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Where do I get chickens?
  There are many places to buy chickens.  Commercial hatcheries, local farms or breeders.  Your local cooperative extension is also a good resource.  We are happy to help advise you on what type of chickens are appropriate for your needs.

How long will my chickens live?  a chicken can live for five years or more.  We have had some very healthy ten year old hens.  They do stop laying after about 4 years usually, but by then they are well loved, full of personality, and well-respected members of the flock.  

 How can I learn more about my birds?  You can of course study up on chickens in all the usual ways.  Books, magazines, as well as visits to farms and poultry shows  will all help.  The best thing is to get to know your birds.  Familiarize yourself with each bird and its behavior.  When you know their habits, you will know when a bird is behaving differently, which is usually a sign that something is wrong.  Feel free to call us at the Frontyard Coop for advice! 

Do I need a rooster to get eggs?  No, a hen is an egg laying machine all by herself.  You do not need a rooster at all.

When do I get eggs?   A pullet (a young hen) will lay her first egg when she is roughly 4-6 months depending on the breed and the hen herself.  Then a good layer will lay one egg a day--never any more. Many hens will lay only about 4-5 eggs a week. If you have a good, reliable laying hen who stops laying and stays in her nesting box, she may be "broody".  See our helpful hints download for information on this a other common health issues. 

What do we do in the winter?

Having spent the summer taking our FYC to farmer’s markets, backyard chicken workshops, green expos, sustainability fairs and other wonderful events, I can now reliably predict the first question most people will ask about raising chickens. Everyone asks what to do with their poultry in the winter. The simple answer is “nothing”. By that I mean, almost nothing. Poultry come pretty well insulated. They wear their down coat 24/7, and in fact it is bad for their health to live in a heated coop. They don’t have a chance to acclimate to the cold if they live in a heated environment. They should have decent air circulation in their coop even during the winter, to keep out dampness as well. Insulating your coop is fine, just don’t add any heat. Chickens can be prone to respiratory ailments, so be conscious of any sneezing or wheezing you hear and isolate and medicate any suspicious characters. Many poultry owners find that a bit of additional cracked corn to a chicken’s winter diet adds a bit of insulating fat, and increases the btu’s that a chicken normally puts out. The most important thing for a chicken in the winter is to have fresh, un-frozen drinking water. An immersion coil works great, as does an actual heated waterer. Both are easily found at feed stores. Some folks who live in areas of extreme cold find that giving their birds heated water helps them get through really tough times as it is effort free warmth on the inside. Frostbite is a danger for your birds’ combs and wattles, especially those with single combs or any of the more upright types of combs. A simple preventive measure is to rub Vaseline liberally into your birds comb and wattles if you know a bad cold spell is due. The birds actually enjoy this, and the improved circulation is an added protection from the cold. We have never lost a bird to winter cold, although we have lost them to summertime heat stress. Monitor your flock, keep their water from freezing, shovel away some snow for their tender little feet, and they should be fine. Ever notice how they love to snuggle up when they roost at night? The Front Yard Coop makes it easy to move your flock close to your house during the winter months. If possible, position your FYC on the south or east side of your house to protect it from westerly winds. You can also run an extension cord into the coop for immersion coils or other water heaters. If you can get your coop really close, you can check on them easily and replace their water as needed. Frozen chicken poop is no picnic, but if you are close enough to the house, you can throw some buckets of hot water on the run area periodically, or just cover it with hay that you keep clean. Hay is also a better bedding for the winter months as it insulates and retains warmth more than pine shavings. That should do it.

 What do I do when I bring them home?  Many of you will be receiving chicks from commercial  hatchery. Your cardboard box will arrive full of peeping chicks barely 36 hours old. Chicks have enough nutrition remaining from their yolk sac to last a good while, but they need water and warmth immediately.  Be prepared. We have learned that it is best to begin preparing for the chicks a few days before they arrive so their new home is ready for them immediately.    Buy a 250 watt heat bulb, preferably red light.  Hang it 18 inches from the floor of their space, which should be either a large box or an escape-proof floor space.  Make sure your box is sufficiently large so the chicks have room to get away from the heat if they need to.  Cover the bottom of their area with newspaper, which you will change daily for the first 3 or 4 days.  (After that, you can use bedding for the chicks instead of paper. Ask your local feed store for bedding appropriate to baby chicks.)   It can be tricky to get your light at exactly the right distance and brightness to maintain its initial temperature. A lamp with a dimmer is great for this, as it can be lowered gradually. Remember that your chicks have come from a 100 degree environment and need to be gently weaned or “hardened” to lower temperatures over time. The initial temperature should be 90 to 95 degrees for the first week.  The temperature under the light will be higher than this, but your chicks will find a spot that is right for them.  Reduce the temperature by 5 degrees per week until you get to 70.  They shouldn’t need any additional heat after that.  Be sure to use an accurate thermometer in your box, and keep your chicks away from drafts. If they are all huddled together directly under the light, they are cold.  If they area huddled in a corner away from the light, they are probably hot.

Special Notes: Before your chicks arrive, read up on them.  Many websites that sell chicks offer great books on the subject. Occasionally a chick’s rear end gets pasted up with manure.  Gently wash this with warm water and check to be sure that it stops after a couple of days. Be sure that you and your children ALWAYS wash your hands after handling birds, their equipment, bedding, etc.  DO NOT kiss them, or put your mouths anywhere near them, and do not keep them inside.  Make sure to enjoy while they’re at this phase! Happy hatchlings are active (eating and drinking and making noise) and are very entertaining. Sometimes they will fall asleep by falling flat onto their faces, and sometimes they sleep in fuzzy yellow piles. Either way, chick-watching can provide hours of entertainment. 

Water:  Have a gallon of water per 50 chicks.  For the first two days, you can add 3 teaspoons of sugar to each quart of water for extra energy.  Plain water should be given thereafter.  As soon as your chicks arrive home, they will be thirsty. Take each chick’s beak and dip it in the water.  Never let your chicks run out of water.  Make sure your waterers are on the shallow side to avoid drowning; these little guys are weak and vulnerable.  We have had babies drown in waterers that were too deep. 

What do I feed them?  Food:  Buy a commercial chick starter to use for the first two months. Starter is usually medicated, which is very important.  Also important, though, is that only your baby chicks get it.  If you are also raising ducklings, be sure you do not give medicated feed to them.   Your local feed store should have this or be able to order it for you. Sprinkle it on the newspaper for the first 3 days.  Be sure to change the newspapers the whole time.  After this, put the feed in a low trough or container that the chicks can and see and reach easily.  We usually give new chicks some finely chopped scrambled eggs for the first week or so in addition to starter crumbles.  It is good protein and easy for them to eat.  Make sure all of them are getting food and water; if you notice anyone having a difficult time, separate them and be sure to hand feed if possible.  If you spend time watching your babies, it should be clear to you if there are any that are not doing well. 

I want to add a bird or two to my flock.  Will they be friends?  We often buy pullets or full grown hens.  Some care should be taken to integrate them into an existing flock. We like to start out by placing the new chicken in a separate cage next to or within the larger flocks larger pen or coop. This eliminates the abrupt newness factor. After a couple of days, we introduce the bird to the flock under our supervision.   New members of a backyard flock will generally have to bear up to an assault or two as both new birds and old establish dominance. It is what animals do, and it needs to be done, but be sure you don’t lose anyone in the process. This greet/attack phase can go on for a few hours, so give the new chicken some room to run. At this stage you not leave them alone for long, and certainly not overnight in the same coop. Over time a new bird will become a full-fledged member of the flock with its rightful place in the pecking order, and peace will reign again.   

Bird Stories

Ghost and Ducklings


Two years ago one of our blue Langshan hens, Ghost, went broody. She was huddled protectively on her nest, not allowing any of the other birds to even come near her. At that time our runners were laying like crazy, and there was a huge surplus of eggs that we weren’t even considering incubating.

One day as I went about my morning chores I put two and two together. My coat pockets were filled with runner duck eggs, and I quickly placed a good dozen underneath the puffed up broody hen.

After putting Ghost into a small corner cage in the main coop with her nest box, we settled down to wait. Every morning I went up to the coop and before doing anything else, lifted the mother hen carefully from her nest. Then I went about filling feeding trays and cleaning water basins as Ghost ran around getting some morning exercise and gorging herself on food. After about ten minutes she would dutifully return to her nest and settle in for a long day incubating her eggs.

Finally, 28 days were up. I ran up my driveway from the bus, bursting with excitement. Dumping my backpack on the front yard, I sprinted straight to the main coop and slowed at the front of Ghost’s cage. I carefully tilted her up, enough to reach in and grab an egg. I held it to my ear and low and behold, I herd the telltale cheeping of a piping duckling. Upon listening to the other eggs, I found that about eight others were at the same stage!

At this point I carried the whole nest box, mother hen and dozen eggs included, into my father’s shop where we had set up an enormous box to house our odd, feathered family. After adding water to the wood shavings to increase the humidity, I went in for the night.

Early the next morning I ran outside, and to my great delight I discovered eight fuzzy, cheeping baby ducklings, huddled together under their clucking mother. As days passed, the ducklings became more and more independent of their feathered protector. They ventured farther into their cardboard world, exploring every reachable inch with their sensitive bills. However, at the slightest frightening noise or movement, they would all run for cover, and hold perfectly still under Ghost, who would cluck at them and let them know that everything would be okay.

About a month of this passes in harmony , and one day I come inside to feed the ducklings and discover Ghost perched in the edge of the cardboard box, contentedly clucking away. Thinking nothing of it, I immediately picked her up and put her back inside her box with her ducklings. As soon as her feet touch the ground, all eight of the now six inch tall runner babies run over and begin to poke, prod, peck, nibble, and otherwise molest their mother. Ghost looks up, squats, and flies onto the edge of the box. Needless to say, I took the poor hen back up to the main run and let her loose. She looked relieved.

After our first experience with a hen hatching duck eggs, we have continued the tradition. It continues to be satisfying, not only for us as we watch the antics of the ducklings with their mother, but also for the hen, as her instincts as a mother are finally satisfied.




Walking out of my father’s office, I hear the soft cluck of our contented Belgian D’anver hens, enjoying the warmth of the March afternoon. Halfway down the slight hill to our front door, I turn, hearing soft footsteps following me. As I turn I see a young D’anver hen, Summer, walking quickly after me. I stop where I am and watch as she approaches me with an eager gleam in her eyes. As she gets closer, she slows, eventually stopping on top of one of my converse clad feet. Bending over, she hops off and stands a few inches from my right foot. I slowly reach down and offer my hand for her. She eagerly jumps on board and sits contentedly on my hand as I raise her up to eye level. She cocks her head and looks at me for a second before suddenly losing interest and pecking at one of my silver rings. After a little bit of this, she stands, still on my hand, turns 360 degrees, looks at me once more with a sort of detached interest, before flapping away to the garden where she begins to scratch away at some very exciting leaves.

My birds continue to amaze me with their antics and curiosity. They find their human keepers fascinating, and if they are brave or tame enough, will spend countless hours examining you, your clothes, and your shoes.



Reveries from Running Duck Farm

It's been roughly eight years since our daughter decided she needed to raise chickens. It started small with a nice group of egg layers. She incubates the eggs of carefully chosen breeding pairs, shows the hand raised birds at county fairs, sells birds, advises new flock owners and is trying to revive an extremely rare heritage breed. This naturally led to raising birds for meat, and now the flock is almost a full-time job and a huge part of our lives. It would have been easy for me to give up on gardening when our feathered friends first started taking over Running Duck Farm. Chickens and ducks are messy, stubborn, voracious and loud, but they have an equal number of qualities to recommend them.


On this hot, late afternoon all the ducks are lounging on the grass in the shade of our big Rivers Beech. The English Calls and Indian Runners lie with their bills tucked under their wings enjoying group naptime. In a while one will decide naptime is over, wake up the others and they'll march single file into the pond--babies at the rear, wagging their little tails and quacking happily. Before we had ducks, I spent years cultivating a natural-looking water garden, with Pickerel Rush, various iris, grasses, Petasites, Primulas and one beautiful lotus a friend gave me to nurse back to health. "If anyone can grow this, you can," she said. Three years later, the most perfect lotus blossom I've ever seen greeted me one summer morning. The exquisite, pale yellow flower floated on crystal clear water, with schools of naturalized goldfish admiring it from below. I was ecstatic. Around that time the first ducks joined our flock. The lotus was never seen again. The fish went next, then the Yellow Flag! Ducks love sifting through the mud for bugs and bits of vegetation so the clear water was history as well. Not long ago I added a lead fountain of a running duck to spout water into my pond. It keeps the water clear, is a wonderful replacement for my long-lost flowers and adds the pleasant sound of splashing water to what is once more an idyllic scene. The best part is watching the ducks line up to take turns under its shower.


Ducks love to eat bugs both in and out of the water, but chickens are a big help with this as well. An old stone trough under one of our spigots used to collect water all summer long. Mosquito larvae need standing water and thrive in decorative water features like troughs and birdbaths. This year I moved the trough to the front of the chicken coop next to an unusual pink Viburnum, in place of our usual plastic chicken waterers. It is much prettier and the hens are adorable as they perch on the trough's edge to drink. Not only do they jockey for position on the trough, but they practically fight over the immature mosquitos swimming below. Now when friends complain about the awful bugs that plague them all summer I just smile knowingly.


Where the trough and Viburnum now reside there used to be a vibrant bed of tall wildflowers. The spot gets full sun all day and is quite frequently dry and dusty, which the flowers must have loved. Chickens bathe in dust, not water, and love nothing better than to dig a shallow hole in a nice flowerbed and hunker down in the sun. Then they flap around like fish out of water, making sure every feather is nicely dusted. Needless to say, after a short fight, I gave up on the flowers. They were replaced with four small, practically indestructible, globe boxwoods. Now the chickens dust-bathe to their hearts' content and everyone is happy.


I will not, however, give up my nasturtiums. They grow up bamboo teepees near my herb garden, bloom like crazy and are easily picked for salads. Since they are next to the house, they are safe from marauding hens. Except Pigwidgeon. Pig was the first chicken we ever bought; she isn't necessarily at the top of the pecking order, but she believes her status gives her carte blanche with my favorite flowers. When she thinks I am looking the other way, she will quietly sneak away from the flock and slowly but surely make her way over to the nasturtiums. She is drawn to the Whirlybird mix, Empress of India, Strawberries and Cream and whatever other beauties are twining up the poles. Maybe it's the beautiful colors or the peppery taste she loves. Perhaps she is rebellious or does it for attention. I gently chase her away, hoping she will still be around to play the game next year.

As a gardener, I'm especially grateful for what the "girls" leave behind. Chicken manure is the richest of all animal manures in nitrogen, potassium and potash. In our case, it's combined with bedding made of wood shavings. The mixture composts for one season and is ready for use the following spring. I spread it over my beds, plant directly into it, never worrying about free-ranging birds pecking about in beds fertilized with their own compost. We no longer use any chemicals on the property and, while we have a wicked crop of weeds in much of the lawn, the flower gardens are beautiful. My huge bed of pachysandra is beautiful too. Every spring I rake out the areas most matted with dead leaves, always taking special care with the front edge that shows the most. Early this spring I came home from work to a delightful surprise. Some kind soul had raked out the front edge of the entire curving bed and made a neat pile of the leaves, about six inches away. How nice! It took only seconds to locate the gardeners. A group of baby Cornish Crosses were madly raking the next bed of pachysandra as they foraged for good things to eat. I was charmed, grateful for their unexpected assistance and struck by how much I enjoyed them. We had progressed from half-hearted tolerance to true, harmonious interdependence. The animals belong in the gardens, and the gardens wouldn't be the same without them.

By Nan Zander

reprinted courtesy of Barbara Israel Garden Antiques - Focal Points


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