set up for AC power, I decided an inverter kept my options open.

    I ended up purchasing the following:
  • NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit with Stand, Charge Controller and Inverter - 80 Watts, 12 Volt: It was a little hard to find detailed information about this but I found a very similar product (Sundance Solar - 80 Watt Do-It-Yourself Solar Energy Kit) which I used to calculate how much energy I could expect to get. If I can get five hours of direct sunlight daily, I can expect an average of 277 watt hours of electricity each day.
  • 12v 55 ah 22NF Deep Cycle AGM Solar Battery: One source says that for the NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit, I should have a 50 amp-hour 12 volt Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) sealed battery. The Sundance Solar panels include a 55 amp-hour 12 volt AGM sealed battery. Since it is important to know the effects of the weather when using batteries, I familiarized myself with Deep Cycle Battery FAQ - Temperature Effects on Batteries.
  • G3500 NOCO -3.5A (3500mA) Genius Smart Charger: The company recommended this charger for the battery I purchased. In the event my chickens need power but the sun isn't shining for multiple days, I can always charge the battery with AC. Hopefully that won't happen often but you never know. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
  • Xantrex Freedom SW GFCI Outlet Option Kit: The Freedom SW 2000 Inverter/Charger is offered with the GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) option to enable you to plug electronics directly on the inverter/charger. I considered purchasing this but never did.

  • One of my inspirations for choosing to have a coop that is off the grid is The First LEED Certified Backyard Chicken Coop (now a broken link).

    Space

    No less than 3 to 5 square feet per bird. 10 square feet per bird would be better [2].

    Of the cities that have promulgated shelter requirements specific to chickens, nine of them mandate that each chicken be given a specific amount of space. Of these cities, the average amount of space per chicken is five square feet [1].

    In the model ordinance written by Jaime M. Bouvier, a coop should
    allow at least two square feet per hen [1].

    Regarding space requirements for chickens,
    the mainstream answer is 4 square feet indoor and 10 square feet of run for each bird [4] [5].
    One person says this specification is mentioned in Storey's Guide for Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.

    A layer hen occupies two square feet inside the coop and eight square feet outside. The rooms where the chickens stay should have a distance of three square feet from each other. This means that if ten layer hens will be kept in the building, the coop should have at least 47 square feet inside and 80 square feet outdoor run. A bantam chicken occupies a square foot inside the building and four square feet outside. A large chicken should have at least two square feet of space inside and ten square feet in the outdoor run [6].

    Each adult bird will need 3-4 square feet of space [8].

    How much vertical space is required in a coop is something that isn't discussed so often. 18" above the roost seems to be the standard answer [3]. Another source says
    A height of 24" is adequate; add another 6" for roosts [13].

    Ventilation

    A coop must be well ventilated.
    "Well ventilated" means that there must be a good exchange of fresh air to dry the droppings and keep the ammonia smell down. If a pen is too tight [i.e. doesn't breathe], the ammonia from droppings can cause your birds to develop respiratory problems, and can blind them. A coop does not need to be insulated, but if it is, the insulation needs to be inside walls, otherwise chickens will pick it to shreds [2].

    DON'T seal up the chicken coop and make it air-tight in the winter. While drafts are bad, lots of ventilation for constant air exchange is absolutely necessary to a healthy winter coop environment. Moisture must be removed from the coop even if it means losing some heat [25].

    Water

    Chickens need access to water at all times and will consume one to two cups of water per day each [20].

    Do they really need access to water at all times? I get up at night to get a drink but do chickens? During cold nights, one source suggests bringing the fount indoors.
    Don't worry about your chickens getting thirsty at night - they are so sedate and immobilized in the dark, they won't even notice that their water is missing [9].

    Where should water be kept?
    Chickens are notorious for drinking with food in their mouths and kicking litter into the trough. Alleviate both problems by moving founts away from feeders and raising them off the floor to the chickens' chest level [20].

    DON'T keep waterers inside the coop. Moisture is the winter enemy inside the chicken coop. Keep water in the run [25].

    Be aware of water freezing. You may want to invest in a water heater.

    Windows

    Approximately one-fifth of the available wall space should be given over to windows [19].

    Provide at least one square foot of window for each 10 square feet of floor space. They should be fitted with screens of 1/2 or 3/4 inch hardware cloth [23].

    The next question is where to place the windows. Anyone who has studied energy efficient home construction can tell you that positioning the windows relative to the roof overhang will help ensure sun shines through in the winter, mornings, and evenings when the sun is low but not during the hottest part of a summer day when it is hot.
  • Cold climates (with more than 6,000 Heating Degree Days, base 65 degrees F/18 degrees C): use the June 21 sun angle, and locate the overhang shadow line at mid-window.
  • Temperate climates (below 6,000 Heating Degree Days, base 65 degrees F/18 degrees C, and below 2,600 Cooling Degree Days, base 75 degrees F/22 degrees C): use the June 21 sun angle, and locate the overhang shadow line at the window sill [bottom part of window].
  • Hot climates (above 2,600 Cooling Degree Days, base 75 degrees F/22 degrees C): use the March 21 sun angle, and locate the shadow line at the window sill [29].

  • Here in the Baltimore area, we get about 4750 heating degree days and 1000 cooling degree days, making us a temperate climate [30]. Of course, one must ask if the chickens think we live in a temperate climate. I mentioned earlier that
    The optimum temperature for chickens is between 45 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit [20].
    In the Baltimore area, we have 4 months out of the year where the average high temperature is above 80 degrees and 5 months out of the ear where the average low is below 45 degrees [31]. Additionally,
    Since 1871, the mean temperature for Baltimore has been 54.6 degrees Fahrenheit [32].
    So I think it is safe to assume that the chickens might agree that we live in a temperate climate. I wrote this in 2014 so it might be outdated due to climate change in a few years.

    Going back to the original question of where to place the windows, we need to consider the June 21 sun angle. For June 21, 2014 (the summer solstice), the sun angle is 74.18 degrees at noon [28]. This means the window must be placed in a position relative to the overhang of the roof so that the entire window is shaded when the sun is highest on the longest day of the year.

    One might argue that we should build for a hot climate since chickens do better in cold weather than us wimpy humans. If we do that, then we consider the spring equinox sun angle which for March 20, 2014 is 50.72 degrees at noon [28]. This means the window must be placed in a position relative to the overhang of the roof so that the entire window is shaded when the sun is highest on the first day of spring.

    Realistically, I think anywhere between the solstice and equinox choices is reasonable. I ended up going with about 54 degrees.

    Wood

    Use pressure-treated lumber for wood in contact with ground [24].

    Most people do in fact use treated wood when building a coop or run for their chickens. To date, no harmful effects have been reported. Home studies, as well as those done by professionals including the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service, have shown that the compounds used in pressure-treated lumber are unlikely to leach into the soil, even after a prolonged period of exposure to the elements. In 2003, the EPA ruled that no wood-treater or manufacturer could treat wood with CCA (a chemical wood preservative containing chromium, copper and arsenic) for home use. Thus, the lumber available for building today is safer than that used in years past [10].

    The one drawback to using pressure treated wood is that you can't call your eggs organic.
    Did you know that in order to sell eggs with the word "organic" on them the chickens can't have any access to treated lumber, or be on ground which has come into contact with treated lumber for three years? That means any posts for fences, or posts for your coop or your deck or any out buildings cannot have any treated lumber exposed to the chickens or the ground they walk on, including the pastures they walk in [3].

    I looked around for inexpensive lumber, windows, wheels, and other building materials. Second hand building supplies can be found at
  • Second Chance: Baltimore City. This place is HUGE! They have a lot of vintage stuff that probably came from the older sections of the city. If weight were of no concern (i.e. if I were not building a chicken tractor), then I might have some use for this stuff but everything looked pretty heavy.
  • ReStore: Columbia, Howard County. This place is pretty small. They have a good selection of cabinets and full size doors but nothing I could use for a coop.
  • The Loading Dock: Baltimore City.
  • Community Forklift: Edmonston, Prince George's County.

  • I ended up deciding to use a lot of 2x3 beams for the frame. They would be a lot lighter than 2x4s. I couldn't find any of this at the above stores so I just shopped at Home Depot. Unfortunately, there were no pressure treated 2x3s so I made sure to use good exterior paint to protect it.
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    Ultimate Howard County CoopOpen accordion icon
    First of all, I am not saying that I built the ultimate Howard County coop. That was my goal. I have no doubt I failed in this attempt but I think I made a pretty good effort in 2014 worthy of honorable mention.

    In my opinion, the ultimate coop for Howard County should accommodate eight chickens, provide extra ventilation during the summer, and have the ability to provide heating on cold winter days. For eight birds, I want to provide 80 square feet in the run, 32 square feet in the coop, 8 feet of 2x4 railing for roosting poles with each pole at least one foot apart, and three nesting boxes. I am not counting the nesting box space as coop space. A coop that is 4'x8' with a run below and attached run with dimensions 8'x10' would be more than sufficient.

    I tried to make a modular chicken tractor where the door could be put on three of the four sides. I wanted the run to be positioned in numerous ways, depending on the door location. I also wanted everything to be off-grid, powered by solar energy. I was shooting for the stars, but what I ended up getting was much different.


    I made use of Fast Framer Universal Storage Shed Framing Kit which provides the hardware for constructing a 7'x8' shed. But this is made for 2x4s, not 2x3s, so it took some adapting on my part.

    This is the frame for the coop. I made it mostly out of non-pressure treated 2x3s instead of 2x4s to keep the weight down because I initially wanted it to be a chicken tractor. To provide protection from the elements, each was given a coat of primer and two coats of exterior paint. I was not able to find pressure treated 2x3s. The parts painted red are made of pressure treated 2x4s since these have ground contact.
    Coop frame

    Here is the roof. I used shingles left over from when I got my garage roof redone. These were attached to 11/32" non-pressure treated plywood. The pressure treated plywood at the hardware store wasn't in such good shape and there weren't as many selections in terms of thickness. 11/32" was suitable in terms of thickness though I wouldn't recommend going any thinner than this. Like the frame, all wood was given one coat of primer and two coats of exterior paint. The paint is semi-gloss exterior white to reflect light. Tar paper was stapled on all exposed plywood. To prevent any unnecessary strain on the plywood, all roofer nails were pre-drilled prior to hammering. Once the shingles were attached, I flipped the entire thing over (with help) and then hammered the pointy ends of the nails to lie flat. I don't want any of my chickens flying up to the roof and getting impaled. Then, all bent nails sticking out the plywood were covered with caulk and given two more coats of paint. It looked like someone stuck chewing gum on the roof. I chose not to go with a vented ridge cap because I wanted to be able to control the amount of ventilation and prevent drafts.
    Coop roof

    This is an outside view of the nesting box. I used the same leftover shingles that I did for the roof. 2"x2" lumber was used for the frame and 11/32" non-pressure treated plywood was used for the exterior. The roof lifts up so I can get the eggs. At the high part of the roof, I attached some rubber baseboard (the kind you see in office buildings, not residential homes). This is flexible, weather resistant, and wide enough to keep water from getting into the opening at the hinge where the roof lifts up. The baseboard is held in place by a strip of aluminum which allows me to replace the baseboard easily if it starts to wear out.
    Nesting box, outside view

    Here is an outside view of the nesting box with the roof lifted. Its height with the roof lifted is ideal for someone my size to easily get to the eggs. There is a latch that I secure with a carabiner. It doesn't need to lock but it does need to be secure enough so that anything without thumbs cannot access it. The inside is painted black because chickens like dark places for egg laying. I suppose that makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. They would be quite vulnerable to predators when laying or sitting on eggs so they would want to be hidden.
    Nesting box, outside view with roof lifted

    The photo below is an inside look at the nesting box. I used leftover linoleum flooring from our kitchen to make the floor of the nesting box. It was glued in place and then the edges were given a coat of silicone. Later, I drilled a small hole at the edge of each box so water could drain out when I cleaned it.
    Nesting box, inside view

    This is an outside view of the nesting box from inside the coop.
    Nesting box, outside view from inside coop

    The door wall panel is the most complex part of the coop. I designed it to be modular so it could fit on three of the four walls. The door is either white on a red wall (outer view) or red on a white wall (inner view). This makes it so that the chickens will know easily if the door is open or not since there will be color contrast. It will also help them identify which wall the door is actually on since it may be moved around. To keep the door moving smoothly, it slides on aluminum 'U' shaped rails that are glued in place. In this photo, I am using clamps and weights to ensure that these rails are properly aligned while the glue sets.
    Gluing together the door panel

    One of the challenges was choosing a location for the coop. I wanted a place that was shaded in the summer, sunny in the winter, got morning sun, was protected from the north wind, and has good drainage. Also, it must be legal. That means it must be in the backyard and at least 15 feet from our neighbor's property line. In the end, we picked a location 15 feet from the north edge of our lot. Our privacy fence will help shield some of the north wind. An oak tree to the southwest will provide shade in the summer but once it loses its leaves it will let sunlight through. It isn't the best location for morning sun but hey, we can't have everything.

    On the right is the oak tree that will provide shade in the summer. The boards forming the square show where I'll lay the foundation for the coop. The board just below the top part of the square is aligned east/west. The one below that is aligned west by northwest, which is the prevailing wind direction. I also wanted to see how much sun this location gets so I took various photos at different times. This one was taken at 1221 on March 8, 2014.
    Marking the location for the base

    I used pressure treated 2"x12" pine boards for creating the edge of the foundation. I chose such wide boards because the place I will put the coop on is not flat so I need the west end of the square to be high and the east end to be low in order for things to be even. I flattened out the dirt and used a level placed on an eight foot long board rotated in various directions to ensure things were indeed level (didn't have a long level). This picture was taken at 1628 on March 11, 2014.
    Building the foundation

    I used 35 bags of drainage rock (about 1400 pounds) to create a depth of about 2.5 inches. The foundation is 9'x9'. It is a foot wider than the longest edge of the base of the coop. That is so I can rotate the coop in various directions. This shot was taken at 1701 on March 11, 2014. Still not in the shade, which is good.
    Finished foundation

    Rather than build on-site, I did most of the construction in my garage so I could paint regardless of rain and work at night. But that meant the final product had to be moved out of the garage.

    I got a few neighbors and co-workers to help me move the coop on March 15, 2014. I figured that if there were six of us, we would be fine. Eight would be better. But in the end, we had 12! It is nice to know there are so many people willing to give me a helping hand when I need it.

    The first thing we did was remove the lift-off panel from the privacy fence. The pedestrian gate is too narrow. Then we were ready to get the move on.

    We started with the slide-out floor of the coop which we carried separately.
    Moving the floor of the coop

    Twelve foot long boards are slid through the coop to make carrying easier. Notice our deadlift grip. These boards will later be used to create the run. We should have put more strong people at the back. The downhill side was carrying more than their share of the load.
    Moving the coop out of the garage

    Norma took this photo from the kitchen. She was hard at work making brunch for everyone that helped.
    Overhead view of the move

    At our destination in the backyard, we carefully positioned the coop on the foundation.
    Putting the coop on the foundation

    I think we look too fresh. We're ready for more work.
    Posing with the coop

    The roof was moved separately.
    Raising the roof

    I made sure the roof was centered. Yes, the fellow to my right is as tall as I am short...but I am also standing downhill.
    Centering the roof

    I used screws to fix the roof in place. I'm a screw sort of guy. I don't much like nails. I used nails for the shingles but that it all. Screws or bolts for everything else.
    Securing the roof

    We put the floor back in place.
    Inserting the floor

    Voila! The move is done.
    Coop in place

    Different angle view of the coop.
    Different view of the coop

    It took all of one hour to remove the lift-off fence panel, move the coop, put the roof in place, and replace the lift-off fence panel. Afterwards, Norma served a meal to our hungry worker bees. This was sort of like an Amish barn raising.

    Over the next several days, I worked on the walls of the coop and the run.

    On April 10, 2014, the coop was all done...the structural components, that is. I still have to do work with the solar panel, lights, and Arduino. But it is complete enough to show it off at the Howard County Conservancy "Coop-to-Coop Tour."
    Ever think about keeping chickens? Dreaming of fresh eggs that taste so much better than store-bought? Wondering about beautiful green, blue, pink-tan, and brown egg colors? Just curious about the surge of interest in backyard chickens and the number of people who are ecstatic about "their girls?" Do a self-guided driving tour of a wide variety of coop and run styles, ranging from a delivered match-your-home coop, to fenced open free range with shelter options, to home-designed and built moveable chicken-tractors, to a jokingly referred to Taj Mahal coop and run - hosted by enthusiastic Howard Countians who work at living sustainably.
    - from Howard County Conservancy website

    Here is the finished product...that is, finished as of April 10, 2014. I continued making improvements but this is move-in ready. Here is a view looking west.
    West view of coop

    And here's a view looking east.
    East view of coop

    I was hoping I could save money by building my own coop. But this was not the case. The coop, in its form as shown on the April 12, 2014 "Coop-to-Coop Tour" cost $1795 to build. That includes the foundation and run.

    If I had to do it all again, I would consider a few options.
  • I didn't want one of the $300 mail-order coops because I felt they were too small for 8 hens. But I could buy two of them and attach them together. There are a lot of good options locally at Myers Mini Barns.
  • Giving everything a coat of primer and two coats of paint took a VERY long time. If mobility and weight were not an issue, I could just make everything out of pressure treated pine and stain it all once complete.
  • I could buy a small shed and modify it to make it into a coop. Sheds aren't cheap but neither is building a coop from scratch.
  • Making the door panel modular is a novel idea but that certainly makes it difficult to get into the coop. I'm not sure if using carriage bolts to secure the panels is the best option. I suspect that eventually I will just use 1/4" hex head screws. If I could start all over again, slide-out panels in aluminum rails would probably be my choice.
  • Connecting the run to the coop took about half a day. That is because the hardware cloth needs to be custom fitted and secured. Chain mail would probably be easier to work with because it is so flexible. It is also very strong. I suspect it is expensive but if we're only talking about a couple of connecting pieces, then it might be within reason.
  • Shingles look very nice but they are also extremely heavy. Without them, my coop might be portable. Corrugated fiberglass roofing panels might be a better option.

  • In mid-October 2014, I started testing the NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit with Stand, Charge Controller and Inverter - 80 Watts, 12 Volt. It worked fine except for the SunForce 200 watt modified sine wave inverter which arrived with a cracked face. There were no signs of damage during shipping. I contacted the seller who directed me to the manufacturer since it had been awhile since I actually purchased the item. The manufacturer asked me to send him a photo of the damage. I did that and he promptly sent me a new one.

    On October 25-26, 2014, I dug a 70 foot long trench that ran from the garage to the coop.
    70-foot-long trench, to coop view

    70-foot-long trench, to garage view

    Then I added electrical conduit and a 12 gauge wire so that the coop could have power.
    Conduit running to coop

    Previously, I had just been running an extension cord to the coop. The other end runs to the garage where it can be plugged into the inverter for the solar panel or a regular outlet for when I need more wattage than the inverter will provide. I mounted the solar panel near the southwest side of the garage on one of the rain boxes we use to collect runoff from the roof. It is in a very sunny location.
    Solar panel

    Solar panel side view

    The 12v 55 ah 22NF Deep Cycle AGM Solar Battery, charge controller, and inverter are in the garage where they are protected from the elements.
    Solar battery, controller, and inverter

    At first, I was concerned that running electricity over such a long distance would significantly weaken the voltage. So I checked out Voltage Drop Calculator where I learned that using a 12 gauge copper wire with 120 volts and 2 amps would weaken the power by 0.54 volts (0.45%) over a distance of 85 feet. So the power loss is trivial.

    In the end, utilizing solar power for the coop just didn't work out. I don't know why but it wasn't reliable. So I ended up using regular AC power. I repurposed the solar equipment to power DC lights for our walkway. That worked fine, but after a few cloudy days, the lights grew dim.

    If I had to put a dollar value onto how much I spent for the coop and run over the next eight years, to include repairs and maintenance, I would say it is around $3000. I know I will never re-coop (pun intended) what I spent in how much I save in eggs but it is also hard to put a dollar figure on the joy of owning chickens, knowing they are well-cared for, and taking pride in something I built with my own hands.


    The finished product was not a chicken tractor because it was too heavy. I did not incorporate any of the modularity features because it was far too cumbersome to move things around. It was not solar. I never even incorporated Arduino to control things. So did I fail? That depends on how you define success. Eight years later, the coop still stands and functions well. In my opinion, it is the nicest looking and most functional coop that I know of. It just didn't meet my lofty goal with all sort of bells and whistles. But I am pleased with the result, so I consider it a success.
    Close accordion icon

    RunOpen accordion icon
    Regarding space requirements for chickens,
    the mainstream answer is 4 square feet indoor and 10 square feet of run for each bird [4] [5].
    One person says this specification is mentioned in Storey's Guide for Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.

    What about fencing material?
    A hungry and determined predator,including but not limited to raccoons and some dogs, can tear through chicken wire with relative ease. It is not recommended as fencing for chicken coops and runs.

    Hardware cloth is wire mesh that consists of either woven or welded wires in a square or rectangular grid that is available in galvanized, stainless steel and bare steel. It is manufactured from a stronger gauge metal than chicken wire, (the smaller the gauge, the stronger the mesh) making it a much better choice for flock protection. 1/2" to 1/4" galvanized hardware cloth is typically recommended for coops and chicken runs.

    Secure hardware cloth with screws and washers. Staples are easily defeated by pushing or pulling
    [41].

    At first, I wasn't convinced so I ran a test. I used two long staples to secure some wire to a piece of wood. Then I used the wire to lift a 65 pound dumbell. The staples popped right out very easily.

    Seal all openings larger than one inch with hardware cloth. Minks and weasels can squeeze through very small openings and kill many chickens in a very short period of time [41].

    Interestingly, the same author also says Cover any opening in the coop and around the run that is greater than 1/4 inch with hardware cloth. [42].

    Mormino says not to attach the hardware cloth with staples but all staples are not created equally. While staples from a staple gun are not recommended, one can
    attach it to your frame or posts with 3/4 inch galvanized poultry fencing staples. [43].

    Based on what I've read from other sources, racoons can stick their paws through 1" openings. A lot of people use 1/2" openings. Some sources say 3/4" is sufficient. I've never heard anyone say to use anything bigger than 3/4". However, some people just use the hardware cloth on the lower part of a run. I guess the idea is that even if a predator can climb up on a run, he'll have to reach down into it to grab a chicken if the lower part is tightly secured. Standard (not bantam) chickens tend to get about 18 inches tall. I did a search to find out how much reach a racoon has and found nothing. I'm guessing six inches is a reasonable estimate. So my thought is that if you have 1/2" hardware cloth on the lower 18 + 6 = 24 inches of your run, you'll be fine. I've heard that chicken wire (or better yet, rabbit wire) will keep raptors out and that it is generally o.k. for a daytime run though it won't keep out rodents which may be attracted to the feed.
    Chicken wire could work fine as a fence for a daytime yard, where you can keep a watchful eye on your chickens. Some people use this on the upper parts of their coops/enclosed runs to save money. Just keep in mind that if a rodent climbs up there, it too can get through the openings. [43].

    Most sources seem to recommend half inch hardware cloth.
    This is the best material for enclosing a chicken coop or enclosed run. In particular, you want 1/2 inch galvanized hardware cloth (usually 19 gauge). Smaller openings could be too brittle, and larger openings will not deter against rats or snakes. [43].

    How tall should a run be?
    The fence should be at least four feet high, higher if you keep a lightweight breed that likes to fly. Bantams and young chickens of all breeds are especially fond of flying [23].

    One should ensure predators can't easily dig under a the run fence.
    Bury wire fencing 6-12" deep in ground [24].
    Of course a chicken tractor is a different thing and for that, you can't have a run fence that is partially buried.

    For our property, it is a good thing if the run can fit under the low branches of our oak tree which can provide shade during the summer.

    I made the lowest part of my run four feet high. This is largely due to the fact that hardware cloth can be purchased in rolls that are four feet wide.

    One thing to think about regarding the height of the run is if humans plan to go in there. I don't plan to spend much time in the run but I may want to grab a sick chicken or fill up a feeder or fount that I leave in there. I really don't want to spend much time in a space only four feet high but I can if I need to. I'm pretty short.

    It took awhile to make the run. Hardware cloth is a bitch to work with. I had numerous puncture wounds because I don't much care to wear gloves. It also scratched up my coop and run so I had to do a lot of paint touch ups.

    Keep in mind that any place you cut the hardware cloth is going to be a sharp point. Unless you cover this point, it won't be childproof. So keep small children away from it.

    With an optional 4'x4' run connector, my 4'x12' run was designed to have 24 possible configurations with the modular coop which was made to have the door positioned on any one of three walls. It works like this because the run has four possible openings. Each opening can be secured by a 4'x4' section attached with carriage bolts.
    Initial run



    Several months later, I decided to redo it all at Norma's suggestion. She's very good at creating new tasks for me. She felt the chickens needed a roof for the winter to protect them from the rain and snow. I agreed. In November 2014, I did the following:
  • I made the run level. Previously, only the coop had been level while the run followed the slope of the ground.
  • We hadn't tried any of the other 23 configurations and I figured we would not. It was a good idea but unless things are on wheels (a chicken tractor) and easy to move, I'm just too lazy to move things around.
  • I changed the 'L' shaped configuration to a rectangle. Previously, the square footage for the run was comprised of the 4'x8' space under the coop, the 4'x4' connector, and the main 4'x12' space for a total of 96 square feet. That was actually pretty good considering the minimal suggestion is 10 square feet per bird (80 square feet). But now they have the 4'x8' under the coop and a 7.5'x12' main area which yields a total of 122 square feet. This is a 27% increase in run space!
  • The chickens now have a lean-to design roof made of Tuftex Seacoaster, a clear polycarbonate corrugated roofing material. This covers 75 square feet of the run.
  • Previously, the door to the run was a lift-off design that hung on carriage bolts. It was awkward because the fit was not perfect, the wooden holes would sometimes expand/contract, and the bolts could bend if something hit them. Now the door hangs from a steel rail and glides on wheels. It is a closet door design so it is extra-smooth. It isn't made for outdoor use but nine years later, it is still working fine.
  • The original run was four-feet-high, except under the coop which was much lower. Now the highest part of the run is six feet tall. Unfortunately, one must still duck under the four-foot-high door to get in. Because it is so much higher, they now have a 7.5' long perch and even a swing for their entertainment. I modeled this after Fowl Play Products - Chicken Swing. I have never seen any of my chickens actually use it.

  • The below photo shows the finished product. I call these changes Chicken Run Version 2.0. These upgrades cost me $381. That's quite a bit considering I was able to reuse most parts of the original run. The breakdown of these expenditures is shown in run 2.0 costs.
    Run version 2.0



    Version 2.0 lasted several years. Then on January 21, 2021, a hawk killed Gilda, one of my hens. I called that the Gilda Incident. After that, I put the girls in lockdown until I transferred them to their retirement home on the eastern shore of Maryland in Centreville, nine days later. This gave me some time to analyze the problem and come up with a solution.

    There were two unsuccessful hawk attacks prior to the "Gilda incident." All took place in the winter. I figure that maybe because food is scarce, the hawks get more brazen when it is cold. So in the future, I plan to let them out of the run in the winter but only on sunny days, when disco balls or similar objects can reflect light to deter raptors. Otherwise, they will be confined.

    The run had an area of 122 square feet. Sources recommend at least 10 square feet per bird so my setup was quite sufficient. But I wanted to give them more. So between February 20, 2021 and March 7, 2021, I built an 8'x12' addition to the run, giving them a total of 218 square feet with Chicken Run Version 3.0. That's a 79% increase!

    The next generation of chickens won't free-range as much during the winter as the previous generations but when they are on lockdown, they will at least have plenty of space to spread their wings.
    1 / 10
    Concrete footers will support extension
    Concrete footers set up at corners.
    2 / 10
    Starting to frame extension
    Base frame built.
    3 / 10
    Me working in heavy snow
    Working in the snow.
    4 / 10
    Extension frame in white
    Painted frame.
    5 / 10
    Clear roof added to extension
    Polycarbonate roofing panels added.
    6 / 10
    Run wrapped around tree
    Run built aroud oak tree.
    7 / 10
    Hardware cloth serve as walls of extension
    Hardware cloth for the walls.
    8 / 10
    Old wall got recycled
    Old west end wall repurposed.
    9 / 10
    Another view of extension
    I banged my head a lot building this.
    10 / 10
    Me standing with completed extension
    Finished!



    On October 13, 2020, I found holes under the run. It was a large network of tunnels. I saw a large mouse or a small rat run past. I was relieved that it was not a predator. A few days later, I ordered the Yescom 12L Automatic Chicken Feeder Portable with Lock Rat Proof Weatherproof Galvanized Steel Trough Poultry Farm Tank which will supposedly keep mice/rats from getting to the chicken feed. When I put it together, I found that the arms that are connected to the perch rub against the sides of the box. To solve this, I added a nut on the inboard side where the arms attach to create just enough space so there is no contact with the side of the box so things operate smoothly.

    As the directions suggested, I propped the feeder in the open position. My girls had no problem adjusting to the new food container. But when I removed the prop, they would not step onto the perch to feed. I lured them with mealworms to approach the perch but when they put one foot on it, they saw the feed cover rise and got scared so they stepped back. Then the cover made a metal-on-metal noise when it closed which scared them even more. I like the fact that less food is wasted when compared to the bucket feeder. But with the bucket feeder, several of them can feed at once whereas with this new feeder, only two can. But if it is Clara, she will chase away the others so she is the only one feeding.

    In accordance with the instructions, I weighted the perch with a rock. This ensured it remained partially open so they could see their food and so the lid wouldn't slam shut. But still, the lid moved and Clara (the alpha) was the only one brave enough to access the feeder regularly. I gave up on this, fearing they would starve before they got smart. You know what they say, "You can't teach an old chicken new tricks!"
    Chickens using rat-proof feeder

    On November 1, 2020, I ordered a Kensizer live cage trap. I set it near the rodent hole for a few days so the mouse/rat would get used to it. The next day I caught it...definitely a rat. I released it in an undisclosed location, not in Savage. I kept doing this and caught rat #5 on December 9, 2020 after using the trap for less than a month. Previous times after I caught a rat, I covered up the holes, only to find another had re-opened the holes. But not anymore. I finally got them all. For bait, I mainly used peanut butter but also jelly or cheese on bread.
    Rat that I caught

    I had this same problem again in the winter of 2021-2022 but this time, I was confronted with a much smarter rat colony. I tried the live traps and ended up catching about three of them this way. But I think the rats would see their friend in a trap and then be reluctant to get near one. I baited them with peanut butter and various cheeses. I was told that the smellier the cheese, the better, so I purchased limburger cheese from Wegmans. That got me one more. I borrowed a battery-powered electric trap which kills them with high voltage when they step on the electrodes. That killed one. I used two bags of rat poison (advertised as safe for poultry). I used seven rodent smoke bombs after I made sure the chickens were far away. But the best way to get rats was to use Chester. He killed several and brought a few other dead ones to the base of our deck stairs. I think some of the latter might have been killed by the smoke bombs but Chester tried to claim credit.

    It took too long to kill the rats and I think they were reproducing faster than I could eliminate them. So in April 2022, I installed a hardware cloth floor in the run. This was a lot of work.
  • I dug up a few inches of dirt in the run. The idea was that I wanted the hardware cloth to be slightly buried so it wouldn't be visible or hinder the movement of the chickens. But too much dirt would give the rats a place to burrow if they got in when the door to the run was open. I didn't think they would stick around if they could not hide.
  • I used fender washers and inch-long exterior drywall screws to attach the hardware cloth to the sides of the run.
  • In places where there was no wood to screw into, I sewed the hardware cloth to the walls of the run using galvanized steel wire.
  • When the hardware cloth wasn't big enough to cover the floor with one piece, I sewed pieces together using this same wire.
  • In places between the base of the coop foundation and the run, I poured concrete to fill gaps.
  • I poured concrete in any holes of the coop foundation.

  • It was a LOT of work to upgrade my chicken run so it has a rat-proof floor but I think this time, I've finally outsmarted them and created a permanent solution with Chicken Run Version 3.1.
    Close accordion icon



     Raising Chicks

    There are typically three choices if you want chickens.
  • Hatch them from eggs. The problem with this is that you don't know what gender of chick you'll get. I have no experience with this.
  • Start with chicks. This is what I typically do. I order them through the mail and they arrive when they are about three days old. I always order females and over 95% of the time, this is what I get. Ordering via catalog gives me a very big selection of breeds from which to choose.
  • Buy pullets. These are female teenage chickens. Male teenage chickens are cockerels. They can typically be purchased seasonally from your local farm store. The selection of breeds is limited as compared to ordering from a catalog. I used to think that pullets would be more wild and flighty since they wouldn't be used to being around people but I haven't found that to be the case.

  • I have had great success raising chicks, which makes me think it is not that difficult if even I can do it. It is a rewarding experience but it does take some commitment. So know what you're getting into and plan accordingly.

    Registration

    Like cars, bees, and guns, your chickens must be registered to be legal. For more information, go to Maryland Department of Agriculture - Register Your Poultry.

    Chick NotesOpen accordion icon

    Feed and Grit

    For up to 72 hours after they hatch, baby chicks are still ingesting their yolk sacs. This provides them all the nourishment they need, which allows us [the hatchery] the narrow window we need to ship them out. After 72 hours, their yolk sacs are gone and they need immediate access to food and water. Without it, they'll die [22].

    Anyplace that sells chicks also sells chick feed. There are a lot of great choices out there but using chick grit is something that isn't so clear.

    In 2014, Meyer Hatchery said I should use starter grit at 3-4 weeks of age. While I think they are a great company, the stuff I've read from other sources tell me something totally different.

    Starting the third day, sprinkle baby grit on the feed daily as if you were salting your food. Avoid putting too much at any one time as the birds may fill up on it instead of the feed [36].

    Starting the third day, sprinkle baby chick grit on the feed daily as if you were salting the food. [53].

    Starting after the third day, also sprinkle baby chick grit on the feed every 3 days as if you were salting your food. Avoid putting out too much at any one time as the chicks may fill up on it instead of the feed [54].

    In the end, it really comes down to the feed the chicks are getting. I am feeding them Southern States All Grain Start-N-Grow. The Southern States website tells me the following:
    You can easily provide chicks with a healthy, balanced diet using pre-formulated, store-bought feed. Usually sold as "chick starter feed" or "chick starter mash," these formulations provide all the chicks' necessary nutrients from day one until their eighth week. After they're eight weeks old, chicks should be switched to a pullet grower feed until they reach 20 weeks.
    While some sources suggest chicks need grit, a dietary supplement, don't worry about supplying grit unless the chicks are eating food other than the starter feed. If you decide to give them grit, use chick-sized granite grit or parakeet grit
    [55].

    Heat

    Brand new baby chicks prefer temperatures just under 100 degrees. However, their need for heat decreases about five degrees per week until they are about ten weeks of age [11].

    This sounds a little high to me. Most other sources I've seen suggest slightly lower.
    95 degrees for week one then decrease five degrees per week to 70 degrees [24].

    The temperature where the birds are should be 90 to 95 degrees for the first week. Reduce the temperature five degrees per week until you get to 70 degrees. Then they shouldn't need any more heat.
    A good source of heat is a 250 watt heat bulb. (Red bulbs are preferred, white may cause picking.) Hang it 18 inches from the floor. The temperature directly under the bulb will be higher than 90 degrees but birds will adjust themselves to the area they like
    [36].

    Day-old chicks require a temperature of about 90-95 degrees. Reduce the temperature 5-7 degrees per week until you reach 65-70 degrees [21].

    The temperature in your new chicks' pen should be about 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week of life.
    The temperature within the brooder can be decreased by five degrees every week until it reaches 70 degrees. At this point, the chicks will be about three weeks old
    [18].
    Hmmm...the last I checked, 95 degrees minus (3 weeks x 5 degrees) = 80 degrees.

    New England chicken farmers discovered that chickens born in spring fetched a better price than the old ones who had weathered the winters [14].

    Chicks should not be moved outside if nighttime temperatures within the pen can't be regulated above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, otherwise, they'll spend most of their energy keeping warm rather than growing [18].

    Depending on the source, I got very mixed answers as to how long chicks should stay in the brooder.
    You can think of three weeks as an approximate minimum, and they should not need longer than five, even in the early part of the season when night temperatures can be pretty cold [15].

    Most sources give lots of detail about taking care of chicks in the first couple of weeks and when they are adults. But I had a hard time finding good information when it came to taking care of chicks during the transition. When it came to learning about the adolescent and teenage years of a pullet, I found Jenna Woginrich's Chick Days: Raising Chickens from Hatchlings to Laying Hens book to be a great source.
    Pullets (chickens less than a year old) can be introduced to the coop at six weeks of age and will be fine without a heater as long as the night temperature is at least 50 degrees [13].

    I found that for the Baltimore area, if I get chicks born no earlier than March 28, they'll be fine as long as I wait until they are at least six weeks old before transferring them to the coop permanently and make sure I provide them with supplemental heat at night until they are ten weeks old.

    Light

    If you use a heat bulb, this will also serve as the light you need. Otherwise, be sure to give your birds light. Use a 75 watt bulb on dark days. Have a small light for night - 15 watts or similar - to keep them from piling [36].

    Baby chicks need 24 hours of light for the first 48 to 72 hours of life to ensure that they find food and water. Use a 60-watt incandescent bulb or a 9-watt compact fluorescent bulb for every 200 square feet of floor space. Remember to choose the warm-white type if you use fluorescent bulbs. Using shallow-dome reflectors such as aluminum pie plates, or bulbs with built-in reflectors, will improve the distribution of light within the house.
    Some growers suggest 23 hours of light and at least one hour of darkness in the first few days in order to accustom the chicks to a dark period. This hour of darkness will be hard to achieve if you are using heat lamps, which also give off light.
    If supplemental light is still needed after two to three weeks for any of the reasons described in the sections below, use a 40-watt incandescent or a 7-watt compact fluorescent bulb to help avoid overly high light levels
    [37].

    When the pullets reach 16 weeks of age, the maximum of 14-16 hours of artificial light can be applied without harm by increasing light exposure one hour each week. By implementing proper light management practices, producers can prevent the complications in their birds that can occur as a result of producing eggs at too young of an age [40].

    Litter

    Wood shavings, rice hulls, or ground cobs make good litter. Do not use cedar chips, sawdust (it is too small and the birds may eat it instead of their food), or treated wood chips. Sand, straw, or dirt will also work but are not as good as the others. Put the litter all over the floor at least one inch thick. Keep it covered for the first day with newspapers to keep the chicks from eating the litter instead of the feed. To avoid leg problems, remove the papers after the first day for heavy breeds and meat birds and after the third day for lighter breeds [36].

    One can use the deep litter method in the brooder. One big advantage is it provides heat.
    Once the pack got perhaps six inches deep (quite a while back since it settles a good bit) you could feel warmth radiating up from it when you held our hand over it [15].

    Deep decomposing bedding is also supposed to help prevent and combat disease problems [15].

    It doesn't smell bad either... [15]

    The deep litter method described above for chicks uses built-up litter or a "mature" deep litter which has been used by two or more previous broods of chicks.
    The prevention or control of coccidiosis by starting day-old chicks on old built-up litter could have been prophesized years ago. It has long been recognized that chicks exposed to small dosages of coccidia at an early age developed a resistance which gave protection against heavier dosages to which they are often exposed from 4 to 12 weeks of age. Built-up litter has thus proved the most practical and effective means by which this resistance can be established [15].

    While the mature deep litter method sounds good, I'm not so sure if it would work so well for me. I expect I'll have chicks every few years and not save built-up litter from previous broods. Even if I did, I'm not so sure the microbes would survive after a few years in less than ideal conditions.

    Space

    Try to provide 1/2 square foot per bird at the start. After four weeks, increase floor area to 3/4 square feet per bird [36].

    How much space does one need for chicks?
  • 0-4 weeks 1/2 square foot per bird.
  • 4-8 weeks 1 square foot per bird.
  • 8-12 weeks 2 square feet per bird [3] [24].

  • At 12+ weeks (still brooder space not coop space)
  • light breeds (bantams, standards) 2.5 - 3 square feet per bird.
  • heavy breeds 3 - 3.5 square feet per bird [3].
  • I would hope that by 12 weeks, the chickens are long gone from the brooder. Living in the brooder at that age is like having a 30 year old living with his parents.

    Cardboard put in a circle around 12 inches high around the birds helps cut down drafts on the floor. Be sure the circle is large enough to allow the birds to get away from the heat if they want [36].

    Supplies

    Here are the main things I purchased to raise my chicks:
  • Heat source
  • Vitamin-electrolyte solution to mix in the chicks' water
  • Fount
  • Feeder
  • Rocks or marbles to put in the fount to keep them from drowning
  • Starter grit to be used at 3-4 weeks of age until 10-12 weeks. Grower grit can be used from 10-12 weeks on [21].
  • Starter feed
  • Pine shavings to be used as litter

  • More specifically, I bought the following equipment for my brooder:
  • Miller Manufacturing 9810 Round Jar Galvanized Feeder Base for Birds, 1-Quart: I read that one should go with metal over plastic if you are in it for the long haul. $5.99
  • Miller Manufacturing 9826 Mason Jar Water Base: $4.39
  • EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder: I thought long and hard about this one. At $76.99, it is far more expensive than a heat lamp. But according to Hayneedle - EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder
    This unit only uses 18 watts because the chicks are in contact with its warm under-surface.
    But the chicks ended up not liking this. It was probably enough to keep them alive but I felt that they didn't thrive. So I used it a few times and then never again.
  • A lamp and 250 watt red heat lamp bulb. They much preferred this to the EcoGlow brooder.



  • Walls

    How tall should the walls of the brooder be?
    If you can find a brooder that is about 12 inches deep, you won't have to worry about putting a lid on it, as the chicks won't be able to fly out. If the brooder is shallower than that, consider using a top on it so they can't escape [50].

    The brooders I found for sale on line as of 2014 have wall heights of 9", 10", 16", 18", and 18.75". No matter what height you choose, it is just a matter of time before they can fly above them. I make my walls 24" high which keeps them from getting out for a long time but ensures I can step over it.

    Brooders that can be set up with connecting panels come in varous lengths. I have seen 12", 25", and 44".

    Material is typically corrugated cardboard or corrugated plastic. The latter is typically used to make the little signs along the side of the road staked into the ground. I see one quarter inch thicknesses typically being used (0.635 mm). One supplier of this is Premier 1 - Brooder panels. These come with the panels notched so they fit together. Or, you can buy the panels un-notched from various sources that have nothing to do with chickens. Just keep in mind the thickness of the panels since 4mm thickness is more common. Of course 6mm is better but 4mm could work fine. Buying from one of these or other sources might save you some money but not much. Some require a minimum order.
  • SignOutfitters: Corrugated Plastic Sign Material
  • Corrugated Plastics: Corrugated Plastic Sheets

  • Water

    Pebbles or marbles are placed in the water tray to discourage the new chicks from piling into it and drowning [18].

    A lot of places sell vitamin and electrolyte supplements to add to the chicks' water. Be sure to mix up a fresh batch in accordance with the instructions.


    The My Pet Chicken Guide to Chicken Care, Chapter 4: Caring for Baby Chicks also has some great information.
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     Raising Chickens

    As of 2022, I have raised chickens and bees. I find chickens to be much more fun and forgiving. Bees, on the other hand, have less room for error and even if you do everything right, they might all still die.

    Basically, what I'm saying is that you should learn all that you can about raising chickens, but if you don't do things exactly by the book, you'll still probably be fine.

    Frequently Asked QuestionsOpen accordion icon
    How long can a chicken live?
    A chicken can live between 10-15 years although there have been instances where they have lived longer [36].

    Will having chickens save me money in groceries?
    The biggest cost is the coop. If you have a free one or one that you obtained very cheaply, then the answer is maybe. There are various costs associated with having chickens and most of these costs are not significant but they do add up. In my opinion, you'd be lucky just to break even. But if you get all the one-time cost equipment very cheaply and the main cost is then food, it is possible for you to come out ahead. As of 2017, a dozen eggs at Wal-Mart will cost $1.60 plus tax. In comparison,
    ...it would cost $1.06 in feed for a dozen eggs [61].

    Can chickens fly?
    Yes, but not well and it varies between birds.
    They can fly about six feet in the air, managing spurts of about 20 feet in length.
    ,,,their wings only needed to be strong enough to carry them into nearby trees to roost. Today's wild jungle fowl can fly a bit better than domesticated chickens, whose flying ability has mostly been bred out of them in favor of meat or egg production [59].


    What is "broodiness"?
    All hens lay eggs, but "broodiness," or the desire to hatch eggs, is a trait that has been bred out of most breeds for the simple fact that when hens are brooding, they do not lay eggs, which isn't good for profits. But some hens still have a particularly strong desire to be mothers. Silkie Bantams come to mind, as many of them are perpetually broody [59].

    What is the maximum number of chickens I should have?
    Unless you have at least an acre of land, you will probably be limited by your local zoning ordinance. If not, then I suggest no more than 30 if you want them to be happy.
    He [Schjelderup-Ebbe] found that if the size of the flock grew above 30 birds or so, the chickens were unable to remember all the social relationships, and their pecking order completely broke down.
    Just as the chicken brain can only remember and process about 30 different social relationships, the human brain can only handle about 150 [Dunbar's Number].
    [59].

    Where can I learn more?
    If you want to know everything there is to know about chickens, consider signing up for some courses at Chickens and YOU Training and Coaching. I also highly recommend Storey's Guide for Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow [23]. This is without a doubt, the most comprehensive, detailed book I have found about raising chickens.
    Close accordion icon

    FeedingOpen accordion icon
    According to Laura Harper, owner of "The Urban Chicken" store in Raleigh, North Carolina, the average hen eats about a quarter pound of food a day. Scratch should make up only about 10% of that. Any more will affect their nutrient balance.
    And corn offers only 7% protein while prepared chicken feeds offer 16% protein with corn in the mix.
    [58]

    I've heard great things about feeding chickens fermented feed.
  • Natural Chicken Keeping: Fermented Feed
  • Why and How to Ferment Your Chicken Feed
  • Lacto-Fermentation - Making My Own Fermented Chicken Feed

  • Here's what you should NOT feed your chickens:
  • Toxic Treats! Things Chickens Shouldn't Eat
  • 10 Foods You Should Not Feed Your Chickens
  • Close accordion icon

    Spent GrainOpen accordion icon
    For a few months, I fed my girls spent grain when I could get it. They really loved it. My source was a fellow I knew that brewed his own beer. So if you know any beer makers, you can ask them to save the spent grain for your chickens. But I don't recommend feeding them too much, too often. Every few days seemed o.k. based on my experience. I've noticed a correlation between the number of softshell eggs I get and the amount of spent grain they eat.

    Later, I found a good article in the September/October 2016 Grit magazine titled "Spent Grains for Livestock Feed." Note that this is primarily written for owners of livestock but some sections are still relevant:
    ...spent grains can be fed to poultry if enzymes are added to help degrade the fiber to make them digestible.
    Between 20 and 30 percent of the dry weight of brewery spent grains is protein, and 36 percent of this is rumen [not ramen]...
    Spent grains are not nutritionally complete, so they are used as a supplement to regular feed. Animals fed spent grains will likely benefit from supplementary nitrogen and calcium.


    The abstract of the first article mentioned the enzyme that chickens need to fully digest the spent grain. It is Beta-glucanase:
    When a comparison was made between the chickens which were fed the diet based on dried distillers-spent-grain from barley with or without Beta-glucanase supplementation, the enzyme supplement was found to result in a better performance with respect to weight gain and feed conversion ratio.

    One can purchase Beta-glucanase (beta-glucanase) as a digestive enzyme health food supplement for human use. But my question is "How much should be given to chickens"? I guess I could read Nutritional value for chickens of dried distillers-spent-grain from barley and dehulled barley if I really want to know.
    Beta-Glucanase represents a group of carbohydrate enzymes which break down glycosidic bonds within beta-glucan.
    Beta glucans are a polysaccharide made of glucose molecules linked together into long chains that humans cannot readily digest. In more familiar terms they are cellulose plant fiber, cereal bran fiber, and parts of certain types of fungi, yeast, and bacteria. As a kind of indigestible fiber, they may become viscous in the intestinal tract and slow peristalsis (intestinal contractions).
    Beta-glucans are health-promoting in that they act as intestinal fiber, which may help reduce high serum cholesterol levels and help create regularity through bulk formation. Water-soluble fibers may also help to regulate blood sugar and reduce the likelihood of developing colon related diseases.
    Due to these important benefits, it is important to include foods with beta-glucans in the diet, but it is equally important to have enough of the beta-glucanase enzyme. Why? Because Beta glucanase hydrolyzes these glucans, reducing viscosity, and helping to revitalize natural peristalsis. This enhances the digestive process, increasing the overall nutritional value of your food.

    The Health Benefits of Beta-Glucanase
    Close accordion icon

    EggsOpen accordion icon
    Do I need a rooster to get my hens to lay eggs?
    No. You need a rooster if you want fertilized eggs but a hen will lay eggs regardless. It is similar to a human female having her period.

    How long does it take for a hen to lay an egg?
    25 hours from the initial phase of ovulation to egg laying. After the egg is laid, her body will rest for approximately 30 minutes and then she will ovulate again and start the entire process over [44].

    A hen can lay an egg approximately once every 26 hours. This ability starts at around 18 to 20 weeks of age and may continue for the entire life span of the hen. The number of eggs begins to taper off at about two years of age. Hens require a safe place to lay their eggs, proper nutrition, and 14 hours of daylight to stimulate egg production [59].

    Most hens will start laying between 5-7 months of age. They will lay best at one to two years of age. All pullets (female chickens under one year of age) lay small eggs at first and after awhile will lay larger eggs. Younger hens will lay one egg every 3-4 days. A hen 30 weeks old can lay two eggs every three days. Some have been known to lay an egg a day. All breeds have different laying abilities [36].

    Egg production is a remarkable thing. A pullet (young female chicken) begins laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks of age. She reaches peak production at about 35 weeks, with a production rate greater than 90 percent (that's 9 eggs in 10 days for a single hen or 9 eggs from 10 birds daily). This period of peak production lasts about 10 weeks, after which her egg production slowly begins to decline.
    A high-producing hen's annual egg production is more than 10 times her body weight
    [39].

    The average hen lays 265 eggs per year [59].

    Can a hen lay more than one egg a day?
    A hen that lays two eggs a day is often overfed, which can cause an excess of follicles. This increases the likelihood of a hen laying a second egg. This other egg often has a soft shell or some discoloration. Similarly, it can also occur when a hen is young since its egg production cycle takes time to regulate.
    If there is a second egg, it likely won't be fully formed [65].


    Should I wash my eggs?
    No, even according to the USDA, it is not necessary to wash your eggs because of the increased risk of introducing microbes into the egg. The washing water/solution can be pulled into the egg through the shell's pores. As the hen lays the eggs, they coat them in a protective coating called a bloom. This bloom essentially seals the egg helping to keep moisture in and germs out. All eggs that are processed in the store are mandated to be washed by the FDA but they have strict regulations and guidelines for washing [44].

    Water should be avoided since washing the shell rinses away its natural seal against bacteria [13].

    If you do wash an egg, use water that's slightly warmer than the egg itself. If the water is cooler than the egg, bacteria can actually be drawn through the shell into the egg. Dry the cleaned egg before putting it into a carton and use it as soon as possible [28].

    Are cracked eggs safe to eat?
    An egg that has cracked slightly is safe to eat as long as the membrane that's attached to the shell is still intact and the egg is used right away [28].

    What does it mean if the white part of an uncooked egg appears cloudy?
    That is an indication that the egg is very fresh. Over time, the white part of the egg, also known as the albumin, turns clears [44].

    What is that green ring around the yolk of my hard boiled egg?
    That occurs when eggs are overcooked. It is a chemical reaction between sulfur and iron. The egg is completely safe to eat [44].

    Why are fresh eggs so hard to peel?
    Fresh eggs have less air inside the shell. Older eggs have a larger cell of air. A larger cell of air allows for easier peeling, so use older eggs for hard-boiling [44].

    Is there any way to tell if an egg is fresh?
    Yes, put it in cold water. A fresh egg contains little air so it will sink. An older egg will float. Also, if you break open a fresh egg into a dish, the white is compact and firmly holds the yolk up. In an old egg the white is runny and the yolk will flatten out [36].

    Although a floating egg is quite old, it's not necessarily unsafe to eat [23].

    How long will an egg last?
    This is probably the question I get asked the most.
    An egg left at room temperature ages the same amount in a day as a refrigerated egg ages in an entire week.
    Rubbing the shell with clean vegetable oil before refrigerating the egg will prolong its shelf life.
    Clean eggs stored at 45 degrees and 70% humidity will keep well for at least three months. In a standard household refrigerator, where foods tend to dry out thanks to the refrigerator's defrosting mechanism, eggs will remain edible for up to five weeks
    [23].

    Americans are known for cleaning and refrigerating our eggs while the Brits typically do neither.
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    Selecting BreedsOpen accordion icon
    My goal is to have a diverse flock of good layers. There are certain characteristics I am looking for and I know not all chickens will have each of these traits.
  • Lays a lot of eggs
  • Lays large eggs
  • Lays year-round
  • Resistant to disease
  • Not noisy
  • Not broody
  • Gets along well with other chickens
  • Matures quickly
  • Docile or mellow, not flighty
  • Heat tolerant
  • Cold tolerant
  • Not prone to being bullied
  • Not likely to bully other birds
  • Lays eggs with interesting colors/markings
  • Attractive
  • Does not require a large space
  • Does not damage ground excessively

  • I don't think there is any one breed of chicken that meets all the above requirements but if they can meet most of them, then I will definitely consider adding them to my flock.

    You can be assured that we're choosing "sexed" rather than "straight run" to avoid getting roosters.

    Some chickens are "debeaked" which means the upper part of their beak is chopped off to prevent brutally aggressive behavior.
    But such behavior emerges only in situations of extreme stress - thus debeaking is an admission up front that the management system is a profoundly stressful one [15].
    As of 2022, I have not had any reason to have debeaked chickens. They sometimes fight just to show dominance but it has never resulted in serious injury.

    Many hatcheries offer vaccination against Marek's Disease as an option. I've read mixed reviews. Some owners have never had a problem with disease and claim that it is more of a concern for chickens that are not-so-well cared for. I don't know if I totally agree with that. I've had my share of vaccinations including shots for the plague, chickenpox, smallpox (once as a child, again as an adult), anthrax, covid-19, and a host of other things. According to The History of Vaccines (broken link as of 2016), people in the United States have been vaccinated since 1800. So I don't see a problem with vaccinating chickens.
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     Return on Investment

    There aren't many sources of food that one can do themselves on a small scale and save money as compared to shopping at a grocery store. Raising chickens for eggs or meat is no exception. So don't expect any monetary return on investment. What you'll get out of raising your own chickens is the joy of knowing where your food comes from, caring for a living creature, and the knowledge gained in doing so.

    Before you commit to raising chickens, you should have an idea of how much it is going to cost you.

    ExpensesOpen accordion icon
    There is a plethora of free information available on-line. You can also check out your local library. I have not purchased any books or magazines to learn about chickens but I did make use of my wife's Mother Earth News magazine which she subscribed to long before we had chickens. I also received the book "A Chicken in Every Yard" for my birthday. For Christmas 2013, I received Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow. I've found this to be the source that the hardcore chicken owners refer to although it is geared more for people that plan to have a lot more than eight chickens.

    Here are the one time cost items for the initial setup of my coop and run in 2014:
  • Miller Manufacturing 9810 Round Jar Galvanized Feeder Base for Birds, 1-Quart: $5.99
  • Miller Manufacturing 9826 Mason Jar Water Base: $4.39
  • EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder: $76.99. I ended up not using this.
  • Fast Framer Universal Storage Shed Framing Kit: $49.99
  • Chicken Coop Motor by Add-a-Motor: $91.40
  • 12v 55 ah 22NF Deep Cycle AGM Solar Battery: $134.57. I ended up not using this for the coop or run.
  • G3500 NOCO -3.5A (3500mA) Genius Smart Charger: $60. I ended up not using this for the coop or run.
  • NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit with Stand, Charge Controller and Inverter - 80 Watts, 12 Volt: $317.19. I ended up not using this for the coop or run.
  • Valspar Duramax: $211.50 for two gallons of red and three gallons of white. I made use of a lot of spare primer I had lying around so I didn't have to spend much money on that.
  • Two gallons Kilz exterior/interior primer: $36
  • One quart Valspar Duramax semi-gloss black for nesting boxes: $19.06
  • Two 1"x4"x8' pressure treated pine boards for base of coop: $8.42
  • 2"x3"x8' non-pressure treated pine boards. This served as the main ingredient for the frame of the coop and the run. I did not use any of this for ground contact, even though it was always painted. Only pressure-treated boards were used for ground contact. These cost $2.04 after tax for each board and I lost count as to how many I used but I think 30 is a reasonable figure. ~$61.20.
  • Four 2"x2"x8' non-pressure treated boards. I also made use of a couple that I had lying around. $7.80
  • Eight 2"x2"x8' pressure treated boards. $28.58
  • Four pressure treated 8 foot long 2x4s for the base of the runs: $15.14
  • Half inch thick BC ULX 4x8 plywood for removeable floor of coop: $29.12. This has a solid-surface veneer, the knot holes are 1/2 inch or less in diameter, the board is recommended for exterior use, and made with exterior-grade glue.
  • Four vinyl framed 32"x14" basement windows: $199.28. These are wide and short which makes them good for putting a little below the roof overhang so that light shines into the coop when the sun is low but not when it is high. The windows can be reversed to open outwards in a way that won't let water in so easily. This also makes it so that one can open/close the windows without having to be inside the coop...a must for chicken tractors. What I really like about it is that the whole window can open to let air in, unlike the sliding windows where only half of it opens. The 32" width is great too because that is how far apart the studs are in the coop.
  • Three pieces of 11/32" thick 4'x8' plywood for roof and nesting boxes: $74.64
  • Three pieces of 11/32" thick 4'x8' plywood for walls: $74.64
  • Two 14"x6" white steel three-way registers so I can control ventilation: $22.90
  • Two 8 foot long one-eighth inch thick and one inch wide aluminum rails to ensure the floor slides in and out of the coop without wearing out or damaging the wood: $28.76
  • Flexco, 4' long vinyl rubber baseboard. This is the thing you see in commercial buildings, not residential homes. I figured it would give my nesting box protection from the weather as a hinge cover. $3.33
  • Exterior drywall screws. I was able to make use of quite a few that I already had. Cost reflects only those I purchased. $53.79
  • Other types of screws. $5.91
  • Three 8' long PVC strips, about 1.5" wide and 3/8" thick used to prevent drafts and water from getting in between removeable panels. $16.28
  • 30" long stainless steel hinge for nesting box. $16.49
  • 12" nickel hinge (couldn't find stainless steel in this size) for door panel: $5.07
  • Latch for nesting box. $3.64
  • Four 1"x2"x8' pine furring strips for coop ramp. $16.83
  • Four tubes of Loctite Pro Line Premium Construction Adhesive: $19.42. Liquid Nails is supposed to be good too but this stuff is more versatile in that I can use it to glue together a wider variety of objects whereas with Liquid Nails, I would need a few different tubes depending on what I'm working with. I used it for attaching the aluminum rails (see above) and for gluing my vinyl flooring to the floor of the coop.
  • Two tubes of Red Devil painters caulk. $9.14
  • Little Giant Hanging Metal Poultry Feeder Cover: $8.76
  • Aluminum bar to hold rubber baseboard. $6.17
  • Aluminum 'U' bar to ensure smooth operation of the door. $9.95
  • Sanding sponges. $7.92
  • Miscellaneous hardware. Stainless steel used when exposed to the outside. $16.29
  • Caulk. $3.07 for 2 tubes. I was able to use a lot of leftover stuff so I really should have paid a lot more
  • Two hinges to attach ramp to door panel. $3.77
  • Aluminum bar to attach ramp hinges to door panel. $4.64
  • 35 bags of drainage rock to provide an approximately 2.5 inch thick layer over a 9'x9' area (about 1400 pounds). $166.02
  • 2"x12"x12' pressure treated boards for foundation border. $88.31
  • 2"x4"x10' pressure treated boards for run. $20.65
  • 16 angle brackets for run. $33.58
  • Carriage bolts, washers, locking nuts, staples, and non-locking nuts. I ended up opting for non-locking nuts since they put less tension on the carriage bolts. $76.71
  • 4'x25' hardware cloth with 1/2" holes. Southern States is much cheaper than Home Depot for this. $197.15
  • 2'x25' hardware cloth with 1/2" holes. $35.48
  • 2"x4"x12' pressure treated boards for run. $23.39
  • Pine handrails. These are 2.25" wide, 1" thick, and 8' long. These are the roosting poles. $47.59
  • Taylor 1522 Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer for monitoring the temperature of the brooder: $7.99
  • Brooder heat lamp: $12.67
  • 250 watt infrared red bulb for heat lamp: $6.35
  • 75 watt heat lamp bulb: $15.88
  • Arduino Uno Ultimate Starter Kit: $54.99. I ended up not using this.
  • Two bells. Supposedly they like to peck at shiny things so I figured they might have fun with these. But no, they totally ignored them. $6.35
  • Corner brackets for making doors to run below coop: $16.79
  • Hinges for making doors to run below coop: $6.93
  • Gate hook for making doors to run below coop: $3.96
  • Eye screws for hanging feeder: $4.20
  • S hooks for hanging feeder: $2.10
  • 4 2"x2"x8' pressure treated lumber for making doors to run below coop: $14.29
  • Farm Innovators Baby Chick Starter Home. This is the thing made with plastic walls to keep the chicks rounded up. I bought two so I could accommodate 12 older chicks that would need two square feet per bird. $50.86.
  • Conduit, 100 feet of 12 gauge wire, electrical connectors, electrical boxes, outlets, etc. to hardwire coop for optional 110 volt electricity or electricity generated by NPower Crystalline Solar Panels: ~$350

  • One great way to help cut the cost of having chickens is to put chicken accessories on your birthday and Christmas wish lists. That is what I did and in addition to getting the book Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, I also received the following from my generous parents, wife, and in-laws:
  • 12 pound galvanized chicken feeder for 8 hens: $21.56
  • Three gallon water fount: $43.40
  • HP-125 Water fount heater: $46.78

  • The coop, in its form as shown on the April 12, 2014 "Coop-to-Coop Tour" cost $1795 to build. That includes the foundation and run.

    One time cost items for chicken run version 2.0, which was built after the "Coop-to-Coop Tour":
  • Hardware to include screws, nuts, washers, and staples: $66.30
  • Lumber: $56
  • Gravel: $16.83
  • Hardware cloth: $26.48
  • Wire: $3
  • Tuftex Seacoaster polycarbonate roofing panels: 5 for a total of $107.70
  • Toftex fasteners: $13.70
  • Handrail to be used for perch and swing: $36.50
  • 96" sliding door rails: $50.84
  • Caulk: $1.66
  • Two inch safety gate hook: $1.98
  • 4'x15' canvas drop cloth to be used as windbreak: $19.33
  • Clips for holding canvas drop cloth by Easy Klip: $47.69

  • I did two more run upgrades: version 3.0 and 3.1. I did not record how much I spent but it was easily a few hundred dollars.

    If I had to put a dollar value onto how much I spent for the coop and run over the next eight years, to include repairs and maintenance, I would say it is around $3000.

    This is what it is all for...the chickens. Over the next eight years, I had three flocks. I received the first flock in 2014.
  • 12 chicks ordered from Meyer Hatchery: $83.59. Eight are for me and four (Buff Orpingtons) are for my sister-in-law. All have Marek's (HVT) Vaccination. I'll raise hers until they are ready to go into the coop.

  • Recurring cost items in first year:
  • Feed: The "Storage for Feed, Bedding, Manure (for six layers)" slide of [24] claims six layers consume two pounds of food per day which equates to fifteen 50 pound bags per year. Doing the math, this means eight chickens will consume 2 2/3 pounds per day or twenty 50 pound bags per year. This is 1000 pounds of feed!
  • Nine bags of 25 pounds all grain starter feed, non-medicated: $80.93.
  • Five pound bag of grit: $7.94
  • Two 5 pound bags of starter grit: $11.64; as of June 18, 2014, they consumed one bag
  • A ten pound bag of oyster shell grit: $3.38
  • As of November 25, 2014, eight bales of pine shavings have been purchased and six used: $56.06
  • One heat bulb replacement. I'm guessing that since these burn 24/7 when the chicks are small, they don't last long. Always good to keep a spare handy: $11.64
  • Bags of dried mealworms and other treats: $16.30
  • As of February 16, 2015, nine bags of 50 pound Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder Crumbles have been purchased. I was told the crumbles (versus the pellets) are easier for pullets to consume. They have consumed six bags as of February 28, 2015. $136.63
  • As of February 16, 2015, one ten pound bag of Manna Pro scratch. They're not too crazy about this stuff. $15.89
  • Five pound bag of oyster shell calcuium supplement to ensure eggs have sufficiently strong shells: $7.34

  • As of 2022, you can get a 50 pound bag of regular chicken feed for about $20, in my area. Therefore, to purchase 1000 pounds of feed, I can expect to spend 20 x $20 = $400.
    Close accordion icon

    ProfitOpen accordion icon
    The first thing I considered was the manure.
    Chicken manure is an excellent and surprsingly valuable fertilizer. Currently [based on a 2012 source], 20-pound bags of organic chicken manure fertilizer can fetch a price of between $10 and $20. A fully grown four-pound laying hen produces approximately a quarter-pound of manure per day. In comparison, an average dog produces three-quarters of a pound per day, or three times as much waste as one hen [2].

    Assume I have eight chickens, which is the legal limit in Howard County, Maryland. That means that over one year, they will produce 8 x 0.25 x 365 = 730 pounds of manure. At $10 for a 20 pound bag, that equates to $365 in manure.

    Another source claims much less.
    Each of your hens will produce - get this - 45 pounds of poop a year [2].
    This means I can expect 8 x 45 = 360 pounds of manure per year which is worth about $180.

    The cost of chicken manure in 2022 is about the same as it was in 2012. So I will average these two amounts and claim that as of 2022, eight chickens produce $272.50 of fertilizer per year.


    Chickens help control the bug population. Unfortunately, they also eat the good bugs (e.g. earthworms). So I will consider their monetary value as an insecticide to be neutral.


    Eggs are the main reason I want egg-laying hens.
    Based on their findings [the Department of Agriculture], hens in the U.S. lay an average of 276 eggs per year – that's about five per week. I guess chickens appreciate lazy weekends as much as we do [67].

    I think this is true but if you have chickens older than two and a half years, you are probably getting less than this. It also depends a lot on the breed. I typically choose good layers but not necessarily the "power layers" that the factory farms do. My chickens don't start laying until they are around six months old and it takes awhile before they reach peak production. I usually have one in the flock that goes broody so she stops laying for several weeks. So I think it is more accurate to say that for my flock, I get about 200 eggs per year per hen. With eight of them, that means 1600 eggs per year!

    As of 2022, free-range, locally grown chicken eggs sell for about $4 per dozen. So 1600 eggs is worth $533.33.
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     Miscellaneous

    During my years of raising chickens, I've acquired a lot of information that I felt was worth sharing. Some of it doesn't fit so neatly into other sections on this page so I'm including them here.

    DucksOpen accordion icon
    I kicked around the idea of getting a couple of ducks. They lay bigger eggs but with not as great of frequency. But I never took duck ownership too seriously until 2018, when I took Lionel (our rooster that was supposed to be Liza) to his new home, and saw that the owner had chickens living with ducks. If I had ducks, I'd want to make sure they were well socialized with me so I could maybe take them paddleboarding. But you can't just raise ducks like chickens.
    Other than Muscovy ducks, which spend very little time in the water, ducks should have access to a decently sized pool they're able to swim in.
    Chickens drink and the ducks will play in the water, and together, they can empty a 1-gallon waterer in 15 minutes if they want to. If you have an automatic waterer, you will have an even bigger mess
    [62].


    In December 2020, Norma and I looked seriously into getting ducks.

    These are the breeds I considered: white layer, white pekin (everyone says they make great pets), silver appleyard, welsh harlequin, rouen, cayuga (quiet), and buff.

    Calm breeds of chickens are breeds that have been developed to suit life with people as loved pets as well as being good sources of eggs and meat. These breeds include the Cochin (both large fowl and bantam), Orpingtons, Silkies, and Turkens.
    Most ducks of any breed will do fine with calmer chickens as long as the duck is allowed to be itself. However, there are breeds of ducks that are generally much more high-strung than others, and if you're looking to mix chickens and ducks, it's best to choose breeds that are generally not high-strung. These breeds include Rouens, Pekins, Saxony, Appleyard, Welsh Harlequin, and the Ancona. These are also all large breeds of mallard-based ducks, and are all very pretty and good layers of big eggs
    [67].

    Eventually, I decided to not get ducks. The main reasons are
  • Even though some breeds are supposed to be quieter than others, I've heard from various people in the Facebook duck groups that this characteristic is more tied to individual duck personalities than breed. My neighbors live too close for me to have noisy ducks. Muscovies are the exception in that everyone says they are quiet. It might be because they are the only domestic duck that is not evolved from mallards. But muscovies are good fliers and Norma thinks they are unattractive.
  • Chickens and ducks can get along but sometimes they don't, and when that happens, the results can be catastrophic. Chickens have sharp beaks and have been known to peck out the eyes of ducks. That is something I wouldn't want resting on my conscience. Having separate coops can solve this but I'm not yet wanting ducks that badly.

  • At some point, maybe I'll build a separate duck coop and get a couple of muscovies and clip their wings. But for now, I'll just stick with chickens. In the meantime, I'll get bees.

    For more information, see
  • Best Farm Animals - What's The Best Duck? A Complete Guide To Choosing The Right Breed
  • The Happy Chicken Coop - What You Should Know About Raising Chickens And Ducks Together
  • The Cape Coop Farm - Keeping Ducks & Chickens Together
  • Backyard Poultry - Can Chickens and Ducks Live Together?
  • Chickens and More - 7 Tips For Raising Ducks With Chickens
  • Morning Chores - 12 Things You Need to Know Before Getting Your First Ducks
  • Morning Chores - How to Choose the Right Duck Breeds for You
  • The Cape Coop - Great Backyard Duck Breeds
  • Hobby Farms - 6 Duck Breeds to Raise for Eggs
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    HumorOpen accordion icon
    Committment
    The difference between being involved and committed is like a ham and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved but the ham is committed.


    Happiness
    A chicken is better than all the happiness in the world.

    Proof: Nothing is better than all the happiness in the world.
    A chicken is better than nothing.
    Therefore, by transitivity, a chicken is better than all the happiness in the world.


    Roosters
    Roosters are a lot like men. First you are single.
    Healthy, young chicken

    Then you are married.
    Not so healthy chicken

    And if you are unfortunate, you get divorced.
    Chicken with no feathers



    Boneless chicken
    Eggs in bowl with sign that reads \



    Chicken yodeling
    Takeo Ischi - New Bibi Hendl (Chicken Yodeling) 2011
    A Japanese man singing in German and yodeling to chickens.


    You might be a redneck if
    ...you turn your old car into a chicken coop.
    Beat up car turned into chicken coop

    There's no homeowners association where I live but something tells me if I had a coop like this, the neighborhood might start one.


    Chick police lineup
    One chick and four peeps in a police lineup...chick says this is bullshit



    Chicken Farmer
    A woman walks into an accountant's office and tells him that she needs to file her tax return.
    The accountant says, "Before we begin, I'll need to ask you a few questions."
    He gets her name, address, tax file number, etc. and then asks," What is your occupation?"
    "I'm a prostitute," she says.
    The accountant is somewhat taken aback and says, "Let us try to rephrase that."...
    The woman says, "OK, I ' m a high-end call girl".
    "No, that still won't work. Try again."
    They both think for a minute; then the woman says, "I'm an elite chicken farmer."
    The accountant asks, "What does chicken farming have to do with being a prostitute?"
    "Well, I raised 650 cocks last year."
    "Chicken Farmer it is."


    Old Butch
    Fred was in the fertilized egg business. He had several hundred young 'pullets,' and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs.

    He kept records, and any rooster not performing went into the soup pot and was replaced.

    This took a lot of time, so he bought some tiny bells and attached them to his roosters.

    Each bell had a different tone, so he could tell from a distance, which rooster was performing.

    Now, he could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report by just listening to the bells.

    Fred's favorite rooster, old Butch, was a very fine specimen, but this morning he noticed old Butch's bell hadn't rung at all!

    When he went to investigate, he saw the other roosters were busy chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing, but the pullets, hearing the roosters coming, would run for cover.

    To Fred's amazement, old Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn't ring.

    He'd sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one.

    Fred was so proud of old Butch, he entered him in the Howard County Fair and he became an overnight sensation among the judges.

    The result was that the judges not only awarded old Butch the "No Bell Piece Prize" (pronounced "Nobel Peace Prize") but they also awarded him the "Pulletsurprise" (pronounced "Pulitzer Prize") as well.

    Clearly old Butch was a politician in the making. Who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the unsuspecting populace and screwing them when they weren't paying attention.

    Vote carefully in the next election, the bells are not always audible.
    Close accordion icon

    Fun FactsOpen accordion icon
    Henthropology
    Scientists believe, on the basis of DNA studies, that the modern domestic chicken originated when red jungle fowl crossed naturally with gray jungle fowl about 8000 years ago. Research indicates that this happened in a few areas of Southeast Asia, including southern China, India, Burna, and Thailand [59].

    For more than 4000 years, since the red junglefowl was first domesticated in Southern Asia, farmers had noticed that the flock of hens was a very orderly group [60].


    World Egg Day
    World Egg Day is celebrated on the second Friday in October.

    In the November 17, 2013 issue of the Parade Magazine, Marilyn vos Savant answers the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Here is her answer:
    I'd say it's the egg. Why? An animal (such as a chicken) is defined by the kind of creature it is, not by the kind of animal it gives birth to or by the kind of egg it lays. (A horse is a horse even if it gives birth to a mule.) But an egg is defined by the kind of creasure it contains. An egg holding a chicken is a "chicken egg," no matter what laid it. The same with a robin. If a robin pops out of an egg, it's a robin egg. So if you believe in evolution, at some point a creature that was almost a chicken laid an egg that contained a chicken, and as an egg is defined by the kind of creature it contains, the egg came first.


    What do chickens and fencers have in common?
    The answer? Electronic recording of hits.

    The tip of the fencing weapon is the second fastest moving object in sport; the first is the marksman's bullet! [47]

    Because of such speed, electronic devices are used to record hits.
    The foil fencer's uniform includes a metallic vest, called a lamé, which covers the valid target area, so that a valid touch will register as a colored light. A tip is attached to the point of the foil and is connected to a wire inside the blade. The fencer wears a cord inside his uniform which connects the foil to a wire, connected to the scoring machine [47].

    Similar technology has been used to record hits scored in "humane" cockfighting.
    Once considered one of America's national sports, cocking [cock fighting] is now considered barbaric and inhumane and is illegal in the United States and its territories. However, a Nevada corporation is promoting a bloodless variation designed to "make this ancient sport legally acceptable...and allow gamecock breeders to continue to legally test and perfect their breed." Called game cock boxing, it involves covering the spurs with foam rubber gloves and fitting each cock with a vest that electronically records hits, so cocks can spar without causing injury [23].


    What do chickens and rats have in common?
    There are an estimated 20 billion chickens alive right now - almost three times as many as there are humans.
    Statistically, every human on the planet eats the equivalent of 27 individual chickens every year.
    The only other terrestrial vertebrate that may rival the chicken in sheer numbers is the Norway rat
    [60].

    Baltimore's rat problem is bad enough that at one point, rats tunneled so intensely beneath a particular area of pavement that when garbage collectors drove over it, their truck sunk up to its axles. Rats in the vicinity took full advantage of the mishap and swarmed the truck, gorging on the garbage inside.
    - from Baltimore Listed Among Top 10 Worst 'Rat Cities' in the World


    Using egg whites to treat burns
    This got sent to me in an e-mail. Is it a good practice? I'll tell you at the end.

    A young man sprinkling his lawn and bushes with pesticides wanted to check the contents of the barrel to see how much pesticide remained in it. He raised the cover and lit his lighter; the vapors ignited and engulfed him. He jumped from his truck, screaming.

    His neighbor came out of her house with a dozen eggs and a bowl yelling: "bring me some more eggs!"

    She broke them, separating the whites from the yolks.

    The neighbor woman helped her to apply the whites onto the young man's face.

    When the ambulance arrived and the EMTs saw the young man, they asked who had done this. Everyone pointed to the lady in charge.

    They congratulated her and said: "You have saved his face."

    By the end of the summer, the young man brought the lady a bouquet of roses to thank her. His face was like a baby's skin.

    Keep in mind this treatment of burns is being included in teaching beginner firemen. First Aid consists of first spraying cold water on the affected area until the heat is reduced which stops the continued burning of all layers of the skin. Then, spread the egg whites onto the affected area.

    One woman burned a large part of her hand with boiling water. In spite of the pain, she ran cold faucet water on her hand, separated two egg whites from the yolks, beat them slightly and dipped her hand in the solution. The whites then dried and formed a protective layer.

    She later learned that the egg white is a natural collagen and continued during at least one hour to apply layer upon layer of beaten egg white. By afternoon she no longer felt any pain and the next day there was hardly a trace of the burn. Ten days later, no trace was left at all and her skin had regained its normal color.

    The burned area was totally regenerated thanks to the collagen in the egg whites, a placenta full of vitamins.


    So is this something you would want to do yourself?
    Akin to another Internet-spread rumor regarding the treatment of burns (which involved placing the injured extremity into a bag of flour), this seemingly helpful heads up also began making the online rounds in March 2011. In a nutshell, don't do it, because the danger of introducing salmonella into an open wound should not be toyed with.
    - from Snopes - The White Albumen (broken link as of 2016)


    Why are there no chickens in nativity scenes?
    On Christmas Eve 2014, I noticed several nativity scenes in my neighborhood. I also saw a depiction at one of my local churches. The manger scenes showed a donkey, sheep, and camel. Sometimes there was a cow. But never was there a chicken. I began to wonder why.

    When were chickens first domesticated and when did they arrive in the Middle East?
    It has been claimed (based on paleoclimatic assumptions) that chickens were domesticated in Southern China in 6000 BC. However, according to a recent study, "it is not known whether these birds made much contribution to the modern domestic fowl. Chickens from the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley (2500-2100 BC), in what today is Pakistan, may have been the main source of diffusion throughout the world." A northern road spread the chicken to the Tarim basin of central Asia. The chicken reached Europe (Romania, Turkey, Greece, Ukraine) about 3000 BC. Introduction into Western Europe came far later, about the 1st millennium BC. Phoenicians spread chickens along the Mediterranean coasts, to Iberia. Breeding increased under the Roman Empire, and was reduced in the Middle Ages. Middle East traces of chicken go back to a little earlier than 2000 BC, in Syria; chicken went southward only in the 1st millennium BC. The chicken reached Egypt for purposes of cock fighting about 1400 BC, and became widely bred only in Ptolemaic Egypt (about 300 BC).
    - from Wikipedia - Chicken

    So it might be the case that there were indeed domesticated chickens at the time but they might have only been used for cock fighting and not such a common sight on farms.

    Another source says
    There is no reference to chickens in the Old Testament sufficiently clear to specify our common domestic bird.
    - from Bible History - Chicken

    However,
    We know that chickens were present by the Christian era, because Jesus mentions them in the passage: "How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings," Matthew 23:37 and also in the passage about the cock crowing three times on the night of His betrayal.
    - from Yahoo Answers - Can someone tell me even more about chickens in ancient Israel?

    My guess is that there were indeed chickens but they were asleep when the wise men arrived after having followed the star to Bethlehem. Chickens have poor night vision so they roost before dark. That way, they can be protected from predators. Even the birth of Christ might not have been sufficient incentive for them to leave the perch at night. That is their loss.


    How the Chicken Built America
    Even if the chicken was not present at the birth of Christ, at least it was present during the birth of our country.

    After reading this article, you might think the chicken should be our national bird instead of the bald eagle.
    How the Chicken Built America by Andrew Lawler


    Egg prices likely to rise amid laws mandating cage-free henhouses
    On December 28, 2014, this article was published by the Los Angeles Times which describes
    ...a landmark animal welfare law that takes effect in California on New Year's Day. Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 in 2008 to effectively abolish the close confinement of farm animals in cramped cages and crates...

    This is great for the chickens though some consumers won't be happy.
    Prices for wholesale eggs are expected to rise 10% to 40% next year because of infrastructure upgrades and the reduction of flocks to provide animals more space

    A typical hen spends its entire life in a roughly 8-by-8-inch space, hemmed in on all sides by other birds. Detractors say it's cruel and conducive to injuries that lead to disease. The egg industry argues that the practice is safe, humane and essential for keeping a cornerstone of the American diet cheap and readily available.

    The eggs from my backyard chickens are looking better and better.


    Egg Color Not What It's Cracked Up to Be
    The following was in the January 4, 2015 issue of Parade Magazine.

    What does the color of the yolk indicate about the nutrition in the egg?

    Nothing at all. The color of the yolk comes from substances called carotenoids, and they depend on the diet of the hen. Brighter yolks have no more nutrients (or indicate more nutrition in the egg whites) than paler yolks. But consumers love colorful yolks, so egg farmers make sure to give their hens plenty of yellow-orange pigmented plants, such as marigold petals, and add supplemental carotenoids to their feed. (A colorless diet of, say, white cornmeal, produces a lighter yolk.) And, by the way, brown eggs are no more nutritious than white eggs.



    Earlobes and egg color
    With some exceptions, you can generally tell what color egg a chicken will lay by looking at its earlobes.
    - from Capper's Farmer - Guide to Backyard Eggs

    Red earlobes usually mean brown eggs. White earlobes mean white eggs [59].


    Chicken diapers
    You can't housebreak a chicken. Birds are made to fly which means they want to get rid of any excess weight as soon as possible. So they can't hold it in for very long. But you can buy chicken diapers. If you think you'd rather just clean up their mess, keep in mind that
    chickens usually poop a lot - up to 50 times a day! [59]


    T-Rex
    Ever wonder what a dinosaur tastes like?
    The chicken is the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus rex [59].


    Chicken Trivia
    Here's some chicken trivia I learned from the What the Cluck? 2019 Day-to-Day Calendar:
  • Eyes: A chicken's right eye is nearsighted, which is good for finding food at close range, and a chicken's left eye is farsighted, which helps them monitor for predators or other threats, especially ones in the sky. You'll almost always see a chicken cocking its head to the right to scan the sky with its left eye.
    Chickens have a 300-degree range of vision without moving their heads. In comparison, human's range of vision is 190 degree.
    Chickens can see color better than humans do. While we have three cones to help us differentiate red, green, and blue, chickens have those three and a fourth that sees violet and ultraviolet light. A fifth cone in a chicken's eye assists with detecting motion.
  • Flight: The longest recorded flight of a domestic chicken is 13 seconds.
  • How long do chickens live?: ...in 2011, Guiness confirmed a Red Quill Muffed American Game hen named Muffy, from Maryland, as the World's Oldest at twenty-two years old.
  • Yolks: Double-yolked eggs occur in about one in a thousand eggs. Double yolks happen when two yolks are released from the ovary so close together that one shell forms around both of them.
    Perdue Farms developed a specialized chicken feed that included marigold blossoms, in order to make the skin of the chicken carcass yellower than the competition. The same trick works for making yellower yolks.
  • Feed: A laying hen should eat about one-quarter to one-third of a pound of feed each day, which means it takes almost four pounds of feed to produce one dozen eggs. If a hen is free range, that means less feed is eaten.
  • Bantams: Bantam chickens are one-third to one-half the size of standard-sized breeds. Some are true bantams with no larger counterpart, and some are miniaturized versions. Bantam roosters are known to be aggressive. The name comes from the port city of Bantam in Indonesia, where ships would stock up on chickens for their journeys. The small chickens were useful on board, producing eggs while taking up little space.
  • Top exporter: The world's top exporter of chicken is the Netherlands.
  • History: Civilizations in Southeast Asia were the first to domesticate the chicken, starting around 5000 years ago. The red junglefowl was captured and bred, not for food but for fighting.
  • September: September is National Chicken Month
  • Christmas: In Japan, it has become a tradition to eat fried chicken on Christmas Eve. In a country where about one percent of the population counts itself as Christian, this tradition started in the early 1970s, when foreigners couldn't find turkey for their holiday meal and ate Kentucky Fried Chicken instead. The company saw a marketing opportunity, and now they sell a meal that includes cake and champagne. KFC records its highest worldwide sales on December 24. In the United States, the highest sales come on Mother's Day.


  • Don't Get Your Feathers Ruffled
    Read this heartwarming story about Sammi the chicken, who has been referred to as a dog with two legs.
    Close accordion icon

    CommunityOpen accordion icon
    Chickens help foster a sense of community.
  • For most people, they will generate more eggs than one can consume. So people end up selling or giving away the rest. In doing so, you get to know the folks in your community.
  • People, especially children, are curious about chickens and want to see them.
  • Once you develop an appreciation for chickens, you want to tell others about them (preaching the word).

  • Savage Fest 2014

    I decided to "preach the word" about chickens on June 7, 2014. This was the date of Savage Fest, an annual community festival in my town. A few thousand people showed up on this lovely, sunny day. I had a booth called Savage Chickens set up where I showed Osprey, Abigail, and Gertrude, hens from my first flock.
    Me with Molly and chickens at Savage Chickens booth

    I picked those three chickens because they all look so different.
    Young Osprey and Abigail

    Sara and Don loaned me their dog cage so I could display the girls. I printed out literature about chickens that I found at PG Hens - FAQ...yes, I did get their permission first. I also printed out info about the zoning requirements in Howard County for having chickens. Most people were not aware of the 2013 zoning law change that makes it easier for residents to have chickens. I displayed photos and several books that I picked up from the library.

    Molly brought two of her full-grown chickens to display along with mine.
    Molly showing her chicken to a child

    Hers are a little over a year old. She said that once they started laying, they became much more docile. So she and her eldest son James had no problem picking them up and allowing people to pet them. In contrast, my 7 1/2 week old chicks don't like being touched or handled.

    Overall, Savage Fest was a big success and I look forward to it next year.

    Savage Fest 2015

    Like last year, I set up my chicken booth to inform the public about raising backyard chickens in Howard County. My neighbor and fellow chicken owner, J. Tim A., joined me all day. This gave me a chance to check up on the other events I organized: the Marine Corps League who were selling grilled sausages and the bean bag toss Savage Community Association (SCA) fundraiser.
    Me and Tim A. at the Savage Chickens both

    I brought Edith and Osprey (chickens from my first flock) to show to the public. I also brought in various eggs laid by my hens. Folks were quite surprised to see that Edith and Osprey lay green eggs. My booth drew in quite a few people that had questions about chickens or that just wanted to see the girls. They were a big hit with the kids. Though I did not witness it, one of them laid an egg around 1630.

    Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman stopped by to say hi in the early morning. He used to own chickens. Various friends and co-workers stopped by too: Allison, Yvette, Jorge, Teresa, Rey, and Wahab.


    Tim passed away in 2016. His wife gave me some of his chicken books. He will be missed.

    I ended up becoming the bubble guy at Savage Fest in that I made giant bubbles which the kids really liked. So I handed over my chicken booth duties to Brian C. Maybe I'll return as the chicken guy someday, especially since Brian has become the bee guy in town.
    Close accordion icon

    Charity Work


         Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary: Just west of Germantown, Maryland, this is a 400 acre non-profit refuge for farm animals and wildlife.

    General Information


         Backyard Chicken Lady

         Backyard Chickens

         Backyard Chickens - Egg Eating, What are the Causes, And How to Prevent It

         Best Breed of Egg Laying Chickens for a Chicken Coop

         Chicken Treat Chart

         Chickens and You

         Chickens in Howard County

         The City Chicken

         Community Chickens

         Community Chickens - Chunnels Provide Safety and Room to Roam: A chunnel is a chicken tunnel.

         Community Chickens - Got Fleas? 13 Chicken Flea Facts

         Grit - Introduction to Keeping Chickens

         Mile Four - The Ultimate Chicken Feed Guide

         Prince George's Hens

         Raising Chickens, Raising Superstars with Pat Foreman: I met this woman at the 2013 Mother Earth News Fair

         Raising Happy Chickens - The benefits of feeding garlic to chickens

         Seven Safety Tips for Free-Ranging Chickens

         Spring Greens for You and Your Flock: Growing stuff for your chickens to eat

         Veterinarian - McKillop Poultry Medicine

         What Can Chickens Eat?...and what should they avoid.

    Supplies

         Brinsea: The incubation specialists

         Egg Cart'n

         Egg Carton Source

         Fleming Outdoors

         Ideal Poultry

         Meyer Hatchery: This is where I get my chicks

         Moyer's Chicks

         Murray McMurray Hatchery

         My Pet Chicken

         Omlet: Makers of the Eglu

         Myers Mini Barns: A good selection of coops here in Howard County

         Premier One

         Pure Poultry

         Southern States: I generally purchase feed from my local store

         Stromberg's: Chick and game birds unlimited

         The Urban Chick: An urban farm supply store. Since 2013, they've been saying "opening soon."

         Valhoma Chicken Harness "Hen Size" - PLUS 6 FT Matching Chicken Leash: I have mixed feelings about this. It is cool, silly, and ridiculous all at the same time.

         Welp Hatchery
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    ReferencesOpen accordion icon
    I apologize for all the broken links but what I reference one day is often gone the next. That is just the fluid nature of the internet.


    [1]  Illegal Fowl: A Survey of Municipal Laws Relating to Backyard Poultry and a Model Ordinance for Regulating City Chickens by Jamie M. Bouvier. Found at Social Science Research Network (SSRN)

    [2]  Housing Your Birds (a broken link as of 2022)

    [3]  Backyard Chickens

    [4]  Backyard Chickens Forums: Postings by members that may or may not be chicken experts

    [5]  Garden Web - Farm Life Forum (a broken link as of 2022)

    [6]  Dimension Info - Chicken Coop Dimensions (a broken link as of 2020)

    [7]  Dimension Info - Nesting Box Dimensions (a broken link as of 2020)

    [8]  The Scoop from the Coop - Nest Boxes

    [9]  A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt

    [10]  Is Treated Wood Dangerous to Chickens? (a broken link as of 2017)

    [11]  Knowledge Center for Poultry (a broken link as of 2022)

    [12]  Weather.com

    [13]  Chick Days: Raising Chickens from Hatchlings to Laying Hens by Jenna Woginrich

    [14]  What is meant by spring chicken, and why? (a broken link as of 2020)

    [15]  The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery

    [16]  The Spruce - The Deep Litter Method Will Keep Your Chicken Coop Clean

    [17]  Keeping Chickens with Ashley English

    [18]  The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit by Jennifer Megyesi

    [19]  Choosing and Raising Chickens by Jeremy Hobson and Cecilia Lewis

    [20]  The Joy of Keeping Farm Animals by Laura Childs

    [21]  Meyer Hatchery

    [22]  My Pet Chicken

    [23]  Storey's Guide for Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow

    [24]  Housing & Space Requirements: Chickens in the Backyard Workshop (a broken link as of 2022)

    [25]  Ten Winter Chicken Care Mistakes to Avoid (a broken link as of 2020)

    [26]  USNO Navy - Rise, Set, and Twilight Definitions

    [27]  Time and Date

    [28]  Sustainable by Design: Sunangle

    [29]  Overhangs depth and sun angle for shade and home energy efficiency

    [30]  National Climatic Data Center: Climatography of the U.S. No 81 - Supplement #3 (a broken link as of 2017)

    [31]  The Weather Channel

    [32]  Maryland at a Glance

    [33]  Cackle Hatchery

    [34]  Purely Poultry

    [35]  Foods With a High Protein Efficiency Ratio

    [36]  Murray McMurray Hatchery

    [37]  The University of Maine: Lighting for Small-Scale Flocks

    [38]  Can Light Bulbs Kill Your Chickens?

    [39]  Why Did My Chickens Stop Laying? by Dr. J.C. Hermes

    [40]  Proper Light Management for Your Home Laying Flock by Chad Zadina and Sheila E. Scheideler

    [41]  Coop Security: Hardware Cloth vs Chicken Wire by Kathy Shea Mormino

    [42]  10 Tips for Predator-Proofing Chickens by Kathy Shea Mormino

    [43]  What's the best kind of chicken wire and fencing?

    [44]  Community Chickens - 14 Amazing Facts About Eggs (a broken link as of 2020)

    [45]  Community Chickens - Surviving a Michigan Snow Storm (a broken link as of 2020)

    [46]  Community Chickens - Winter Concerns: Frostbite (a broken link as of 2020)

    [47]  Olympia Fencing Center - Cambridge, MA

    [48]  Home & Garden Plans: Standard Plans (a broken link as of 2020)

    [49]  eHow - How to Construct Chicken Ramps & Doors

    [50]  How to Build a Brooder for Baby Chicks

    [51]  Factors Involved in Site Selection for New and Modified Poultry Facilities

    [52]  NOAA National Climatic Wind Data for the United States (a broken link as of 2022)

    [53]  Hoovers Hatchery - Baby Chick Care

    [54]  Stromberg's

    [55]  Southern States - Feeding Baby Chicks

    [56]  Pasted Up Chicks And Other Exciting Things (a broken link as of 2020)

    [57]  The Happy Chicken Coop

    [58]  "Up to Scratch" by Deb Brandt, Chickens magazine, January/February 2018

    [59]  How to Speak Chicken by Melissa Caughey

    [60]  "The Politics of the Pecking Order" in "Chickens" magazine, July/August 2017

    [61]  "Laying Hens" in "Chickens" magazine, July/August 2017

    [62]  "From Flock to Farm" in "Chickens" magazine, July/August 2017

    [63]  "Ventilation vs. Drafts" in "Chickens" magazine, July/August 2017

    [64]  The Prairie Homestead - Do My Chickens Need a Heat Lamp?

    [65]  Moose Manor Farms - Meet the Cluckers

    [66]  Couch to Homestead - Can Chickens Lay More Than One Egg a Day?

    [67]  Greenwood Nursery - Chicken and Duck Breeds that Live Well Together in Small Yard

    [68]  Do You Know How Many Eggs a Chicken Can Lay in a Year?
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    Third flock of chickens in run
    Third flock in run, June 15, 2021