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Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer

Keeping Chickens: Preparing for Spring

A photo of Andy G. Schneider, the Chicken WhispererI was quite surprised to find my first seed catalog and my first poultry products catalog of the season in the mail this week. This reminded me that even though its just mid-January, it’s time to prepare for spring. Hatcheries around the country are gearing up for another busy season. After seeing their chick orders get backlogged for six to eight weeks, and their rare breed chicks selling out by March of last year, they want to make sure that they are as prepared as possible for this year. Many hatcheries are requesting that their customers pre-order the chicks they want to ensure that they will be able to fulfill their orders. In fact, Mt. Healthy Hatchery is offering a 5-cent discount per chick if you pre-order before February 13th. Many magazine publishers are making room for all of the backyard poultry articles that will soon be written, and feed and seed stores are increasing their orders to meet the demands of this year’s backyard chicken frenzy.

Not unlike the hatcheries, magazine publishers, and feed and seed stores, we too need to get ready for spring. If you already have backyard poultry or are just getting started, there are a few things we all need to think about to make sure we are prepared. If you are getting started with chickens for the first time or want to expand your existing backyard flock, you first need to decide what breeds you would like. Many people choose the same breeds that their grandparents had on the family farm. Others might do extensive research on what chickens are cold hardy, lay the best, or lay the longest. Some may just choose based on which breed they think looks the prettiest. Whatever method you choose there are many resources available that can help you pick out your new breeds. Many hatcheries have their own color catalogs loaded with information about the breeds they carry. Online websites like,, and, can also be very helpful. Remember that rare breeds sell out quickly so you may want to go ahead and place your order as soon as possible.

Once you have your breeds chosen, you need to determine what method you are going to use to get your chicks or chickens. Some of you may choose to incubate fertile eggs while others may choose to order chicks or started birds from a local or national hatchery. Either way, you need to be prepared. Here is a short list of things to think about.

1. Are you practicing correct biosecurity? You can get a lot of free information about practicing correct biosecurity here: 

2. Is your incubator working properly? I recommend running your incubator for at least 24 hours before setting your fertile eggs.

3. Is your brooder working properly? Make sure there is enough room for the baby chicks to move closer to and further away from the heat source based on their comfort level and never use cedar shavings.

4. Do you have all the waterers, feeders, and starter feed needed for your new arrivals? I almost always recommend purchasing the largest waterers and feeders you can afford. Owning chickens is addictive and you will be getting more! You will also be able to go away for a long weekend if you get larger feeders and waterers.

5. How are you going to incorporate your new birds with your existing birds and when? New birds need to be quarantined for about three weeks to make sure they are free from illness and disease. You can read more about this at the bio-security website listed above. I recommend waiting until the chickens are all about the same size before putting them in the same area. After the quarantine process, I like to keep my new birds in the pen next to my current flock so they can communicate and get use to each other before joining them together. I will let them all free range together in the morning but put them back into the separate but adjoining pens for the rest of the day. After about ten to fourteen days of this routine, I will corral them back into the same pen and let the fun (pecking order) begin. Establishing a new pecking order may look like a knockdown drag-out fight, but it must me done. Watch your flock closely, but accept the fact that there will be low birds on the totem pole.

Just like you, I will be getting ready for spring and asking myself these same questions. I don’t intend on expanding my backyard flock this year, but I will be setting some fertile eggs in the incubator and ordering a few baby chicks for my new “How To” video series about keeping backyard poultry.


Chicken Whisperer

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Keeping Urban Roosters Quietly and Responsibly

A photo of Andy G. Schneider, the Chicken WhispererSeveral times each month I receive letters, emails and phone calls from concerned chicken owners asking how they can keep their roosters quiet. More times than not, they are keeping chickens in urban areas. Many cities around the country ban roosters to prevent nuisance complaints from their citizens, even though there are several ways to keep roosters in urban areas quietly and responsibly. I had kept backyard chickens for two years before my neighborhood homeowner’s association even found out. Why? Because I choose not to keep roosters with my flock. Yes, I have kept roosters in the past due to periodic rooster rescues, but they did not cause any problems because I kept them quietly and responsibly.

In my opinion, roosters have two main purposes, which they do very well: protect and fertilize. In the past seven years, I have only lost three chickens due to predators. One just happened to be my rooster, Kentucky. During a backyard remodel, we temporarily removed the protective netting from atop our three chicken runs. After arriving home, I noticed that all eleven hens were safely inside the coop and Kentucky was in the run, where he had obviously lost a battle with a hawk. We believe that when Kentucky noticed the hawk that he gathered all of his ladies in the coop for their protection and then returned back outside to fight off the predator. Unfortunately, he lost, but all eleven hens were safe. Because of this, I know the value of a rooster when it comes to predator protection, but I still choose not to keep roosters due to the extra responsibilities involved. I do however provide a very secure coop and run for my chickens, and use Nite Guard Solar® lights to protect my flock from predators.

There are many great reasons why people choose to keep backyard chickens in urban areas, but breeding is rarely one of them, so keeping a rooster is not necessary in most cases. If you keep a small backyard flock without a rooster, one hen will generally take the rooster’s role. She will keep an eye out for predators, alert the flock if danger arises, maintain the pecking order and, in rare cases, may even crow.

On the rare occasions when I did have a rooster or two, I would keep them quietly and responsibly. At dusk, I would bring the roosters into my garage. They would be placed into a metal cage with their own food and water. Then the metal cage would be placed into a large breed plastic doghouse. I would then place a heavy blanket over the doghouse to provide an extra sound barrier. If one of the roosters happened to crow early in the morning, none of my neighbors could hear it. In fact, our master bedroom backs up to our garage. If we were sound asleep the crowing would not even wake us up, but if we were already awake then we could hear the rooster crow, but it was faint and hardly noticeable.

Overall, I think roosters get a bad rap, but I understand that they are not for everyone. They are very beautiful birds and have a couple of specific purposes that they do very well. I still hate to see cities completely ban roosters, but it’s a compromise that many urban chicken keepers are willing to make.

For more information about keeping backyard poultry please listen to Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer, a nationally broadcast radio show all about keeping backyard poultry and living a self-sustaining lifestyle. Listen weekdays at 12:00pm EST here:


Backyard Chickens: Smoke and Mirrors

A photo of the Chicken WhispererMany cities across the country are changing their laws to become more backyard chicken friendly, or so it appears. Many of the headlines read, "City votes to allow backyard chickens" or "City is now chicken friendly," but when you actually read the article you find out that the city is anything but chicken friendly. The headlines tend to be a little deceiving to say the least.

Because of the increased popularity of keeping backyard chickens across America, cities have been forced to look at their current laws to determine what exactly they say about keeping backyard chickens. Many laws are written to restrict commercial chicken farms, but mention nothing about keeping a small backyard flock. Many refer to livestock, but say nothing about poultry. Some are just plain vague. This puts both the city and property owner in uncharted waters.

In many cases when a city finds out that a resident is keeping backyard chickens they just presume that it must be against the law, because who would keep chickens in the city? Little do they know that hundreds or even thousands of residents in their city are already keeping backyard chickens and have for years! Then, the city does what it does best and sends the resident a citation. Yes, even if backyard chickens are allowed the resident still receives a citation that the chickens must go. Unfortunately, many will take the city’s word for it and remove their chickens from the property even though there is no law stating they have to do so. This could go on forever until a resident takes the time to do a little research and challenge the city.

Some cities are treading very lightly and offering a trial period by issuing a limited number of permits to residents who want to keep backyard chickens. Other cities however are claiming to be backyard chicken friendly, but then knowingly write the laws so strict that it eliminates most of their residents from keeping backyard chickens. This is what happened where we live. When we first started our backyard flock we lived in an unincorporated part of the county. The law stated that chickens had to be 25 feet away from any neighbor’s occupied dwelling. About two years ago we became a city and when the new government found out that some residents kept backyard chickens they went to work rewriting the law. The new city council voted to increase the footage requirements so now the chickens must be 100 feet away from any neighbor’s occupied dwelling. One would have to think they did this knowing good and well that it would eliminate most residents in the city from keeping backyard chickens. Instead of just flat out banning backyard chickens and looking like the bad guy, they just made the law so strict that practically no one could keep backyard chickens in the city. This way they can make claims that they allow backyard chickens, residents just have to abide by certain parameters.

As stated above, there is a city that is only going to allow a total of 12 permits to residents interested in keeping backyard chickens. They also are requiring the residents to do something you only hear about in grade school. They are requiring the residents to get signed permission slips from each neighbor stating that it’s ok for them to keep backyard chickens. Another city is requiring that the lot be 5000 square feet and is only allowing 4 chickens. If you wanted more chickens you must have an additional 2000 square feet per chicken. This means that if you have 8 chickens your lot must be at least 13,000 square feet, even if your chicken coop is just 12’x12’ or 144 square feet. Does your home have 2000 square feet per person?

I understand that keeping backyard chickens is not for everybody. Some people are dog lovers, some people are cat lovers, and some people are chicken lovers. However, it amazes me how far some people will go to do whatever they can to ban backyard chickens in their city when they have such little knowledge on the subject.

Keeping backyard chickens can be a fun and rewarding experience. If you would like to learn more about keeping backyard chickens I invite you to listen to the Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer radio show.

Monday through Friday at 12:00pm EST here:

Saturday at 9:00am EST here:

You can also follow the Chicken Whisperer on Twitter here:

Backyard Chickens Have Unfair Reputation

A photo of the Chicken WhispererTime and time again I hear people complaining about the problems they think backyard chickens will bring if allowed into the backyards of their city. Some of the more common complaints that I hear are noise, smell, rodents, disease and property value. I would like to address each and every one of these complaints one by one.

I don’t think I've ever been to a meeting about keeping backyard chickens where the noise issue has not been brought up at least once. I often hear people complaining about the potential early morning crow of a nearby rooster. This is a very valid point, and I too would be complaining if a rooster were waking me up every morning at 4:30am, especially if I did not have to wake up until 7:00am or later. There are many advantages of keeping backyard chickens, but most urban chicken keepers want to keep backyard chickens for the benefits of having an endless supply of farm fresh eggs. Solution? You do not need a rooster to enjoy farm fresh eggs every morning. In fact, hens will lay better if there is no rooster around to disturb their routine. Roosters primarily have two jobs, which they do very well. They protect and fertilize. You only need a rooster if you want baby chicks running around in the backyard. I still hate to see cities ban roosters all together because there are ways to keep roosters in an urban area quietly and responsibly. I plan to share how this can be done at a later date.

Smell is another complaint that is often brought up when discussing chickens. Yes, chickens can smell just like dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils and even people, if not taken care of properly. We are not talking about a 300-foot commercial chicken house with 30,000 chickens next door. We are talking about six to twelve laying hens in a backyard setting. There are many ways to reduce the smell of your chicken coop and I will share how this can be done at a later date.

If you don’t think that you have mice and rats outside your home right now, you are living in a fantasy world. Many claim that keeping chickens will attract mice and rats and think they don’t exist until the chickens arrive. One client of mine who is entertaining the idea of getting some backyard chickens lives in the most affluent city in Georgia. She told me that her cat leaves her little "presents" at the back door almost every day. These "presents" just happen to be mice and rats. She also said that she has seen mice and rats run across her backyard and up a honeysuckle vine to get over the fence and into her neighbor’s yard. Yes, if you have chickens there will be another food source in your backyard, but there are ways to keep the chicken feed put away in mice and rat proof containers. I will share how this can be done at a later date.

About three years ago many were asking questions about the risks of avian influenza and keeping backyard chickens. I would always refer them to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website where it addresses this issue. On the Q&A page the following is posted. Question: We have a small flock of chickens. Is it safe to keep them? Answer: In the United States there is no need at present to remove a flock of chickens because of concerns regarding avian influenza. The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors potential infection of poultry and poultry products by avian influenza viruses and other infectious disease agents. Enough said!

Many people who oppose the keeping of backyard chickens often sound off during meetings about decreased property values if the city allows the keeping of backyard chickens. All I can say is show me the proof. No one has ever shown up at a backyard chicken meeting that I have ever attended with any valid proof that someone got $10,000 less for their home because a resident in their city keeps backyard chickens.

To put backyard chickens into perspective I often tell people the following. On any given day I have more dog poop in my front yard from other neighbor’s dogs then they have chicken poop in their front yard from my chickens. I have more cat prints on my car from other neighbor’s cats then they have chicken prints on their car from my chickens. And I’m awakened at 2:00am more from other neighbor’s dogs barking then they have ever been awakened at 2:00am from my sleeping hens.

Keeping backyard chickens can be a fun and rewarding experience. If you would like to learn more about keeping backyard poultry I invite you to listen to the Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer radio show Monday through Friday at 12:00pm Eastern at and on Saturday at 9:00am EST at

Getting Started with Backyard Poultry

A photo of the Chicken WhispererIf you’re thinking about getting started with backyard poultry you’re not alone. Thousands of people across the country are starting their very own backyard flock and you can too!

There are many advantages of having your very own backyard flock, and you no longer have to live on a farm to enjoy these benefits. Chickens provide families with fresh, nutritious eggs. Chicken manure is a valuable addition to your compost bin and adds needed nutrients to your garden’s soil. Chickens also help reduce your household food waste, because they eat a variety of table scraps. They also eat insects helping to reduce your backyard insect population. While it may be surprising to some, chickens make great pets!  In fact, they are amusing to watch and bring enjoyment to the whole family!

The first thing most people think of when starting a backyard flock is the loud crow of a rooster at daybreak every morning. Well, I have good news for you. You don’t need a rooster to have fresh, nutritious eggs. You only need a rooster if you want little baby chicks running around the backyard.  In fact, the hens may actually lay better if there is no rooster around to disrupt their routine.

The second thing people think of when starting a backyard flock is the odor. Yes, chickens can stink if not properly taken care of, just like any other animal including dogs, cats, rabbits, and hamsters. Proper maintenance can significantly reduce, and even eliminate the odor caused by keeping backyard poultry. It all comes down to responsible pet ownership. Now that we disproved the top two myths regarding the keeping of backyard poultry, let’s get started!

So what’s the first step before you start your journey of keeping backyard poultry? First, you need to check your local laws to see if keeping backyard poultry is allowed. You will not only need to check the county and city laws, but also your neighborhood covenants if you have a homeowners association. Many cities across the country are changing their laws to allow their residents to keep a few hens in their backyard. If backyard poultry is allowed, you then need to spend some time reading and researching what cost and care requirements you should expect when keeping backyard poultry. Then, you need to decide if you’re going to hatch your own baby chicks, purchase them from a local farm or breeder, or order them from one of the many national hatcheries. This will determine what equipment you will need to get started.

Hatching baby chicks from an incubator is fun and educational for the whole family. I highly recommend it for anyone with children. Though hatching eggs from an incubator has its occasional challenges, it’s well worth it.

Just as we try to buy our fresh produce locally, buying your fertilized hatching eggs, or baby chicks locally can become a fun day trip. The wealth of information you can get from the local farmer or breeder can be priceless and may also save you time and money.

Many purchase day old baby chicks from hatcheries all across the nation. They are delivered directly to your local post office for pick up. The baby chicks can survive up to three days from the nutrition they receive while inside the egg before they hatch. This allows shipment to almost all locations across the country. One advantage from ordering your day old baby chicks from a national hatchery is they will sex the baby chicks for you. If you don’t want any roosters, you want to purchase pullets, female chicks, rather than cockerels, male chicks.

Once you have your baby chicks they will need a special home for the first few weeks called a brooder. The main purpose of a brooder is to keep the baby chicks warm and dry. Brooders can easily be made from almost anything. Many use an old cardboard box, while some use their bathtub. I prefer a 45 gallon Rubbermaid bin for the average homeowner, but the GQF Poultry Box Brooder is a gem! Baby chicks also require a heat source in the brooder. A light bulb or heat lamp can provide sufficient heat.  An important note is to allow the baby chicks to self regulate their temperature as needed by providing them with enough space in the brooder to move close to or away from the heat source. There are many choices for brooder bedding, but cedar shavings should NEVER be used.

Depending on the temperature the chicks will be ready to go outside at around six weeks old. This brings us to our next topic, the chicken coop. Just like a brooder, a chicken coop can be as simple or as extravagant as you want it to be. I have kept many chickens using just a large breed plastic dog house. Though coops designed for chickens are more user friendly, the design of the coop should not make much difference in the number of eggs you get from your backyard flock. The coop and run need to provide  a fresh supply of water, dry source of food, shelter, and protection from predators.

Chickens have many predators. I always tell people that there will always be something that will love your chickens more than you do. You will need to protect your chickens from predators that come from above and below. The more common predators you will encounter from above include hawks and owls. Any type of netting across the top of your coop, and run area can solve this problem easily. Predators from ground level or below include raccoons, opossums, weasels, foxes, and even neighborhood dogs and cats. Hardware cloth attached around and below the coop works well for some, but a good strong fence buried about a foot deep is another option to deter digging predators. Some even burry old roofing tin about a foot deep around the chicken pen to keep digging predators out.

Once you have your coop and run established keeping backyard poultry can be fun and rewarding with minimal work. Owner’s responsibilities include keeping a constant supply of feed and water, gathering eggs daily, and cleaning the coop and run as needed.

If you have ever thought about starting a backyard flock of chickens there is no better time than the present to join thousands of others that are enjoying the benefits of keeping a small backyard flock.

Please visit the Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer blog often because I will be starting an educational series called “Chicks are Easy”. This also happens to be the title of my book I hope to release this fall. I just hope the title does not make the book find it’s way into the “Relationships” section of the book store! Thanks for stopping by!

Chicken Whisperer

Chicken Stimulus Package A Success!

A photo of the Chicken WhispererAs far as I know, this past Saturday, April 11th was the biggest baby chick giveaway ever conducted on the face of the earth. It all started about three weeks ago when the owner of America’s Web Radio, David Moxley came to me with the idea of giving away baby chicks to promote backyard poultry and living a more self-sustaining lifestyle. We decided to have the event in Roswell, Georgia, where an Atlanta Pet Chicken Meetup Group club member was currently battling with City Hall regarding the keeping of backyard poultry. I knew I needed a few things to make this event a success including a location, volunteers, and of course baby chicks!

Bill Greenwood, owner of the Greenwood’s on Green Street restaurant gave the thumbs up to have the event at his location. Once the location was set, I posted the event on the Atlanta Pet Chicken Meetup Group’s website and had over 50 members volunteer to help. I then contacted the national chick hatcheries that were already sponsors of the “Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer” radio show and told them about the idea, and they were all on-board. I wanted to make sure I did everything possible to ensure the people picking up the free baby chicks had access to all the information they would need to properly care for their new pets, so my wife, Jen, worked about three days creating a “Chicken Stimulus Package” brochure that included a baby chick care guide, brooder information, supply list, local feed store locations, avian veterinarian contact, and list of sponsors. I even got a couple of feed stores to donate four 50-pound bags of chick starter feed in case the new chicken owners could not get by a feed store over the weekend.

The first 100 baby chicks arrived about a week before the event, but thanks to my new GQF commercial brooder I received about 10 days earlier I had a great home for them. The next 800 arrived the following week, and 600 found their way into a custom built brooder I had built in my garage, and 200 went to a club member’s home. My wife and I dipped 700 beaks into feeders and waterers. It was a sight to see!

The morning of the event we had 5 club members arrive at our house to help gather the baby chicks and place them back into the shipping boxes they came in. Then, off we went to the “Chicken Stimulus Package” event. The event started at 8:00 am and lasted until about 1:30 pm. When I arrived with the baby chicks there were already about 50 people in line waiting to pick out their new backyard pet chickens and there was a steady flow of people showing up all day. There were three stations/tables people had to navigate. The first table was an education table. Here, participants would receive an educational brochure to look through and ask questions about keeping backyard poultry. We had experienced chicken owners manning this table as well as a certified avian veterinarian. The second table was an information collection table. Here, the participants had to fill out a Georgia Department of Agriculture form that requested their contact information. We also had chicken owners manning this table to assure accuracy. The third table was the table they were all waiting for. The third table was where they would pick out their baby chicks and receive the free bag of starter feed. This table was manned with chicken owners that had experience identifying the different breeds. Once they received their baby chicks they would walk past an area where they could see examples of brooders they could set up once they got home with their new baby chicks. We had about 50 volunteers from the Atlanta Pet Chicken Meetup Group helping all who attended. Jeff Miller with Shady Roost Coops was on-site with a chicken tractor display, and Greg Haney with City Coops was also sharing information about his coop designs. America’s Web Radio was broadcasting live during the event and fun was had by all. Donations from the event were donated to cancer research.

Overall, I think the event was a success. Only one family has contacted me regarding the return of their baby chicks. Just as stated in the brochure, we took the baby chicks back and will find “forever” homes for them soon. Many have suggested that we make this an annual event or even travel across the country scheduling “Chicken Stimulus Package” events in all the major cities. I’m just eggcited that another 600 chickens have found their way into Atlanta backyards!

Chickens Bringing Rats?


Ever since I got my 3 chickens, who I love, I've had rat problems. I've never had rodents before and now I can't get rid of them. I've used poison and traps. These are HUGE Norway rats that come where the food is! I'm afraid that my chickens are going to eat the poison, even though I try to put in where they don't go.

Atlanta, Georgia


A photo of the Chicken WhispererDear Monica,

I'm sorry you are having a rat problem. This is nothing new to chicken owners, and we all handle this problem differently. There is only one reason why the rats are there, and that's food. First let's talk about food storage. The only container that I have found that will keep rats out is a galvanized metal trash bin. You can find these at your local hardware store. If you have a raccoon/opossum problem as well you can bungee the lids closed to keep them out. A large heavy rock works pretty well too!

Be careful not to spill food when you’re filling the chicken feeders because that will attract the rats right to the source. I know this is easier said than done. I know that we are all taught to keep a constant supply of food available for the chickens. If this constant supply is not kept inside a rat-proof coop at all times (and who has one of these?) then you're going to have some problems. Also, try not to feed the chickens in the yard by throwing food on the ground for them to scratch at. This is just asking for trouble when it comes to rats.

Many rats dig under coop walls and fencing to access the food. One solution for this problem is to dig a small trench (8-10 inches deep) around your coop where the food is located, and bury pieces of tin roofing material cut to size so the rats can't dig under. Hardware cloth nailed or stapled under and around your coop works well too.

One product that a friend was telling me about just this week is called Tom Cat Poison. You mix this poison with water and put it in a one quart chicken waterer. Once your chickens are safely secure in their coop at night set the Tom Cat Poison out for the rats to drink. Then remove the Tom Cat Poison in the morning before you let the chickens back out of the coop for the day. This will dramatically reduce your rat population.

If it takes just feeding your chickens once a day, and giving them just enough food to eat, and no leftovers you may have to start doing this. Norway rats have been known to jump as high as 8 feet so keep this in mind as well when storing food.

I'm sure there are many other ways to control rats around your chickens, and maybe some of our readers can tell us what's worked for them. Good luck, and thank you for your question.

Chicken Whisperer