Frequently Asked Questions


I live in a residential area and wondered if you know the laws about raising a few chickens in my backyard (nothing commercial and no roosters.). If not, can you tell me who I would contact to find out?


Dear Delia
I would NEVER advise anyone to break the law.
That said, let's talk chicken. Hens, preferably.
Realistically, the main complaint that people in urban areas have about neighborhood chickens is ROOSTERS because they are noisy. You know your neighbors, I hope. If not, go take them a batch of cookies, introduce yourself and take a quick survey of their sentiment. Tell them you want to raise a few birds in your back yard, and ask if they have any problem with your building a small aviary for a few quiet birds.
No one will hassle you if your neighbors don't complain. The animal control and city authorities would rather be going after other people like animal hoarders (300 bunnies in the garage types) or drug dealers or people who build room additions without permits.
Keep your flock small, under 8 unless you have a big family. Buy only female chicks. Keep their pen cleaned, put their droppings in a compost pile or around your rosebushes. Stick with medium or heavy birds, or silkies, or Polish or other other types that don't fly. The more similar the breed is to the wild bird, the more likely they will decide to take off for your neighbor's tall tree branches. For that reason, I'd stay away from auracanas, they tend to be flighty and wacky from too much inbreeding.
If you raise chicks the way I show in the video, make sure they are in their coop every night when they are small (we refer to this training period as the chicken fling, because you will have to pick them up and gently toss them into their coop at night for a couple of weeks.) Soon they will figure it out, and go in on their own.
To keep the peace, give your neighbors eggs occasionally once the girls start to lay.
Remember, you are not alone. There were over 10,000 birds destroyed from private, secreted backyard flocks in urban South Central Los Angeles during the last Newcastle disease outbreak. Chickens are everywhere. If you don't have roosters, no one will know.
All this said, anywhere a parakeet can live, so can a chicken -- and if you get some of the more outlandishly feathered breeds, it's plausible to say to anyone who asks that they are large, ground dwelling southeast Asian parrots.

Read this for further notes about outlaw chickens.


One of the best things about creating this video is that I continue to learn from some of the most experienced Poultry Specialists nationwide. Raising chicks in the mild weather of California, I find that the methods I use work well. Please read the whole Michigan commentary about brooding chicks if you are in a colder climate.


Quick question: Do you know of any good resources for getting some day-old chicks? Ultimately, I think I'll want a "flock" of 3-5 hens, but it looks like all the mail-order places want you to order 25+ chicks, or fertilized eggs (and I don't have an incubator set-up). Any suggestions?

Try putting up a sign at a local feed store saying offering young birds for sale. I found that when I raise chicks from a mail order, I usually have more takers than birds by 5 weeks of age. It will cost you about $8 apiece to raise them to that size.


I have an odd question for you. I rescued a young hen from my vet clinic who had been dumped. My guess is that she was an Easter gift who started to get too big for the twirps who adopted her. She's tiny...about five inches long from beak to tail and about four inches wide. I think that she may be a cornish hen of some sort.
I was wondering if it's practical to provide her with a huge indoor cage? I hesitate to keep her outside in a coop, since we live in the country and have many chicken predators around. Also, she cheeps loudly and gets very upset if I get more than three feet away from her. Would it help her if I adopted another young hen to keep her company? It surprised me that she became so agitated when left alone. She's very sociable and loves to be with me constantly. If you have any suggestions, I'd greatly appreciate it! I want to provide her with the best home possible. :) Thanks a lot, Alicia

Congrats on your adoption! Yes, a prefab rabbit hutch will work fine. You will need to rig some way to catch the poops below it has a wire mesh floor, or put the hutch outside to let them fall on the ground where you want some fertilizer
Chickens are social animals, and clearly this chicken thinks you are her flock. You might try placing a small mirror in her cage, so she can see herself and doesn't think she's alone. Make sure it's secured well so she can't break it.
Let me know how it works out. Oh - How do you know its a hen?


I would like to share with you some of my more pressing concerns regarding our chickens, and the hopes I had in getting some answers from your video.
The thirteen hens and six roosters were, for the most part, harmonious aside from the occasional fighting between the roosters. But we recently noticed that our hens were losing feathers on their backs. I attributed it to molting, but became more concerned when places on their backs, especially on some, were completely featherless. Then I noticed wounds on two, and saw that some of the other hens were in fact, pecking at them. Last week we found one hen dead with a deep hole pecked into her, and it looks as though the other is headed for the same fate.
Seeing the urgency of the problem, I decided not to wait for the video, and I butchered two roosters last Saturday and plan to butcher three more, leaving just one. I thought maybe the hens are losing their feathers as a result of being mounted constantly by all the six roosters, but I couldn't be sure if it indeed was the cause.
Tonight when I got home from work, my sister had left a printout on the kitchen counter for me to read from a website she found. This is the link:
It really seems to apply to the problem that we have. Among the solutions offered, the best appears to be an increase of foraging material. I have provided them with fresh bedding every 10 days or so (dried grass clippings and swamp hay) but I have never thrown out any scratch, only oyster shells in a small pan. Since they all seem to be part of the problem, separating all of them would not be feasible. I feel a bit helpless about it, and it's no fun going out there to discover a hen with a bloody wound, getting worse or even dead!
Your video may cover this subject. If it doesn't, I'm still looking forward to the information it will provide. Thank-you in advance. Jeff

Dear Jeff
What a thoughtful note! I'm sorry to hear about your problems with chickens pecking each other. Getting rid of those excess roosters is an excellent start -- I recommend no more than one rooster per twelve hens if you want fertile eggs. Personally, I don't have any roosters and find that my henyard is much mellower.
I scanned the article link you forwarded about cannibalism. Despite the fact that those guys are affiliated with the U of Idaho, they missed the most common reasons because their focus is on a 10,000 chicken flock in a commercial operation.
With small flocks, the problem you are having is likely related to a com
bination of several possible factors

* Overcrowding -- they need to have a couple of square feet per bird in their yard

* Lack of protein in the chickens diet. (Are they wild for greens? That's usually a sign of lack of protein in what they're eating.)

*Boredom. Put some largish bare leafless branches in their yard for them to climb on, hide under, etc. A stump's good too for the hens to play "hen of the mountain" on. Change the branches and stump every few months so they don't become infested with mites, and make sure and use branches from a bush or tree that is not toxic

* They may have mites, and could need to have a dust bath area -- you can fill a cat litter pan with diatomaceous earth or screened wood ashes so the birds can dust bathe.
If they still peck at each other when you've done all these things, then think about getting mellower birds. Inbreeding has made some strains of chickens nuts from the get go.
I've had good luck with bantam silkies, buff wyandottes, astralorps and right now I'm doing well with brown leghorns.
Let me know how it all works out.


I am trying to find out how to prepare freshly killed chickens. I spoke to someone who went to the market and picked out a chicken had it killed and had the chicken plucked and so forth. Then came home and prepared the chicken and stated that her family thought she was a master cook ( she both fried and baked it). so for this to happen I need to pick a chicken that is no older than 12 weeks right?

When we butchered chickens yesterday I kept one out and my neighbor kept 2 out to cook that night. They were really chewy. Will they all be tough? Did we do something wrong? We are all new to this and we are in search of information from some one that has done this before. Thanks for any info that you can pass to us.

Generally, any chicken under six months old will be fine and tender to eat. Make sure and wash your hands and all surfaces the uncooked chicken touches to prevent contamination of other foodstuffs. Most store-bought birds are less than two months old. Commercial chickens are slaughtered 6 to 8 weeks after they hatch. A chicken that is under six months old is a "spring chicken" or fryer, after that they are generally tougher and referred to as "roasters". Make sure and refrigerate for 24 hours (or freeze) the bird or it may not be as tender as you'd like. And remember that free-range birds actually got to move around and stretch their wings so they will not be mushy-textured, or lack in flavor.

After using the cleaning method I show in my video, cook young homegrown chickens the same way you prepare bought chicken. However, if the birds are older than six months they will be more tasty if cooked slowly over a lower moist heat like roasting with basting, braising, or cooking in a sauce. See my blog for a great chicken soup recipe.


Dear Allison,
Some of my chicks are about ready to go outside and I still need to put it a roosting pole for them in the coop, how high should it be off the ground. Also how high should the nest boxes be and how should they be arranged on the wall. Thanks, Luan

Most chickens can jump up about two feet easily. That said, they will continue jumping up two feet at a time until they are as high as they can get. Top of the pecking order hens generally roost on the top poles, and then they poop on the less lucky chickens roosting below.

Nesting boxes can be lower but two feet off the ground will work. If you raise them up a couple of feet the rats may be less likely to steal eggs but chicks may not be able to make it out and back in -- if you are hatching out chicks.

The video has a lot of shots of these arrangements in various coops. Low tech is just a cat carrier on the floor for a nesting box and a couple of poles threaded through stacked cinder blocks for roosts. High tech includes roosts that are wire surfaces so the poop falls through down into collection boxes to carry off to the compost.

Cheers for chickens!


Hi Allison,
The video was great...lots of excellent information! Was really helpful to SEE than to read about. The only thing missing for me was egg collection (how, when, do they need to be cleaned?)
Thanks Again,


You're right, so here's the skinny on what I do with eggs. Collect eggs daily, usually before dark.
When the hen lays an egg the lubricant that helps it slip out dries on the egg, so all fresh eggs are naturally covered with a thin layer of a protein which keeps them fresh, allowing air through but not bacteria. If you wash them the seal is removed and they are more susceptible to spoilage.
Consumer Reports says that fresh hens' eggs kept three months at room temperature were not degraded at all. (Bleah!) I think it's best to eat fresh food, so I keep eggs from my hens on the kitchen counter and use them within a few days. If they get to be a week old, I put them in the fridge. Any cracked eggs are cooked the same day they were laid and fed to my dogs.
Sometimes the eggs are dirty with chicken poo and I wash them with warm water to remove it, refrigerate them immediately and use them ASAP — definitely within a week. I keep clean straw in my nesting boxes, replacing it weekly and I close the boxes up at night to keep the chickens from sleeping (and pooping) in them. Hope this answers all your egg inquires, let me know if you have another question.

Cheers for chickens!


My name is Barbara, well last may I brought home 6 baby chicks,a day old and cute as a button .Well they have grown into beautiful egg laying chickens .Well someone has dropped a bomb on my world .I got a letter in the mail telling me to cease and desist
immediately,I must remove the chicken coop,chickens and roosters(which I don't have) from my property .I am raising them for eggs can they legally make me get rid of my chickens? I live in massachusetts .I have bonded with these chickens and they with me .Any help would
be greatly appreciated.
Thanks Barbara

First, it is unlikely that whatever organization or authority that contacted you came out of nowhere. Everyone is lazy, and I suspect they are responding to a COMPLAINT, most likely by a neighbor. You need to think
about who might have a problem with your chickens. If you do not have roosters, then someone has an issue with your hens, probably someone in close proximity. (This is why I recommend that anyone
who wants to keep chickens check with their neighbors first, to forestall just this kind of problem.)
Obviously, if you can figure out WHO has a problem with your chickens, you may be able to talk with them directly and get them to withdraw the complaint. Sometimes the organization or people who contacted you will tell you who it was that complained.
If you can't find that out, then your next step is to find out what is required for you to keep them. If it is animal control who came and told you to get rid of the birds, they may refer you to a city code. If it is the
city, find out what the specific animal control regulations are. What are the penalties if you ignore their order? What kind of time do you have? You may discover what is needed is to get an exemption. Do you use the birds for 4-H, or take them to schools to educate kids?
If the city has a problem because chickens are seen as "farm animals" but you could keep parrots or cockatiels then you may want to investigate some of the more outlandishly feathered breeds.
You may be able to get an exemption by getting a permit from your local animal control offices, like as a kennel license for people who have a large number of dogs.
If you have had chickens for a while, or others in your area have chickens and you are the only one being prosecuted, then you may have other options legally. One person I corresponded with ended up taking her case to the city and won the right to keep them. Remember, bureaucrats just want the problem to GO AWAY and you just have to make what you want the easiest thing for them to do.


Hello, my name is Lee, I found your web site and I wanted to write to you in hopes you could advise me. My wife and I are interested in building a small egg business that would help us out in our retirement, I hope might be willing to offer me some guidance...some good advice. I am a therapist. I work with victims of abuse and do not earn a great living and I want to start a small business to supplement my retirement income. As a child my parents raised chickens to sell eggs as a small business and I enjoyed it then and I would like to do this again. Any help or advice you would offer would be gratefully appreciated,
thank you for your time and consideration

Thanks for the inquiry. My video will give you the basics on raising and caring for your flock. Before you start it is a great idea to find out where you will sell your eggs. Free-range eggs and or organic eggs both sell at a premium in health food stores and at farmer markets. If you sell eggs and birds directly to consumers you may be able to make enough to supplement your income well. Remember if you plan to butcher birds for sale you may have to get a USDA inspection for your butchering facility. Selling live birds may get around this. If you sell through a wholesaler, they take a big cut and you will not make nearly as much. Check out Robert Plamondon's site for more information, he does pretty much exactly what you are suggesting and writes about it as well.

What I am interested in, is information about raising a self-sustaining
flock. I have 12 buff Orrington hens and two roosters (Pete and re-Pete). The hens just started laying at 23 weeks of age. I know they can be quite broody, so I am sure there will be young ones next year What happens when Dad breeds the second and subsequent generations.

What a thoughtful question! My personal breeding program involved choosing the best rooster of each generation and keeping the young fellow while culling out undesirable traits, basically hatching a lot of birds and eating most of them during the course of each year. I advise culling laying hens at two or three years.
There's a lot of discussion in my new DVD about what kind of traits you want to watch for. I believe it's best to keep improving a flock by adding new unrelated birds every other year or so because in a small flock like yours
or mine it's often hard to avoid inbreeding problems.
If you don't want to do that, split your birds up into two flocks, one with each rooster. Then breed the best female offspring of each flock to that rooster, then the daughters of that breeding back to their father, then the granddaughters back to their grandfather. At the fourth generation, choose a two new roosters from those offspring and start over breeding the rooster from the first flock with the young hens from the second and vice versa. Always make your culling choices to eliminate undesirable traits. This plan for breeding is called "three times in and once out" and has been used for hundreds of years to keep small flocks of standard-bred birds.



I've read a few directions on permanent spur removal. My roosters are still young enough to consider it. But I'm not sure I could do it correctly myself. Do you know of a vet who works with chickens?


P.S. I finally got some eggs to hatch! But you were right, it's tough getting everything just right. Plus I got mostly roosters. I'm just going to buy chicks next time.

Congrats on hatching your chicks! I also have had the best luck just buying chicks...not to mention that I also happen to hatch out many more roosters than I need, so I usually just order female chicks.
Regarding the spurs, I have never done this but I hear when they get 1 inch long you can grab them with a pliers and twist them off. (YIPES!) But I think that would hurt!
I would recommend just trimming them like a fingernail, if you only trim off 1/8 of an inch at a time it will not be terribly painful but will keep those spurs shorter.


I'm not sure exactly is wrong with my new chicks. I know late spring is rough on new birds, and the shipping, of course. Two were lost in shipping and 2 more passed on last night (they arrived about 5PM yesterday). This morning we awoke to 4 dead and 3 listless (2 of those have passed on). One more is listless (2 currently, plus the 10 lost).

The local shop only had scratch feed, what can I add to it to make it better?

Your scratch feed will not work for chicks. It is too low in protein and they don’t have the ability to digest it without having grit available to grind it up.

For today, grind up some scratch in a blender so it is in tiny pieces. Add some wheat germ, and put out a dish of finely crumbled hard boiled egg. Add two tablespoons of sugar to their waterer along with fresh water.

That will help tide them over... for the rest of this answer click here



Have just been reading your website as I was searching for some specific information related to keeping chickens. After 30 years I
have once again a little flock of l3 hens and l rooster and am enjoying them immensely. I received day old chicks end of March this
year so they are 6 months old and laying well. Their yard area was seeded with grass and weeds which they nibble on and I toss over
grass and kitchen scraps as extras. However, by now the yard is completely bare of any vegetation and when it rains a little muddy
which increases an odious "smell". Is there anything I can sprinkle on the area to sweeten the area. I suppose lime would be caustic to
the hens? I have no other area where they could be allowed to safely meander. Any suggestions?


In a word, straw. Buy a bale or two of straw from the feed store and spread it in their yard so it is about four inches thick. At first they will scratch around in it and look for grain, but soon it will become a mat that will provide carbon for their manure to mix with and compost down. If you do this every time it becomes smelly, then the straw will also work in the long run to fertilize the ground they are living on. I have used this method to work the soil in an area that I want to garden the next spring, it works very well.

If you decide to remove the straw and put it into your compost pile, re-cover the ground immediately with new straw to keep the hens healthy.

If you live in an area where fall leaves are plentiful, leaves work well too but make sure not to use leaves from a tree that is poisonous -- i.e. walnut.

Cheers for chickens!

Thank you so much Allison for your helpful advice. We have only one feed store and I've never seen baled straw there but will inquire. Is there a reason why baled hay (which is easier to find) would not work as well?

Hay will work fine. Grain hay can be put down in the same way as straw.
If you use alfalfa hay, put it down a bit at a time because they will eat the leaves and not the stems. They can overdo it on alfalfa if you give too much at once. However, it will both reduce your smell factor and increase their greens intake. (Alfalfa counts as a green veggie, even though it is dried.)

Further discussion and letters about bedding


Blue eggs come from auraconas, or americaunas. Every one of that breed I’ve ever had has been crazy, they tend to be flighty (I think from inbreeding) and the roosters are aggressive. None of the hatcheries I've dealth with have offered standard-bred birds and most of the ones I've had over the years laid greenish brown eggs, not blue ones.

Martha Stewart also keeps silkies, a feather-legged Japanese breed that has fuzzy feathers and black skin. I had some for over ten years, they are wonderful. The only downside is that they tend to go broody and sit on eggs about every two months, which is fine if you want to raise chicks but cuts down on egg production since they stop laying. That also means that chicks are only available in Spring and early Summer, rather than all year round. I got my chicks from the Sand hill preservation center. You will see those silkies in the DVD, they were the tamest birds I had when I wanted to show how to get rid of mites and other skin parasites.