The Darkside of Backyard Chickens

chickens lounging under one of our citrus trees

Although I absolutely adore having backyard chickens, living with chickens isn’t for everyone.  The magazine articles that promote chickens as a cool new green trend typically don’t mention the downsides that come with owning an urban flock.   I had a friend seriously considering getting baby chicks back in January 2010 when she saw how much benefit and pleasure we got from our hens.  When I shared my flock experiences with her, I tried not to candy coat it.  Below is basically all bad the stuff I shared with her about keeping backyard chickens.  I wanted to help her make an informed decision so that she didn’t needlessly invest many months of work and lots of money in a hobby that could later turn out to be more effort than she was expecting.  Sadly, I think I talked her out chickens. 

  • Noise– All chickens, not just roosters, make some noise, especially once they reach point of lay.  I have yet to meet a flock, that on the whole, never made a peep or could be kept stealth and hidden 100% of the time. However, a small flock of hens makes less noise than a typical well cared for, properly trained family dog.  My dog barks if their is a reason to; same with my hens.  The one main difference with hens, they don’t make noise at all hours of the night like a dog could. They will vocalize if they think they saw a hawk, they try to dash across the yard, or someone laid an egg.  Depending on how many hens you have, times the noise by that number.  With five hens laying, you will hear the egg song about five times a day, for about a minute or two each time.   Some individual chickens are quieter than others and some breeds are typically less talkative, but once pullets start to lay, they all get more vocal.   My bantam Cochins are generally pretty quiet, nevertheless, they make sure to always announce egg time to the neighborhood.
  • Vacations-We have to arrange a pet sitter that doesn’t mind caring for chickens and cleaning droppings under a roost.  Not all pet sitters are willing to deal with chicken poop or would recognize if a hen isn’t acting normal.  Usually, my neighbor across the street and I help each other out since we both keep chickens.  However, sometimes she goes out of town during the same school breaks that we do and that’s when it gets complicated.
  • Droppings– Free Ranging chickens will poop on the back porch, patio, outdoor furniture, or driveway if they have access to those areas and don’t have other areas that they would rather be in the yard.
  • Flies-Poop attracts flies, including chicken poop, just like any other pet poop not cleaned up right away, especially in the warm months.  Fly traps stink like rotting meat so I don’t usually use them.  Daily clean up is important to keep down fly populations, whether it is the dog poop or the chicken poop.  One advantage: our small flock of chicken’s and their daily poop is far less smelly than the poop from my big golden retriever and I can compost the chicken poop.   I also added metal window screening on top of the hardware cloth on my coop openings to keep flies and mosquitos out.  This added to our initial set up costs and construction time, but it has been worth it to me.
  • Garden Damage– Chickens can damage tender plants with their vigorous scratching and dust bathing, as you can see in the above photo that they have done this under the mandrine orange tree.  Hens enjoy searching under the mulch and kicking it out of garden beds as they look for goodies to eat. They will nibble and sample all of the plants.  When they find a plant they like, they will eat it unless it is protected with some kind of barrier.  Since switching from large fowl breeds to Bantam Cochins, we have noticed significantly less garden damage, but they still do some.
  • Early Risers-Chickens get up with the sun, and most chickens call to be let out if they are used to free ranging.  In the summer, around here this means opening the coop door as early as 5:45AM.  I am not a morning person, but since I live close to neighbors, for the first year we had chickens, I had to go outside to let the chickens out as soon as I heard them.  Few pet sitters are willing to come by that early, or any earlier than 7 or 8AM.  I always felt guilty going away for a weekend, knowing that my neighbors were being annoyed by the endless calls by the hens to be let out until the pet sitter arrived.  In my opinion, it is not fair to urban neighbors, to force them to put up with the noise of a squawking hen that wants out.   For this reason, I am a big advocate for automatic coop door openers. I feel it is a must have for city chicken keepers.  If they chickens are getting out when they want to, they are far happier.   My automatic coop door opener/ closer was the best investment I made in my coop.
  • Dust – Chickens make dust within their living quarters.  With indoor or garaged confined chickens it is especially noticeable.  When we brooded chicks inside the house, their room needed almost daily dusting. I still dust the coop every couple of months or so to keep us and the hens healthy.
  • Free Ranging – Once a hen get a taste for free ranging, Beware!  My first flock gradually trained me to let them out all day from sun up to sun down.  If I didn’t let them out, they would relentlessly and loudly rant about it until I did.  My neighbors could always tell which days I didn’t let them out.
  • Late Nights -Before I had my automatic door opener, any night we stayed out after dark, I had to remember to ask a neighbor to come over to close the coop.
  • Predators –  Even though we aren’t in a rural environment, we still have all sorts of critters visit our yard, day and night.  They all like to eat chicken.  We lost a hen our first year to a hawk.  At the house across the street, a another hen was killed, by what they think was probably a raccoon, one night when they forgot to close the coop.  It is gruesome to deal with, but predator attacks are something that can happen even in the burbs.  Vets that treat chickens are expensive and hard to find.
  • Dogs-dog owners that choose to keep chickens have the added responsibility of training their dog to behave good with their chickens.  Some pet dogs, especially hunting breeds, only see chickens as cool playthings and can easily maim or kill them.  That same neighbor that was considering getting chicks owns a young, high energy Brittany, a dog breed specifically bred to hunt birds.  I think that was the tipping point in her change of heart.

The fact that occassionally has postings for entire flocks with their coops included, reveals that some people get into keeping chickens without being fully informed.  I would highly recommend anyone considering chickens do extensive reading at their local library or online at sites like community chickens or backyardchickens before taking the plunge.  Join a chicken keeping group like Meet Up Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts.  I think it is helpful to talk to as many folks as possible that have had chickens for more than just a year or so;  these folks probably have had their chicken honeymoon wear off and will be more open, honest, and informed about the downsides of owning chickens.  Despite the hassles and expense of pet ownership (just like with my the dog and cat) I love my urban flock of backyard chickens and enjoy having them hang out with me as work in the garden and the delicious fresh eggs they give us.  I hope to always have a small flock as long as I have a yard to keep them in.

© 2010 – 2013, .

1918 Vintage Poster Promoting Backyard Chickens

1918 poster encouraging citizens to raise backyard hens

Keeping a Victory Garden and having home produced eggs are really old traditions, and not some new fad.  Here is an old patriotic propaganda / wartime advertisement from 1918.  Apparently, Uncle Sam expected everyone to all have backyard flocks of hens and raise chickens.  If we still followed Uncle Sam’s recommendation, my family should have 8 chickens!

To see more patriotic propaganda, war garden, victory garden, women’s land army, and more vintage posters from the early 1900’s , here is a good link:

© 2010 – 2012, .

Hens for Sale

Joey, the Leghorn, and Amber, the Buff Orpington, with my kids ( Kids not incluced)

Update: Sold

2 for $40 – I will not separate the first two:

1 Buff Orpington Hen

1 Leghorn Hybrid Hen

1 Barred Plymouth Rock Hen $15 if wanted as well, but she is not a lap or pet chicken.

My son is considering joining 4 H and wants to try more varieties of chickens.  However, since our yard and coop are small, we will need to sell the other girls to make room once the chicks grow.  We do not have the space to keep two separate coops until the new ones are old enough or big enough to integrate with the existing small flock.  I have had my 3 chickens for about a year and half and they were raised organically.  They have been hand raised around kids, dogs, and a cat. They are used to family activity around and are not skittish.  My Barred Rock has recently gone broody and the kids and I hope to let her try to raise some chicks for us.

The Buff Orpington, Amber, has never gone broody and she typically lays 3 to 4 large pinkish eggs a week, however, she did take a short break for about a month from laying around the holidays.  She is curious, gentle, and doesn’t mind being held, but a little harder to catch than the other two chickens.  The other hen, Joey, is a leghorn hybrid hatched from a Trader Joe’s egg as a science project, and she lays 5 to 6 large to extra large white eggs a week.  She is the kids favorite out of all the chickens we have had.  Although she is quiet most of the day, I would not call her a quiet chicken because she is my top hen. She can be pretty talkative at times.   She sings the egg song before laying an egg or if there is someone else in her favorite nest box.  She also calls for her flock mates when she can’t find them easily.  The leghorn is very gentle, easy to just walk up to and pick up and hold, and outgoing.  She doesn’t run away from the kids, and actually likes their attention.  She falls asleep in almost anyone’s arms if held for any length of time.  My daughter gives her baths like a baby doll.  Neither of these hens has had their first adult molt and probably will in the near future.  I will NOT consider separating these two hens.

The Barred Rock, Cruella, is friendly and is the first to come quickly when called for treats, but she REALLY, REALLY hates to be held.  She is not a lap chicken or a cuddler and never has been.  My kids rarely try to hold her because she hates it so much, I on the other hand really like her quirky personality.  She had a foot injury that healed when she was a young pullet, and still has a little hop or limp sometimes, but she has no issues getting around.  The Barred Rock was actually my best layer before going broody last week, very rarely ever taking a day off from laying.  Her eggs are large and brown with white speckles sometimes.

I feed our chickens O.H. Kruse organic feed, garden trimmings from my organic garden, assorted fruit, Black oil sunflower seeds, and leftovers like organic rice or pasta.  They were hatched in February 2009.  They know their names and they are used to being able to forage throughout the yard.  They would not be happy in just a small confined run.

Since they are very much pet chickens, I want to find a good situation for them.   Please make sure your city allows chickens and have a secure coop for them to roost in at night.  Since they were raised organically, and in order to make sure they go to a good home, I am asking $40 together.  The Barred Rock will be $15 because she is more of a typically chicken in personality, and not as kid friendly as the other two.

Update on 6/25/2010:

Cruella, the Barred Rock,  just recently decided she was done being broody and doesn’t want to be a momma hen after all.  And she had to do this two days before the baby chicks I ordered arrived in the mail!  Looks like we are brooding chicks in the house again.  Anyone looking for bantam cochins chicks?  We might have a few extras now.  I ordered a few more than we needed to allow for losses with our inexperienced broody or hawks since Cruella would have been allowed to free range with them as they got a tiny bit older.  The down side is these chicks are bantam, and therefore, straight run, not sorted for gender like Large Fowl pullets can be.  They are a mix of males and females and we won’t know until they are older which is which.  I will not send any with my adult hens, unless a new owner has experience integrating an existing flock with younger chicks or new hens.

Update on 7/ 19/ 2010

Sold.  The 3 hens moved together to their new home with a family in Burbank.  They were pending a sale shortly after posting this, but they were waiting for the new coop to be ready.

© 2010 – 2012, .

Maintaining A Garden with Chickens

I have to admit that it was NOT easy at first gardening with chickens in small yard, but it is definitely doable.  My garden has changed a lot of over the last year having had chickens, however, most areas of my garden have never looked better.  Despite the hassles, I now will ALWAYS have a few chickens in my garden to help me.  The benefits far outweigh the problems.  If you are willing to take a few extra steps to make them and you happy, a garden and chickens can peacefully coexist.  And on the flip side, if you are lazy about garden chores or making adjustments, they might ruin your yard and patio within a matter of months.

the chickens love to hop on top of everything. This was my first flock’s favorite spot to perch, my mosaic garden bench.

Here are some things that I do (or can be done) to have a nice garden with chickens:

  • Place portable fencing around the areas that seedlings are coming up, then remove it once they are big enough not to be destroyed by a scratching chicken.
  • Regularly clean up droppings with a poop scoop or hose in them into the grass.
  • Place permanent fencing around the vegetable garden
  • Secure chicken wire flat on the ground around the root zone of young plants until they are firmly established.
  • Plant more things chickens don’t like to eat.  ( my chicken resistant plant list)
  • Keep heavier breeds (like Orpingtons, Cochins, or Bramhas) so they can’t go over lower fencing as easily.  My Bantam Cochins can’t go over the fencing very well either.
  • Keep Bantams, especially Cochins.  Short Feathered legs and feet do less damage.  And with Cochins, I get a steady supply of fair sized eggs at about 1.3 to 1.5 oz each, unlike some of the other breeds.  The only downside for some people is cochins go broody often.  That’s usually not a downside to me.
  • Build as big of run as you can so they don’t have to go out in the yard as much during the day or as often.
  • Don’t get more hens than you really need.
  • Keep them in a movable tractor or other adjustable pen (with netting to protect them from predators.)
  • Plant more shrubs and perennials.
  • Avoid or use less fragile annuals.
  • Plant things that grow really fast like nasturtium or grapes.
  • Choose breeds with feathered feet so they scratch less (but they do still scratch some.)
  • And make sure your coop is attractive and fits into the style of your garden so you love looking at it!

Problems with having chickens in a garden:

  • They love grapes and will jump as high as they can to get them.  Fortunately most are on tall arbors, and there is still plenty for us up high.  They clean up any fallen ones nicely!
  • They will eventually poop on the driveway or patio if out a long period of time.
  • The big breeds scratch the mulch onto the grass, and it needs to be raked in back in before mowing.
  • They wake up early.
  • There is more work to keep the areas the family uses clean so no one walks in chicken poop.
  • We have to always make sure all gates are kept closed so no stray dogs get in, and no chickens get out.
  • I have to practice biosecurity when my chicken keeping friends come to visit or I come home from the feed store.  Usually this involves stepping shoes in a disinfecting solution or changing to designated backyard shoes before going outside.  I think hospital booties could be used to cover shoes, too.

Benefits of chickens in my garden:

  • I have the greenest lawn ever!
  • There are few to no weeds to pull under my trees or in my flowers beds anymore.
  • My compost is fabulous.
  • The chickens eat all the fruit beetle grubs, earwigs, crickets, and grasshoppers, and even a few spiders.
  • One of my chickens occasionally eats my slugs and snails (but I still have a few)
  • They clean up under my micro orchard and grape vines, preventing pest life cycles from getting established and damaging my apples and stone fruits.
  • They fluff the mulch and keep the soil friable in the beds.
  • They deposit droppings throughout the yard helping to fertilize.  I have not had any major problems with plants showing signs of burning from the high nitrogen content in the droppings because it is widely distributed throughout the yard by only a few chickens, not a giant flock.
  • They help clean out the vegetable garden of bugs at the end of each season when I let them in.

*Post updated in May, 2011

© 2010 – 2012, .

Backyard Birds and Biosecurity

What Is Biosecurity?

Biosecurity is what you do to reduce the likelihood of an infectious disease being carried into your backyard and to your chickens by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles. Good biosecurity helps keep infectious disease from spreading to your chickens and causing illness or death.  I am not an expert on avian diseases, but just like with plant diseases, practicing prevention and sanitation is important and far easier than trying to cure a disease.  I agree the following sounds extreme and a bit paranoid, but commercial poultry businesses are far more strict in their operations.  I value the health of my family and my flock so we try to follow these practices.

Some of the biosecurity and sanitation methods I use in our yard.

  • I do not introduce any adult chickens to my flock.  This is the most important thing I can do to keep my flock healthy.  (other folks quarantine new birds for 1 month before introducing to their existing flock.)
  • I don’t handle other peoples’ chickens and I stay out of their coop and run areas.
  • I keep droppings cleaned up daily in the coop and weekly in the yard.
  • I compost the droppings in my hot compost bin.  Temperatures reach as high as 160 degrees so I am confident it kills any pathogens.
  • I regularly clean feeders and waters before refilling.
  • I constructed my coop so it could be easily cleaned, and prevents rodents, flies, and mosquitoes from getting in.  There have been numerous local cases of West Nile virus in the local birds and a few in humans and it was transmitted by mosquitoes.  The city of Long Beach actually uses sentinel chickens to track diseases in four locations in the city.
  • I make a habit of removing my shoes that I wore to the feed store or other similar places before stepping on my property when I return home.  The shoes get dipped in disinfectant before wearing again.
  • When I have chicken keeping visitors come over, I ask that they dip their shoes in disinfectant before coming through my house or gate and I ask that they don’t handle my birds.
  • I make sure to wear clean shoes and clothes that were not worn outside around my chickens whenever I visit other peoples’ places that have chickens.
  • I regularly examine my birds for signs of illness or parasites.
  • I have impressed upon my children and their visiting friends the importance of good hand washing after handling chickens (or the tortoise,) any of their equipment, or eggs.  THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT FOR KEEPING OUR FAMILY HEALTHY than anything.  I also made sure the kids learned not to snuggle or kiss any chickens.
  • I don’t allow my children to handle the neighborhood ducks that frequent our street.

*Unfortunately, because I allow my hens to forage around the yard, they manage to come in contact with areas that wild birds also have access to.  Also, with a duck pond across the street, some exposure happens indirectly through dogs and kids that can not be avoided.  If a local outbreak of a disease is reported in the bird population, I will confine my flock exclusively to the run and coop, and practice even stricter methods of diseases prevention.

Some of the other stricter biosecurity methods recommended to protect a flock from disease or pathogens:

  • Quarantine any new birds for one month to watch for signs of illness before exposing them to existing birds.
  • Always keep chickens in an enclosed coop and run that wild birds can not get into.
  • Never let other poultry keepers visit the area the chickens are kept.
  • Keep a “clean area” perimeter around the coop.
  • Use only “coop shoes and clothes” around your flock that never go off your property.
  • Keep other pets like dogs and cats away from the flock.

Here are some good links to learn more about biosecurity, common diseases, disease prevention, symptoms to look out for, and more:

United States Department of Agriculture

UC Davis

© 2010, .

Top Ten Chicken Questions

Gardening with Backyard chickens: common questions we get asked, including issues keeping them

Our first flock of backyard city chickens hanging out in the veggie garden at the end of the growing season.

As an urban chicken keeper, I get a lot of questions.  Here are the ones I answer most frequently:
1) How long do chickens live? I know a lady with a 15 year old hen.  Most sources say 5 to 8 years.

2) Don’t you need a rooster for them to lay eggs? No.  Think about it…does a human female need a male around to release an egg each month? Ummm, no!  Same with chickens.

3) Do they wake up the neighbors? Cockerels and roosters are noisy and have the bad reputation of waking up the neighbors.  No roosters here.  Some hens do loudly cluck and squawk to be let out early in the morning if they are locked in a coop.  Letting them out early is important in keeping the peace with neighbors.  With my automatic coop door opener, I rarely hear my chickens first thing in the morning.

4) Do you still eat chicken? Sure thing!  We just have a policy of not eating animals with names.   I don’t have a problem eating chickens I have never met.

5)Has the cat tried to eat them? Gracie approached them a few times, and received a swift pecking. Now she skulks when the chickens are out, but she gives them a wide berth.  When we have small chicks around, we do have to be very watchful when the cat is out and about or we make sure to keep the chicks in a cat proof pen.

6) Doesn’t your dog chase them? No. We spent a lot of time training him, from the time we got our first chicks until they were full grown.  I taught him that they were mine, not toys, and that chickens are to be ignored.  Now chickens could peck and walk on him, and he totally puts up with it.  They don’t seem to phase him.  Now squirrels are another story.

7) How much do they cost to keep? Way too much!  If we wanted cheap eggs we would be better off buying them from Costco.  For exact costs, see my post on our start up expenses. Since I like organic compost, organic eggs, and the pleasure of having them around, it is worth my time and money.

8  ) Where did you get them? Our first one we ever had was hatched from an egg we bought in the refrigerated egg case at Trader Joes, as part of a science project.  The majority of the others came from a hatchery, in the mail via the USPS when they were just hours old.  They easily survived shipping at that age because their metabolism is designed to allow the first hatched chick to stay under a mama hen until the last chick hatches, up to 48 hours later.  Now a days, my cochins are crazy about being mommies and like to try to incubate anything; they would try incubating a golf ball if I let them.  Therefore, we often have chicks.

9) What do they eat? Organic Chicken feed, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, oats, our garden fruit and veggies, my ornamental plants, the lawn, bugs, pebbles, dirt…pretty much anything they can put in their mouths.

10) What do you do with the roosters? Give them away to folks that want them.  We just make sure they aren’t used for fighting.

© 2010 – 2013, .

Hatching Joey, the Trader Joe’s Chicken

Trader joes chickens, baby chicks that hatched from fertile grocery store eggs sold in the refrigerator case

Trader Joes Chicks hatched from Fertile eggs sold for comsumption – photo taken by another BYC member, OC chickens

We ordered our first baby chicks (only pullets) from a hatchery.  However, my 8 year old daughter wanted to see them hatch from eggs.  We live in the city and no one that keeps hens has fertile eggs around here.  We had to come up with an alternative, so we turned to the natural grocery stores that carried ” Fertile ” eggs for eating.
She loves to create all sorts of stuff so she built an incubator with my help on the scavenging of parts.  Four days were spent getting the right temp and humidity using water trays and adding holes.  One Saturday we drove to 4 local natural food stores trying to find the most recently packed grocery store fertile eggs.  We ended up with Trader Joes white Fertile eggs and brown Fertile eggs from Sprouts.

As part of the kids' science project, B is marking top and bottom with smiley faces on the trader joes fertile grocery store eggs.

As part of the kids’ science project, B is marking top and bottom with smiley faces on the trader joes fertile grocery store eggs.

I kept telling her not to get her hopes too high.  A lot can go wrong with incubation, and there was a lot of information on the web saying it could not be done with store refrigerated eggs.  Well, by the 13th day, we had 8 embryos developing from the Trader Joes eggs.  After seeing how much fun my daughter and I were having, my son decided to continue to use the incubator for a science project and use it to determine which kinds of store bought eggs can hatch. My son was selected to represent his class at the district science fair and he was very excited about participating at it.

We ended up keeping the first chick that hatched, and the kids named her Joey.  We had other chicks from subsequent hatches as well, but not being able to identify the gender as baby chicks ourselves, we didn’t keep them.  All the science project chicks, except Joey, went to a farm in the high desert.  When we realized Joey was a pullet, we felt thankful and blessed. At 19 weeks + 1 day old she laid her first egg.  It was a white 1.3 oz egg.  Her eggs are now consistently about 2.0 to 2.5 oz.  She is sweet and gentle with the kids.  She is a leghorn hybrid and we believe she is from a Hyline W-36 hen’s egg due to her docile nature.While she started out very quiet, as she got close to laying she got pretty vocal.  Joey is  our most talkative chicken, but due the fact she is very easy going with people, lets the kids hold and bathe her, and lays large and extra large eggs almost daily, she is a great backyard pet chicken.  Joey turned 1 year old on February 3rd, 2010.

she is a white chicken, probably a leghorn hybrid, a hyline hen.

Joey at 19 weeks old

Since we originally posted our results at BYC in early 2009, we have noticed others have had similar results with other grocery store egg experiments.   Here is a thread about a variety of those hatches:

© 2010 – 2013, .

The Cost of Buying Chickens around L.A.

I have observed the average cost to purchase chickens in the urban parts of Los Angeles County and suburban Orange County is higher than other areas, especially compared to what is reported in other parts of the county.  When I look around further inland on BYC or craigslist toward Lancaster, Riverside, or San Bernadino, the costs generally decrease slightly.  On the flip side, there seems to be more free roosters listed around here, since most folks can’t keep them.  Check, Meet Up “Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts,” Yahoo group “California Chickens,” and for listing of chickens for sale.  Sometimes feed stores and humane societies have chickens available too.  It seems started birds are more expensive and harder to find in the winter and early spring, and there is more of a glut in the summer and early fall.

*For organic chickens, expect to pay $5 to $10 more per bird than what is listed below because they are harder to come by and they are twice as expensive to feed to maturity.   I opted to raise our own organically from day olds partially because of that reason, as well as we wanted kid friendly chickens.

Baby chicks (day old up to still needing supplemental heat/up to 8 weeks)


  • Straight run bantams from Blacksmith’s Corner in Lakewood $9.95 to $12.95 each, (not vaccinated)
  • Pullet Large Fowl chicks from Blacksmith’s Corner in Lakewood $5, (not vaccinated)
  • Midway City Feed (best deal I have seen) $2 each for assorted varieties of LF pullets or straight run bantams, (not vaccinated) Update:  I think their price may have gone up to $3.
  • Other feed stores: $4 and up
  • Breeders around SoCal charge anywhere from $5 to $25, depending on if they are show quality, pet quality, pullets, age, DNA sexed Silkies, etc.

Mail Order (most hatcheries have a 25 chick minimum)

  • Day old chicks-Large Fowl pullets direct from a hatchery with shipping included, about $3.50 each ( can order vaccinations)
  • Day old bantam chicks- direct from a hatchery with shipping included, about $4.50 each ( can order vaccinations.)  One big negative = Usually straight run only.
  • For small orders try where as few as 3 can be purchased, or try which doesn’t have a minimum number of chicks, just a $25 minimum purchase.
  • Our first time we ordered chicks, I put a post on craigslist regarding that I would be placing a chick order with a hatchery and “did anyone what to combine their order.”  I received a number of friendly responses, and few weird ones, and had more than enough chicks wanted to make the minimum.  I also met a number of nice chicken keepers  just starting out like our family.  It gave me folks to split the large organic feed purchase with too.

Started Pullets (off heat / about 8 + weeks old) = $5 to $15 but they are hard to find around here, especially early spring.

Point of Lay Pullets (typically sold around 16 to 20 weeks old) = $8 to $20.

Laying Hens = $10 to $30, depending on age, breed, quality, etc.  Old worn out laying hens might be less, around $8.  Marans are currently a popular breed for dark brown eggs, and thus, they are often listed for a premium, sometimes as high as $50.

Roosters = Free to $15

What to look for when buying new chickens: no watery eyes or noses, smooth scales on legs, flexible breastbone, little to no skin bleaching, shape of feathers if looking only for females, cleanliness of living conditions.  Always quarantine new birds separately from the existing flock for about 30 days to prevent any disease or pest transmissions.  Starting with day old chicks is an easy way to avoid this added hassle.

© 2010 – 2012, .

Crazy wet winter brings beautiful rainbow over city

We have had five straight days of rain, with thunder storms, tornado warnings, flooding all over town, and hail.  This is not our typical winter.  However, there was a beautiful rainbow at the end of today.P1190141.jpg full rainbow over Long Beach, Ca picture by GardenNerd P1190141.jpg full rainbow over Long Beach, Ca picture by GardenNerd

© 2010 – 2012, .

Brooding our Little Flock of Chicks

Brooding Our Little Flock


My family and I are suburban backyard chicken keepers that can only have a few hens at time.  We do not plan to be hatching chicks frequently throughout the year, so we needed something cheap and easy to brood our chicks in.  I looked around for anything that could be either recycled, re-purposed, or collapsible.  There really aren’t any construction photos of my brooder set ups, since it was mainly a matter of getting the things out of the garage.  Set up instructions come with most dog crates.


Stage 2 – The dog crate brooder

The metal fold up dog crate turned into a temporary indoor chick brooder

The dog crate turned into indoor chick brooder.


Stage 1 – The terrarium and fish tank brooders.

Pictured as the Cat TV version with hardware cloth protection.

Supplies we had on hand:

  • Fish Tank
  • Terrarium
  • 2 Reflectors (one from the tortoise, one from the work bench light)
  • 2 different wattage ceramic bulbs
  • Dog crate- fold up metal
  • wooden bar for roost
  • 2 extension cords


Supplies purchased:

  • red brooder bulb
  • white brooder  bulb
  • bedding- pine wood shavings
  • 2 chick waterers
  • 1 chick feeder – new
  • 1 chick feeder – vintage
  • paper towels
  • hardware cloth (used scraps from the coop project)
  • zip ties to hold on hardware cloth on dog crate lower sides
  • feed – organic starter grower crumbles (We ran it through a burr mixer while the chicks needed mash sized food.)



Brooder temperature

Our chicks started in a terrarium.  We used a red light bulb with a reflector for heat in the terrarium to keep the temp around 95 degrees at first.  We kept an old thermometer/ hygrometer on the floor to make sure the temp was correct at the chicks’ level.  Later, rather than always raising the bulb and reflector, we switched to the ceramic heat bulbs our tortoise had used.  The two were rated for different temperatures.  We reduced the temperature about 5 degrees each week or two, until they were ready to go outside.

We did try a number of homemade waterers, but eventually I purchased two chick water bases.  I used my own glass mason jars on top.  We placed marbles in the basin for the first few weeks to prevent drowning. They had to be cleaned a few times a day.  As the chicks got bigger, we propped the waterers up on a block.


We tried substituting an old ice cube tray as feeder in one brooder.  It worked okay, but needed frequent cleaning because the chicks would stand on it.  Again, the store bought version was better in preventing this problem.  I only purchased the bases of the round feeders and used my own mason jars.  A mayonnaise jar could work too.


We covered the bottom of the brooder with shavings and changed them as needed.  Until the chicks figured out what was food, we covered it with paper towels.  The paper towels were changed a couple of times of day due to the droppings.  Also, since we were raising the chicks on non-medicated feed, cleanliness of the bedding was even more important.  The bedding and chicks made a lot of dust, so a vacuum was also necessary pretty regularly in the room the chicks were in.


Some things I would want to change:

  • I don’t recommend trying to use a terrarium for brooding for the whole 8 weeks.  Even with just 6 chicks, they quickly out grow it.  Our chicks were only in the terrarium for about two weeks, until the dog crate was utilized for the second phase.
  • Make it easier to clean the dog crate.  The door is on one end by a wall.
  • Put a different material around the bottom to keep the shavings in (but I liked seeing in.) The dog crate allowed shavings to spill out the sides when the chicks were big enough to scratch them out.

Some things I really liked about our brooder

  • I liked that it was in the house on the floor of the bathroom.  The kids could close the door to the room and open the brooder door.  The chicks would come out on their own to play.  Some chicks were shy and this worked better for them.  It also kept the dust confined to one room, rather than everywhere.
  • I also liked that when we finished, the dog crate folded flat and went back the garage for next time.  Nothing was wasted or disposed of in a landfill.  It is not really taking up much space in our tiny house or our little city lot.

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